Opponent breakdown: Virginia

I started this before camp, and plan to finish it in the run-up to the opener. Sorry for the break. Norm Wood of the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., provided this breakdown of Virginia, which Georgia Tech plays Sept. 15 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. You can check out Norm’s blog here and follow him 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.

72 comments Add your comment

gt_blume

August 21st, 2012
12:45 pm

headley lamar

August 21st, 2012
12:50 pm

This one should go to Ga Tech

At least according to Supersize. Here is how he has the season going.

@ Headless…..that was actually a fairly intelligent post for you. I don’t agree with your results, but that’s beside the point; it’s still a decent assessment. This, however, is my rundown on the season —

Va Tech (toss-up, but very likely GT win)
Blue Hose (Win)
UVA (Win)
Miami (DEFINITE WIN)
MTSU (Win)
Clemson (probable loss, but Tech does have their number)
BC (Win)
BYU (Win)
Maryland (Win)
UNC (Probably win by Tech, but I will never forget 1990)
Duke (Win)
UGA (WIN, but close)
Bowl (Depends on the opponent—hopefully a win)

For those counting that’s Tech going 11 -1 ( with a loss at Clemson )

Pretty bold considering Tech is 2 – 10 vs Va Tech, UGA, and bowl game under CPJ

Including 0 for the last 6

Maybe this is the year to buck the trend huh ?

FL Jacket

August 21st, 2012
12:55 pm

Is it a good sign for the present season when asked about the team’s QB…Virginia list 5 guys?

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
1:09 pm

Do I smell a defense trying rebuild while we have a veteran O-line? That should mean Tech will get its points. We do need to make sure our defense can bother their QB a little bit, and we should have a decent shot to win this one.

Max

August 21st, 2012
1:19 pm

11-1 is a dumb prediction for the season, though I would love to see it happen, 8-4 is much more likely. All that matters to me is that we beat UGA and win a bowl game, which is asking a lot lately.

Hayseed Dixie

August 21st, 2012
1:40 pm

Oh, good lord, headley lamarr (or should I say Marine Jacket?).

It’s the “IT” guy that doesn’t know how to even spoof his own IP address.

You *do* realize that coming on Institute’s blog and bragging about your “CS” degree from Southern Alabama Polytech or wherever is like telling West Point graduates that you know how to play Risk.

Feel inadequate, much? Go back home, princess.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
2:28 pm

TW gives us the best shot against VT, but I think we might see VL play at least a half or more against Pres. If VL plays well we might see a package for him against the young green secondary at UVA.

I want to see Tevin have a great year but Vad’s got to get some live fire as well and help us if God forbid Tevin is hurt.

Reebok

August 21st, 2012
3:09 pm

I like our chances of beating Virginia Tech more than our chance to beat Georgia. I think 8-3 would be a very good year, 9-2 would be fantastic…especially if one of those 9 wins is against the Dogs.

Hayseed Dixie

August 21st, 2012
3:11 pm

@fuzzybee

As with all rookie QBs (even Andrew Luck) there’s a toll you have to pay before they become the true, game-tested 1st string guy.

And, with Vad, my gut says the toll is: he’s gonna put the ball on the ground, perhaps in situations that cost us the game.

Now, I don’t mind taking a step back in order to take three forward. I’m just loathe to begin that process this season, with such a veteran O-line already in place.

Here’s hoping Tevin completes 3 of his first 4. That would be a good start.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
3:43 pm

@ hayseed
TW is solid and certainly will make fewer mistakes. But dont you think Pres is the perfect game to get VAD going? And depending on how that goes would CPJ give him more time against UVA’s secondary?

crackbaby

August 21st, 2012
3:48 pm

Tech owes UVA a beat down. Cavs played great last year to win in Charlottesvilles.

Green DBs should give CPJ plenty of chances for big plays on the ground and in the air. I’ll make the Brad Gilbert call here, GT gets two touchdowns early and rolls ‘em up in a big win at Grant Field.

crackbaby

August 21st, 2012
3:52 pm

@Max – Tech won 8 games last year. You don’t think they will do better in 2012?

@fuzzybee78 – Pres is the perfect game for Vad Lee….. In the 4th quarter. A lot depends on the Va Tech game. Bad loss up there and TW will play more against Pres. Don’t be surprised if Synjyn gets PT ahead of Vad against Pres.

Yeller Bug

August 21st, 2012
3:56 pm

Hopefully Lee and Days will play QB from mid-2nd QTR on in the game against Presbyterian. We should call their coach and ask him since Presbyterians are into predestiny. As fuzzybee states having a package for Vad would be good to give confidence and emphasize what he does well. It seems he is still having trouble with the speed and timing of the TO which does take a while to learn. But there are a lot of plays–dive, sweep to B-back, rollouts and passing that require less precision to execute that he can do.

dawgfan

August 21st, 2012
4:15 pm

I’m still enjoying a rather hearty chuckle over how your scout team QB is a 5′ 10″, 170 lb. true freshmen that was recruited as a defensive back or “athlete” by almost everyone except Georgia Tech.

