Tech opponent breakdown: Virginia

I’ve had to skip Presbyterian, Georgia Tech’s Sept. 3 opponent. The team doesn’t have a beat writer and my attempts to find a reasonably unbiased source to analyze the team fell short. I’ll keep working on it. Anyway, Norm Wood of the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., was gracious enough to answer questions about Virginia, Tech’s opponent Sept. 15 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. You can follow his blog here and on Twitter here.

1. In a nutshell, what are Virginia’s strengths and weaknesses?

Despite losing Associated Press second team All-American left guard Austin Pasztor and honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference center Anthony Mihota, U.Va. should still be very sturdy up front. Starting right guard Luke Bowanko spent his offseason rehabilitating from surgeries to each of his shoulders, but he should be ready to go for the start of practice and could slide over to center. Left tackle Oday Aboushi and right tackle Morgan Moses could be one of the best overall blocking duos in the nation.

Last season, U.Va. gave up 16 sacks, which was second-least in the ACC and least among offenses that didn’t run the option. With a still capable offensive line, and an experienced backfield, U.Va. should be just as strong in pass protection. Speaking of the backfield, Perry Jones (113 all-purpose yards per game; seventh in ACC), Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson give U.Va. a versatile corps of running backs with speed and power running skills and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

As far as quarterback play is concerned, depth will not be an issue with Michael Rocco, Phillip Sims, David Watford and freshmen Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns in the fold. On the defensive side, linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds are two very experienced leaders. Defensive tackle Will Hill will be a starter for the first time as a senior, but he gained ample field-time last season in a three-man rotation with now-graduated seniors Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins.

Replacing Conrath, Jenkins and defensive end Cam Johnson won’t be easy, but U.Va. may have bigger concerns about how green its secondary will be this season. Other than returning starting cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, none of U.Va.’s other projected first team defensive backs has ever started a game. U.Va.’s secondary will be among the youngest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. While Smith, Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings are all promising players at wide receiver, it’s going to be challenging to find someone to step into the shoes of receiver Kris Burd, who left U.Va. after last season the No. 2 all-time pass-catcher (162). There’s also a lot of uncertainty in the special teams units, where a new starting kicker and punter must be identified, and a dependable punt return option must emerge.

2. It’s probably hard to say, but what do you think are Alabama transfer Phillip Sims’ chances to start this season?

Without having a feel for how long incumbent Michael Rocco’s leash will be, it is indeed difficult to gauge Sims’ chances of starting this season. Given all the expected elements – relatively short period of time to work with new teammates, very little practice implementation of the playbook – one could reasonably assume Sims’ odds of being under center for the Sept. 1 season-opener against Richmond are long.

On the other hand, it’s not unreasonable to think Sims could start at some point during the season if Rocco were to falter. For the first seven games last season, Rocco split time with true freshman David Watford, who entered each of those games on U.Va.’s fourth or fifth drive and played extensively in each game. In U.Va.’s last six games, Watford only played in three of them, and he only attempted three more passes (completed none) in those games. Though Rocco started all 13 games, he sometimes ended up playing less than Watford in those first seven games.

Obviously, none of last season’s quarterback swapping has anything to do with Sims, but it does show coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor have a willingness to at least get creative with their quarterback situation if they deem it necessary. Sims may have a slightly less daunting learning curve because he’s already familiar with playing in the same offense as Jones and wide receiver Tim Smith. Sims, Jones and Smith all played at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va., winning a state championship together in 2008.

3. Who is the biggest loss from the team and how will that impact Virginia?

The “biggest loss” title could easily be attached to Burd, but there are experienced options to explore at the receiver spots. Johnson, who led the team in sacks last season with four, could be the most significant loss considering U.Va. has virtually no returning pass rush, but there’s potential in highly-recruited incoming freshman defensive end Eli Harold. Instead, cornerback Chase Minnifield might be the most irreplaceable cog. Last season, he earned first team All-ACC honors after leading the team with 11 passes defended, including three interceptions. The biggest problem is U.Va. has next-to-nothing in terms of seasoned depth at cornerback.

Sophomores Drequan Hoskey, Brandon Phelps and Brendan Morgan all spent most of last season playing special teams. Now, Hoskey, who came to U.Va. on a track scholarship before joining the football program in 2010, and the highly-touted Phelps will enter preseason practice as the favorites to take over for Minnifield. Hoskey and/or Phelps need to be effective. If they aren’t, U.Va. will likely have to rely on a true freshman to pick up the slack. Nicholson was able to come in last season as a true freshman, start right away and play fairly well throughout the season, but he was also considered by most recruiting analysts to be one of the nation’s top five cornerbacks and top 100 overall prospects coming out of high school. None of the incoming cornerbacks this season will arrive with that kind of rep.

