By Ed McGranahan.
Virginia took a step back last season when it lost four games by a total of 22 points, this after the program’s best record in five years in 2011, which concluded with a berth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Considered an easy mark for Clemson back in the day when it lost 29 straight to the Tigers, the Cavaliers shook off that reputation under then legendary head coach George Welsh in the 1990s. Now, Mike London exudes similar confidence as Welsh did as he tries to bring Virginia back to the top of the ACC.
Beginning his fourth season as head coach, London has a strong foundation on which to build with depth at wide receiver, the offensive line and secondary.
Identifying a starting quarterback becomes the crucial point.
“When you look at it, we’ve always been a young team,” London said. “When you come in, you’re changing over rosters because you’re changing over schemes and things like that.
“You’re always trying to collect talent, develop talent, but understand they have to perform on the field at some point.”
Nov. 2: @ Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
2012 record: 4-8
2012 ACC record: 2-6, 4th in the Coastal Division
The series: Clemson leads 37-8-1. But the series is 8-8-1 since 1990 – the first year UVa beat the Tigers.
Offense facing an extreme makeover
Returning starters: 7
QB: Chased out ofAlabama by A.J. McCarron, Phil Sims landed inCharlottesville where he started four games last season. Sims, in turn, ran off Mike Rocco, who transferred toRichmond after starting eight games.London won’t say Sims has a lock on the job, preferring to push the “competition” button. David Watford and Greyson Lambert are next on the list, but asVirginia tries to blow life into its frequently anemic and mistake-plagued offense don’t bet against Sims, who completed 56.2 percent of his passes for more than 1,200 yards in four starts.
RB: Junior Kevin Parks (734 yd.) returns at tailback with Clifton Richardson and
Khalek Shepherd. The Cavs frequently deploy a fullback and Vincent Croce (6-4, 275) should be a load.
WR: Sims – or whomever – will have a core of productive receivers with Darius Jennings, Tim Smith, Dominique Terrell and E.J. Scott. Smith averaged 20.3 yards on 20 catches last year.
TE: Jake McGee has the hands and speed to go with his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame, but Virginia’s offense is still centered on its running game so he will have to improve as a run blocker. If not, look for converted fullback Zach Swanson to take over.
OL: On paper it looks a bit undersized by most standards, but there’s experience starting with 6-foot-6, 325-pound senior left tackle Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko, switched from center to guard. Redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo slides in at center flanked by right guard Sean Cascarano, moved from right tackle, and Bowanko. Jay Whitmire emerged at right tackle during the spring. Starter Conner Davis missed spring
Tenuta inherits nucleus of salty defense
Returning starters: 7
DL: After finishing 28th nationally in total defense, allowing 305 yards per game over the final half of the season, London had to hire a new defensive coordinator. Enter Jon Tenuta, who brings his attacking scheme from stops at NC State and Georgia Tech in hopes of improving the tackles for loss (77th) and sacks (98th). Senior Jake Snider and sophomore Eli Harold are likely starters at end with seniors Brent Urban, Justin Renfrow and sophomore David Dean at tackle.
LB: Replacing the production of Steve Greer became the challenge during spring practice with junior Henry Coley, junior Daquan Romero, sophomore Kwontie Moore and redshirt freshman Mark Hall all working as the top candidates.
DB: The secondary looks to be improved with five players back who started in 2012, led by junior corner Demetrious Nicholson. Drequan Hoskey, another junior, or Maurice Canaday will be at the other corner position. Tenuta also has strong safety Brandon Phelps and free safety Anthony Harris back.
PK: Ian Frye emerged as the spring leader to replace Drew Jarrett.
P: Alex Vozenilek averaged a net 40.6 yards as a sophomore, tied for fifth in the ACC.
Bottom line: When several members of his staff opted for other jobs, London surrounded himself with plenty of coaching savvy with Tenuta and former N.C. State/Boston College head coach Tom O’Brien, a former member of Welsh’s staff in Charlottesville.