You better pray to the Techie gods that your offense puts up 60 points per game this year. Otherwise you won’t have a prayer.

Thanks.

Hayseed Dixie

August 21st, 2012
4:25 pm

@fuzzybee78

No, you’re right. Pres would be a great game for Vad to gain confidence, and Virginia would be the next logical step.

It goes without saying that the Blue Hose would be about a step-and-a-half slower than top tier Div-I competition (and that’s being generous). Vad could torch them, and still come up short against the big-boys in a game that a veteran Tevin might manage better.

I realize that I might have some age-bias. I’m at that point where I trust the veteran more than the up-and-comer. I’d love to feast on some crow after a 500 yard all-purpose effort from Vad, however.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
4:29 pm

That was about Joe Hamilton’s size as a freshman. He turned out ok—

Johnson’s comment was a spoof on the question with respect to LThomas–

dustin

August 21st, 2012
4:30 pm

early lines have vt a 7.5 point fav.
i think they cover and win by 11

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
4:40 pm

@crackbaby
I agree except I think Vad is coming in first and Days will see the field as an A back before QB.

@Hayseed
On the age bias —I remember watching Billy L and I agree with you.

BLT

August 21st, 2012
4:42 pm

dawgfan,

“You better pray to the Techie gods that your offense puts up 60 points per game this year. Otherwise you won’t have a prayer.”

Will do. Thanks

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
4:44 pm

dustin, on what grounds? If our special teams is not a liability this year, our defense is helped out by their only having experience at QB, and our offense is clicking behind the best O-line CPJ may ever have had then I think Tech beating VPI is very doable. The Hokies’ best defenses haven’t ever truly stifled the option game the way Miami and some others have done, and we’re always within a drive of winning. Why this year would you say it’s gonna happen by more than a two scores?

Big Crimson 75

August 21st, 2012
4:52 pm

Phillip Sims should not have been allowed to play immediately.
The NC2A makes em up as they go along!!

I can count and

August 21st, 2012
4:56 pm

11 – 1 ain’t gonna happen not this year or next or even the next. In fact I don’t see 11 – 1 in my lifetime and I plan on sticking around for sometime :-)

dustin

August 21st, 2012
4:58 pm

you won’t stop logan thomas. he dominated the tech defense last year and will do so again this year. if you had a qb half as good as him, then it would be a toss up. your qb stinks.

BLT

August 21st, 2012
4:58 pm

Hey “counter”, you never know. You really do not get to decide regardless of your plans.

BLT

August 21st, 2012
5:00 pm

dustin, please bet the house if you have one. Other than that STFU!

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:02 pm

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:03 pm

some rude people on here. guess you know what’s coming. a beatdown by a perrenial power. keep dreaming that you have a chance.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:04 pm

blt
the truth hurts, doesn’t it?

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:07 pm

you do realize vt outrushed gt in the game last season?

BLT

August 21st, 2012
5:14 pm

dustin, you are posting your opinion. If you can see the future you would already be a billionaire. Something tells me you are not. What happened last year has no bearing on this year. If you are a betting man/boy then you would bet all you can on VT. Sorry for telling you to SU. You are just trolling Tech’s blog. I will still watch the game and hope you come back here afterwards regardless of the outcome. Have a nice evening. Better?

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
5:17 pm

You didn’t address the issues I presented. Special teams improvement for GT, defensive improvement for GT (even just one or two more stops would’ve given us a chance to win the last two years’ games against VPI, those stops are more likely this year since we should have a real Nose Tackle and a good secondary), and improvement from our offense. You can say our QB sucks, but statistically he doesn’t. God help you if we’re connecting on passes like we were early last season, by the way. I’ll give you that Bud Foster’s defense is no joke, but I repeat that we have had worse offensive production against Miami than against the Foster D. And this year the O-line is monstrous, the QB stable is more veteran/bigger/older, and the offensive backfield is more veteran/bigger/older. I know Logan Thomas is explosive, but if our offense keeps him off the field you’re going to need turnovers to win.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:20 pm

“What happened last year has no bearing on this ”
that statement is full of folly. if vt was having to replace the qb and several other posotions, then yes. you obviously have no clue how dominant this guy is. then the d. same dominant d as last year.
about the only chance you have is if lt doesn’t play. sorry but i recall many techsters saying how they would beat lsu in the bowl game a few years ago as well as the annual we’ll be uga this year. i mean look at this supersize moron’s posts calling for 11-1. and all i said was the betting line is 7.5–fact…and i think vt wins by 11…which is what they won by last season. it’s not like i am saying vt will blow you out. and no i would never bet on the first game of the season. and no i am not part of the 1/10 of 1% of the country that is a billionaire. i wouldn’t be on here if i was.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:23 pm

you were connecting early last season because you were playing cupcake opponents. i thought that was obvious. look at his statistics against ranked teams and you will see what i am talking about. vt’s defense will be better than last year. it’s a home game and we have a huge coaching and qb advantage. i like those odds. regardless, good luck.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:28 pm

i forgot to mention you don’t have a single wr that caught a pass last year. yet you talk like you have an all american to throw to. come on.