4. With five returning starters on defense, how vulnerable to do you think that unit is?

Other than the linebackers and a few promising individuals (Harold, Hill and Nicholson), there are serious questions to be answered. The worries obviously start in the secondary, where Hoskey or Phelps and projected first-team safeties Anthony Harris and Rijo Walker will all be first-time starters. Offenses may try to pick on the green secondary. If the young players don’t respond, U.Va. may have a difficult time even rising to last season’s unspectacular, yet reasonable overall passing defense numbers (212 yards per game, 45th in the nation; 12 interceptions, 55th in the nation).

Generating a pass rush may also be a challenge for U.Va. with Johnson and Conrath (three sacks) gone to National Football League camps. No other returning player had more than two sacks last season, but defensive coordinator Jim Reid talked about making adjustments in his 4-3 scheme to free up outside linebackers Daquan Romero (who had a combined 49 sacks in his final two seasons of high school as a defensive end) and Reynolds on blitzing opportunities, and London expressed optimism about the 6-4, 215-pound Harold’s pass-rushing ability from the edge.

5. What is the fan base’s perception of Mike London?

London has had to fight what can best be described as general fan malaise surrounding the program – a condition that took root far before he was named the coach in Dec. 2009. Attendance in U.Va.’s Scott Stadium fell in each of former coach Al Groh’s final three seasons – average of 59,824 fans in ’07, 53,815 in ’08 and 47,986 in ’09. It continued to plummet in the ’10 season (45,459) – London’s first as coach – before making a small increase last season (47,940). On the whole, the impressions of London seem to be positive.

Fans are encouraged by his staff’s recruiting acumen (could be on the brink of a top 25 national class for 2013; have made inroads to re-establish themselves as major entities in the fertile Hampton Roads and northern Virginia recruiting territories). Last season’s appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which was U.Va.’s first bowl in four years, along with U.Va. contending for the Coastal Division crown into the last week of the regular season and London’s conference coach of the year award have helped raise confidence in London’s vision. Yet, until there’s sustained winning (three of the last four seasons have featured losing records) in Charlottesville, fans that were used to seven to nine-win seasons under coach George Welsh and in the early Groh years will stay away.

6. Given the team’s inexperience, if Virginia goes 4-4 in the ACC, will that be a disappointing season?

As a matter of fact, a 4-4 conference mark seems like a perfectly reasonable prediction. With road contests against Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech – all of which could challenge for respective division crowns – it’s not inconceivable U.Va. could lose all three of those games. A road game against Duke and home games against Maryland and Wake Forest seem winnable, but home games against Miami and UNC aren’t gimmes by any stretch.

After going 8-5 last season, U.Va. could be in for a small step back this season before it moves forward. In other words, with the addition and development of solid recruiting classes, brighter days are ahead for U.Va. – but something like a 6-6 overall, 4-4 ACC record this season is a distinct possibility.

Virginia Tech preview

2011 game story vs. Virginia

Notes on Orwin Smith, Synjyn Days, secondary

Thanks for reading.

79 comments Add your comment

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
1:42 pm

too far ahead for me to think about……

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
1:45 pm

still, might be nice to draw those CBs in, & throw behind them…….

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
1:48 pm

Presbyterian is an embarrassment to GT… To even schedule this team is Unbelievable…. UVA on the other hand always gives us trouble…. UVA is a well coached team that is average at best… We will have our hands full…

NCJacket

July 31st, 2012
1:56 pm

gt4ever, I just saw an article witch claims that GT has played more “Big 4 conference” opponents than any other team in the ACC dating back to 2005. If true,I think we have earned the right to play a team like Presbyterian.

DesignerJacket

July 31st, 2012
1:59 pm

Sounds like their defense won’t be as imposing as it was last year. Their D-line (now mostly in the NFL) had our guys beat inside. If their defense is weaker, I’m thinking this is a more winnable game than we may have thought. We’ll know a lot more about our own team after that first game, though!

ToeMeetsLeather

July 31st, 2012
2:02 pm

me thinks gt4ever is a nadlicker4ever

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:07 pm

@ gt4ever……although I agree that having Pres on the schedule looks very bad, there WAS a reason for putting them there, you know. I don’t remember now who the 12th team on the schedule originally was, but when ESPN convinced (not a hard job…..LOL) the two Tech’s to play on Labor Day, Tech had to have a game 4 days later that would not be over-taxing. At that late date, it’s not easy to find an opponent, so we “settled”. Va Tech is playing Austin Peay that same day, and that’s nothing to be proud of either.

