Schedule Preview: Virginia

North Carolina hopes to continue its own Charlottesville Streak with a third-straight road win over Virginia on Oct. 25.

Overview: Long gone are the days when Virginia annually challenged for the ACC title. In 2013, the Cavaliers were a putrid 2-10 and have brought back a coach that is on a sizzling hot seat. This will be Mike London’s fifth year at the helm, and on paper, it’s nearly impossible to figure out how poor the results have been. London has a great pedigree (he was an assistant with the Texans, as well as a superb defensive coordinator for UVa), he has veteran coordinators (Tom O’Brien, Jon Tenuta and Steve Fairchild) and has yet to sign a recruiting class ranked lower than 35th nationally (according to Rivals). So, what exactly is the problem? The simplest answer might be this: just because you know how to buy the groceries doesn’t mean you know how to cook the meal. With 17 returning starters, many of whom are four- and five-star recruits, this fall will likely be a make or break season for this coaching staff.

After repeatedly relieving beleaguered starter David Watford last season, red-shirt sophomore Greyson Lambert will finally be given the reins to the offense in 2014. Reliability at the quarterback position seems to be an issue for many teams across the league, and Virginia is certainly no exception. In 2013, despite running a pro-style offense under Fairchild, Watford averaged just nine yards per completion and only completed 57 percent of his passes. Lambert was a little bit better, averaging 10.3 yards per completion, but his completion percentage was significantly worse (44 percent). Lambert will have to show considerable growth for UVa’s offense to find any level of success.

The orange and blue will have a pair of pint-size runners that should strike fear into opposing defenses. At 5-foot-8 and 205 pounds, senior Kevin Parks has the speed to break away from defenders, but it was his durability the propelled him to rush for over 1,000 yards a year ago. Parks averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 227 rushes. Even more exciting for this offense is the potential emergence of Taquan Mizzell, who was the top-ranked running back in the nation for the 2013 class, according to Rivals.com. Mizzell didn’t have a great first year, but he should be able to spell Parks and provides a solid receiving option out of the backfield. The wide receiver position also possesses considerable talent. Senior Darius Jennings had the most receptions of any returning player (38) and should fit well with sophomore Keeon Johnson and incoming freshman Jamil Kamara (both were four-star recruits).

Top to bottom, this defense could be one of the best in the entire ACC. That might sound strange for a team that has only won six games over its last two seasons, but with nearly all of its personnel from 2013 still on the roster, there is plenty to like here. Junior end Eli Harold (8.5 sacks in 2013) leads a loaded defensive line. At defensive tackle, three returning players (Greg Gallop, Donte Wilkins, and Chris Brathwaite, who is back from suspension) will compete for the major minutes, as well as five-star recruit Andrew Brown (6-foot-5, 298 lbs). Senior Henry Cole is back to lead the anchor the linebacking corps, but the real buzz around surrounding this unit is the dynamic secondary. Safety Anthony Harris, the nation’s leader in interceptions (8), will once again be roaming the defensive backfield. Harris will be joined by fellow senior Demetrious Nicholson, who has recovered from a lingering foot injury that kept him out of action since early October. Throw in five-star recruit Quin Blanding and you have all of the ingredients to make this secondary even more difficult to throw on in 2014.

Quotables

"I don't think it's a huge surprise how things worked out, Greyson did a very good job with his on-the-field performance, his off-the-field performance, the things we've asked him to do. He's done them and he put himself in position to come out of the spring as the guy being named as the starter at this point.” – London on the QB position

“At Virginia, it’s important to get them on grounds here. This is a place that has a historic background and is a place that has a degree that carries national and global significance to it. So if you can overcome the social media part and get back to one-on-one situations on campus and face-to-face contact, then you’re going to have a lot more success because you’re touching the individual.” – London on recruiting players to Virginia

Historical Outlook: The way North Carolina views Georgia Tech - a team it haven’t beaten since 08’ - is probably how Virginia is starting to feel about the Tar Heels. The Cavaliers have dropped four in a row to UNC, with three of those defeats coming by 24 points or more. Overall, Carolina holds a 60-54-4 series edge.

Notable matchups: Even though UVa has lost nine straight games dating back to Sept. 28, this program hasn’t been shy about scheduling difficult opponents. The Cavs kick off their season against a potential top-10 team in UCLA and have the misfortune of drawing Louisville as their Atlantic Division opponent a mere two weeks later. Things will only get worse, as four of the team’s final six games will be on the road, highlighted by visits to Florida State and the season finale at Virginia Tech.

 

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