Overview: Mike London’s Cavaliers took a step back in 2012 after showing signs of potential promise during the 2011 season with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Youth mixed with an inability to establish a dominant rushing attack led to a pitiable 4-8 season that tempered the positive outlook on the program amongst the UVa faithful.
The 2012 season started off with back-to-back victories including a win over the Nittany Lions to boost Virginia in the national spotlight. The 17-16 victory over Penn State, however, would be one of the few highlights of the season for the Cavaliers. A week later, Virginia suffered an embarrassing 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech that spurned a streak of six straight losses for London’s team. Virginia earned their two other wins versus N.C. State in Raleigh and at home against Miami. The Cavaliers lost four games by seven points or less last fall. London enters his fourth season with the Wahoos with a revamped coaching staff featuring former N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien and two new coordinators. The newly assembled experienced staff will look to guide Virginia back in the right direction despite last season’s setback.
Offensively, the Cavaliers will start fresh after losing both quarterback options from a season ago. Michael Rocco started the majority of the 2012 season but opted to transfer to Richmond for his final year of eligibility. Alabama transfer and former top quarterback recruit Phillip Sims seemed like the answer moving forward, yet was declared academically ineligible and transferred to Liberty. Red-shirt sophomore David Watford is tabbed as the frontrunner to take snaps in 2013. Returning wide receivers Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell will offer viable threats in the passing game for the Cavaliers.
In 2012, Virginia struggled across the board in all major offensive statistical categories. The Cavaliers rushing attack ranked 96th nationally, averaging 128 yards per game while the passing offense faired a bit better ranking 37th (268 ypg). London’s team struggled mightily to put points on the board as they ranked 93rd in scoring offense, averaging just 22.75 points per game. Leading rusher Kevin Parks returns after churning out 734 yards and five touchdowns. Parks and highly touted incoming freshman Taquan Mizzell will be relied on heavily to return the Virginia rushing attack to prominence in 2013. Seven starters return on the offensive side of the ball for the Cavaliers.
Defensively, Virginia was solid throughout the 2012 season despite the youth of some of its top contributors in key positions. The Cavaliers ranked 28th nationally in total defense, allowing 353 yards per game. The stout passing defense ranked 33rd in the country, giving up just 208 yards per game while the rushing defense ranked 44th (144 ypg). The main defensive bright spot for Virginia revolved around their ability to stop opponents on third down. The Wahoos ranked 4th in the ACC by holding opponents to a 30.73 percentage on third downs. Seven defensive starters return for the Cavaliers, although they will have to replace their top four defensive contributors from their 2012 campaign. Chris Brathwaite, the team leader in both sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (10), is no longer with the program.
The notable returnees on the defensive side of the ball include strong safety Anthony Harris, defensive end Eli Harold and cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. Nicholson impressed playing as true freshman in 2011 yet struggled a bit during his sophomore season. New defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will move the defense from a cover first approach to a heavy blitzing unit that should benefit some of the secondary players who have struggled at times.
Historical Context: North Carolina and Virginia have faced off a grand total of 107 times in what is known by many as the “South’s Oldest Rivalry.” The Tar Heels own a 58-45 advantage between the two programs and currently hold a three-game win streak over the Cavaliers. Before Carolina’s recent run of success, Virginia took four straight wins over the Tar Heels from 2006 to 2009. In 2012, North Carolina dominated the Cavaliers in a 37-13 victory in Charlottesville in a Thursday night primetime matchup on Nov. 15.
“I think that with the new staff or potentially the new coordinators, offensively, defensively, and special teams wise, there’s a good young core and nucleus of players that are very talented. Now the challenge will be to take those individuals with the new scheme and coordinators and get them acclimated and raising their level of expectation to how we want them to play.” – London
“I want to be competitive on the field. I want us to be tough, smart and aggressive. Where we are now is not as important to me as, when it's over, where we end up." – London
Notable Matchups: Virginia faces a tough road ahead when it comes to their schedule in 2013. The Cavaliers open the season against BYU and also plays high-powered Oregon on Sept. 21. The ACC schedule won’t be much easier for London’s team as they take on two tough Coastal Division rivals on the road. Virginia faces a midseason matchup in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels on Nov. 9 while also meeting with Miami in South Florida on Nov. 23. The toughest home matchups for the Wahoos come against Clemson on Oct. 2 and against in-state rival Virginia Tech in their season finale.