DesignerJacket

July 31st, 2012
2:07 pm

If they have fresh D-linemen and corners playing while we’re fielding a veteran offensive line, then I’m going to hazard a guess that offense won’t be a problem. Now, our defense against their running game might an issue (but only because that’s wour D’s issue against everyone until we tighten that up.) They’ll play us tough, but I’m no longer as worried about them if they’re starting a lot of fresh defenders against us.

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:08 pm

@ ToeMeetsLeather……no, gt4ever IS a Tech fan. He’s just one who is very hard to please. But he also is one who will admit when he is wrong.

DesignerJacket

July 31st, 2012
2:09 pm

yeesh…I’m having a typo problem today.

GT Lee

July 31st, 2012
2:13 pm

gt4ever = Glum (it’ll never work Gulliver, we’re doomed)

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
2:17 pm

@toemeetsleather
nah, but you can go on and keep licking them, I wont judge….

@GT Lee

I think we have sufficient data to prove or disapprove the offense that we run… Super knows what I think…
:)

ToeMeetsLeather

July 31st, 2012
2:26 pm

Thanks “Super”, I’ll keep that in mind moving forward. I’m pretty sure MTS was suppose to be the first game of the season and then when ESPN put us playing on 9/3 we shifted them to later in the season and talked Presbyterian into traveling to Atlanta on very short notice. We had a open slot later in the year that Drad was trying to fill when the Labor Day game popped up I’m pretty sure.

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:34 pm

@ gt4ever……do you go to the games? Several of us have started meeting before, during, or after the games, if only just to say hi. Would love to meet you sometime too.

ToeMeetsLeather

July 31st, 2012
2:37 pm

gt4ever, when CPJ is sitting at 7-5 with all of his recruits(which is where Gailey was almost every year), we will then have the start of that “sufficient data”. Let’s give this 2012 team a chance to play the games before making a call on that “data”.

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
2:40 pm

Where do you guys hang out? Not sure I want to join the CPJ love fest… LOL, just kidding..

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
2:49 pm

OK Toemeetsleather… You win. I will attempt to be positive no matter how absurd it becomes… BTW, I was never a Gailey fan. I am a true believer that if we get the right coach and system in place, GT can once again regain it prominence. There are plenty of academically sound institutions that play good competitive football.(and beat their rival on a regular basis)

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
2:51 pm

Cross made a preseason watch list, maybe Dline picks up…would love to see Kallon on 3rd & long…Super, be sure & let me know if it’s the same spot, hopefully not so many noon games where it’s hard enough just making kick-off(bring pix)…

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:52 pm

@ gt4ever……have you seen the yellow firetruck that is parked at the corner of Techwood and Fowler, just outside the stadium? UOAD has friends who gather there every week, and some of us have gone by there before the game. Others have just met inside the stadium; one in fact arranged to have his seat next to mine in the upper east deck. It sorta varies from week to week, and nothing definite has been set up yet for this year. If you’re interested though, check in the week before a given game, and I’m sure it will be mentioned…..or you can just ask. We just started doing this the last couple of games last year, but some of us met in El Paso, and 5 or 6 of us sat together at the T-Night game. Even if you and some of us might disagree on some things, we’re still all Tech fans.

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
2:52 pm

Stanford & nd beat usc how often?

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:54 pm

@ juvenal…..I think the only time we met last year was when you stopped by my seat for a minute. I have the same seats, and 1 4 GT will now be in the one next to mine. GT Lee will be using that ticket for the Pres game. As far as before games, just read what I said to gt4ever. The last thing you said was “bring pix.” What did that mean?

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
2:55 pm

Even if you and some of us might disagree on some things, we’re still all Tech fans.

Exactly… Well said!

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
2:59 pm

@ gt4ever…..we just need to disagree civilly. I mean absolutely no offense to you here, because I think I figured you out a long time ago……sometimes you don’t come across as offering civil disagreement. Choose your words a little better. LOL

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
3:01 pm

of your trip, of course…last year, the noon thing was a killer, & my kid has a lot of Sat. soccer stuff. as you may notice, i have to plan anything months-years in advance…will definitely make the bowl this year, won’t be out of the US for Christmas…& the almighty tv gods make it so you have 12 days to plan…hoping to get you to some basketball…

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
3:01 pm

LOL… I will try to do better…. Good grief I had NO idea some of you guys were delicate flowers… Oh Damn, there I go again…

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
3:05 pm

gt4ever, blind loyalty is more blindness than loyalty, Doug & Ken could tell you how often i have queried about the shot-gun, QB rotation, & NT-still, some tones are better in a pre-game meeting than in public…

