Each week we plan to bring you an insider’s view for BYU’s opponent. This week we asked five questions of Paul Wiley, a writer for Streaking the Lawn, SBNation’s Virginia Football blog. Check out the great stuff they are doing there for all you will need to know for week 1.
Academically Ineligible: Quarterback David Watford went from second string to practice squad to starter this Saturday over his time at Virginia. Is he ready to lead Virginia back to a bowl game? What can BYU fans expect to see from him against their 2012 top-rated defense?
Paul Wiley: As any college football fan can tell you, QB is the position at which it’s most difficult and most rare for a true freshman to come in, play, and play well. And yet David Watford did just that his first year, splitting time in the ill-fated QB rotation of 2011. Throughout the offseason, the news coming out of the team has included rave reviews of Watford’s leadership abilities; even the Navy SEALs that Coach London brought in to work with the team singled out Watford as the team’s strongest leader. So there’s the mental package. In terms of physical skills, Watford is in the tradition of great 757 QBs past: agile and quick with a deceptively strong arm. Watford earned the starting nod in no small part because his elusiveness gives new OC Steve Fairchild more options, including the option to run the option (see what I did there?). We don’t know exactly what this new offense will look like. It’s been described as pro-style, but now that includes pistol sets and zone read looks. Watford will have no shortage of playmakers to which he can distribute the ball, so the focus will be on putting those guys in the best position to make a play while forcing defenders to make split-second decisions between multiple looks.
AI: Head coach Mike London is 16-21 as a head coach and only 8-16 in conference. What needs to happen this year to return the Cavaliers to his productive 2011 season level?
PW: The optimist/apologist in me would point to the tools London had available on his arrival; there weren’t any. By all accounts, the morale in the locker room was even lower than the talent level. London’s first job was to make the team believe they COULD win, and the 2011 team that came within a game of the ACC Championship Game is a testament to what London can do. In 2012, the talent level was exposed. London’s incredible recruiting work had brought good players into the program, but they just didn’t have the experience yet to put out a consistent winning product. The team that put up 33 at NC State and rallied to beat Miami was also the team that only beat Penn State by 1 at home after the PSU kicker missed 4 FGs. Consistency is the name of the game this year; consistency, and special teams. By any metric, be it F+ or just unit rankings, our special teams were among the worst in the country in 2012; we straight up lost one game because the special teams unit wasn’t prepared for a fake. New, highly experienced coaches all over the staff—defensive and offensive coordinators, special teams coordinator, and Tom O’Brien/the Notorious T.O.B./Sir Pleatsalot—should help with getting the 2013 squad back on track, even if the results aren’t seen until 2014.
AI: Let’s talk defense. The linebackers look to be very talented this season but very green in the experience. The departure of defensive tackle Chris Brathwaite leaves a huge hole in the middle of the defensive line. The safeties were supposed to be a position of talent and depth last season but look lost all season long. Who are the playmakers that will get the defensive unit to come together and be able to get stops for the Cavaliers this year?
PW: The biggest playmaker on this year’s defense is coordinator Jon Tenuta. He brings a pressure, attacking style to a defense with young athletes all over it. Instead of playing Saban-esque defense that relies on perfect positioning and reading cues, Tenuta’s Terrors (trademark pending) are going to take the fight to the offense. That starts up front, and despite losing Brathwaite, the DL is loaded if not deep. DE Eli Harold was the star of last year’s incoming recruits; he’s added 15–20 lbs of muscle and will work opposite Jake Snyder to get into opposing backfields. Michael Moore and Trent Corney are strong, fast, capable backups to spell Harold and Snyder. The LBs are going to be the main beneficiaries of Tenuta’s system: they aren’t going to be asked to sit back and react, but rather stick their face mask in and mix things up, a huge benefit for a young and talented group. The defensive backfield could be a disappointment if SS Anthony Harris still can’t cover and FS Brandon Phelps still can’t tackle; if they can, though, then our DBs could be the difference that gets us to six wins and a bowl game.
AI: Offensively, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of concern after discussing Watford. Running back Kevin Parks should play a huge role this season, especially early, for the new signal-caller. Who else is going to make an impact on the offensive side?
PW: Over the last decade, Virginia has staked a legit claim to being O-Line U: since 2006, three Cavalier linemen have been first-round draft picks. The next in line could be man-mountain Morgan Moses. At 6’6 and 335 (terrifyingly, a hair smaller than the size at which he arrived on Grounds), Moses has all the size that gets NFL teams hot and bothered. The success of the offense rides on his broad shoulders. If Moses can anchor a line that struggled mightily last year and get the Hoos back to running at will, Fairchild will be free to turn Watford loose. On the edges, Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings are the young burners, both third-years who came in as prized recruits. When the Hoos go four and five wide, you’ll see Tim Smith as the primary target, followed by Jennings, Terrell and E.J. Scott, probably in that order. TE Jake McGee is a highlight reel just waiting to be pressed; he could have a breakout season and pick up the mantle of former Virginia great Heath Miller.
AI: What is your prediction for Saturday’s game at Scott Stadium?
PW: Best case scenario: Tenuta’s defense forces mistakes, Fairchild’s offense capitalizes, the humidity overwhelms our mountain visitors, and Virginia takes an important step into the new season with an opening win. Worst case scenario: our offense can’t take the (metaphorical) punches from the BYU defense, our defense plays aggressive but out of position, and UVA gets Bronco Mendenhall’d behind the woodshed, staring down 0-2 with a daunting Oregon team waiting to come in the next week. I think reality is somewhere between the two. The prospect of a game coming down to special teams or clock management frightens me (see: 2012 La. Tech and Va. Tech losses), so predicting a close game brings out my pessimistic side. Almost. Hoos win, 24-20.