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
3:07 pm

juvenal…..check your email

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
3:10 pm

LOL @ gt4ever

It’s not that we are delicate flowers, but on blogs where a*holes like WnE and dwagfan made regularly STUPID posts, maybe sometimes we are a little sensitive to some posts which sometimes don’t sound much better than their’s. Hell, there are some on here who have actually claimed that you and WnE are the same person. LOL

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
3:16 pm

dawgfan is a typical mutt… you really have to feel sorry for them… They have nothing but their football… kinda pathetic really…
I’m not sure about Wne yet…

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
3:25 pm

LOL, I hope I’m not WnE…. I don’t spend nearly the same amount of time blogging as detailed as he does…. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he has made some very astute comments… Sorry to say… lol

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
3:30 pm

@ gt4ever…….but he says the same old crap over and over and over again, and he has NEVER said one good thing about Tech. He CLAIMS to be a Tech fan and not give a damn about what the dwags do, and yet on April 1, he glowed effusive in his comments about UGA players’ progress during the spring. Does that really sound like a Tech fan to you?

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
3:41 pm

I’m not sure he is a GT fan, maybe just a college football fan or a closet UGA fan… Imagine that.. Just plain embarrassed to claim his allegiance to UGA, the JOKE of the south…

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
3:45 pm

@ gt4ever…….see you and I CAN agree on something. LOL

1 4 GT

July 31st, 2012
3:50 pm

I personally think that Carnack the Magnificent (gollum) went to GT. He knew too much about where students hung out & where they could eat (even down to nick names). But he either flunked out or was kicked out for some reason. That explains his complete disdain for GT to me. Selah!

dawgfan

July 31st, 2012
3:54 pm

HUGE game. It doesn’t get any bigger or better than this. 40,000 people at Bobby Dodd stadium will be rocking for the noon kickoff. It will be an absolutely electric atmosphere. I wish I could be there. Thank God ESPN will be broadcasting the game on the internet.

Thanks.

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
3:56 pm

and then there was dawgfan….

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:00 pm

@ dwagfan…..you obviously don’t have a clue. If you are referring to the Presbyterian game, it will not be played at noon. I think you’re confusing that with KO time for the UGA game with Buffalo. BUFFALO ??? Do they even have a football team there?

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:02 pm

And if you’re referring to the Tech – UVA game, it starts at 3:30 on ESPNU

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
4:04 pm

Yeah, Buffalo is equally as embarrassing… Plus that classless, clueless defensive coordinator. A defense that has beat NOBODY of substance…. A group of 4 and 5 star athletes that underachieve EVERY year… Joke is an understatement… for UGA’s program…

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:06 pm

Damn, gt4ever, we agree again…….regarding “Choke” Grantham.

gt4ever

July 31st, 2012
4:08 pm

maybe it’s really the end of time as we know it…. lol

1 4 GT

July 31st, 2012
4:10 pm

dwagfan if the type of Georgie fan that the other 99% of them look bad. He is the type of guy that it is too easy to say, “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine.”

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:10 pm

HALLELUJAH !!!! LOL

1 4 GT

July 31st, 2012
4:12 pm

“make” between that & the other

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:14 pm

@ 1 4 GT…..I know they are known as butt sniffers, but I don’t want dwagfan anywhere near my butt. LOL

1 4 GT

July 31st, 2012
4:16 pm

I’m gone–gotta go vote!

dawgfan

July 31st, 2012
4:21 pm

“And if you’re referring to the Tech – UVA game, it starts at 3:30 on ESPNU”

Sweet!!! If you’re a fan of ACC Coastal football (and really, who isn’t?) you’ll be sure to tune in to this one. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the southeast tuned in last year to watch UVA pull the shocker over 6-0 Georgia Tech. After impressive wins over the likes of Western Carolina, Kansas and NC State Georgia Tech football seemed destined for greatness, but in the rough and tumble ACC Coastal you can never take anything for granted. You’ve got to bring the B- game every single week.

“A defense that has beat NOBODY of substance….”

I couldn’t agree more. Georgia Tech football=no one of substance.

Thanks.

juvenal

July 31st, 2012
4:21 pm

3;30 may be do-able…80,000 AA drop-outs, the atmosphere definitely reeks in azzins…p,p & p…

Supersize that order, mutt

July 31st, 2012
4:27 pm

dwagfan…..who do you think will be your D-coach after Grantham gets his classless azz fired? It WILL happen, you know, even though he probably appeals to jerks like you.

BLT

July 31st, 2012
4:29 pm

dwagfan, where’s the usual reference about putting something in or pulling something out of your rear end? You are slipping my smelly friend.

Thanks