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
5:33 pm

Beamer and Foster are great coaches. Logan Thomas is a great quarterback. But saying Beamer and Foster give you any kind of in-game coaching advantage over Paul Johnson might not be giving enough credit to our coaching staff. Both are highly awarded and noted for in-game chess matches. That’s more like push (at least to Jackets fans.)

As for passing last season…you say it was CAUSED by weaker competition, but that’s the first time anyone has alleged this that I’ve heard. We were playing weaker competition early, granted. And we did have worse passing efficiency against the better competition in later games, yes. But watching the games shows that the ball was just thrown more poorly as the season progressed. Lots of squirrelly passes that got off target. And the ones that were on-target to an open Stephen Hill would get inexplicably dropped. These weren’t well-defended passes ripped out by dominant DB’s. Why? Because the DB’s were busy looking into the backfield to figure out who’s trying to block them and where the ball’s going – then TW passes and it’s dropped. That’s how it was happening. That’s mental, if you ask most people. Either the QB’s mind or the reciever’s mind or both, but it’s not the effect of a better defense unless there was a DE in your backfield (which did happen a few times, but I’m talking about the majority.) My only point is that if TW and the new starting receivers have it dialed in, then lookout. That’s all.

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
5:35 pm

Well I’ll say about those new receivers what yall try to say about your new O-line. Yeah, their new, but they’re not all young and some are even pretty good at what they do. So, let’s just call it even on that one.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
5:40 pm

I dont believe the majority of VT fans would say if asked “do they think VT is a better, worse, or about the same” than last year –especially the first game, they are going to say” better”. Maybe by mid season or end but not our of the gate.

Many think that GT is better — is it enough? Up there—Probably explains the -7.5.

I think ST and turnovers decide a game in the high 20’s.
Cook the Turkey!

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:40 pm

you ask any college football fan outside of gt’s fan base, who is the better coach, fb or pj and i bet 99% would say fb. don’t even try to say pj is = to fb. that is insulting.
play in a national champ game first. you must not realize that fb is first in the nation in wins among active coaches.

so the qb couldn’t throw the ball better in the second half??? like i said he sucks…but i digress…it has nothing to do with the competition or time he has to throw. obviously better def backs and pass rushers contributed to this. but you can make all the excuses you want. good luck with your new receiving corp. it will be interesting to see how they do.

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
5:41 pm

fuzzybee, that’s what I think. This going to be blow-for-blow and turnovers, calls going one way or the other, and ST’s will factor into a serious nail biter of a game.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:41 pm

fuzzy
do you realize you had 0 turnovers in the game last year and still lost by 11? vt had one turnover i believe.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
5:45 pm

dustin, answer my question— “better” the first game???

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:49 pm

better than last years first game? vt blew out app state by 50 points

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
5:51 pm

dustin
Turnovers, You might be right– The late penalty hurt bad, would have been much closer at worst from GT view.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
5:56 pm

Is VT a better football team this year in the opener against GT, than last years team at year end.

You cannot support a “yes” with any real evidence beyond claiming the D is sooooo much better they make up for the inexperience on O. At best it a push = same as last year.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:57 pm

i am right. i looked. 0 for gt 1 got vt.
late penalty def hurt but you still had us on our 34 yard line. it’s not like it was first and goal after the penalty. basically vt’s o and d took over and dominated the rest of the game. i think it will be close for a half but i see vt pulling away with superior talent and strength and conditioning like last year.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:59 pm

i think the defense will be better. i think qb play will be better. blocking and running backs will be weakened. all in all probably about the same as last year because lt is back with a full season under his belt. it’s hard to stop a 6″6 qb with an arm like he has.

DesignerJacket

August 21st, 2012
6:00 pm

All my comments look like they’re getting filtered out. Whatever. In a nutshell, just keep underestimating Georgia Tech football. Most of all that’s what I want from opposing coaches and players.

dustin

August 21st, 2012
6:00 pm

btw, if you guys had a qb like lt, then i think you could run the table with an improved d.

fuzzybee78

August 21st, 2012
6:01 pm

Designer-
This cant get here soon enough– deciding what a bunch of 20 year olds are going to do with an obround ball —- we all need a life!

I was ruined as a child, my daughter is 3rd generation:)

Oh That Guy

August 21st, 2012
6:03 pm

dustin

August 21st, 2012
5:20 pm

“What happened last year has no bearing on this ”
that statement is full of folly. if vt was having to replace the qb and several other posotions, then yes. you obviously have no clue how dominant this guy is. then the d. same dominant d as last year.
———————–
Dustin are you really a VT fan? Thomas had his best game last year against us. He had a good day but that is not indicative of his average play. VT is also replacing their O-Line, their top 2 WR’s and only real WR threats. They have a huge question mark at RB as well. You guys return 3 starters on offense and that is it. Your two main offensive weapons in that game besides Thomas are gone in Wilson and Coale. That stud defense gave up 340 yards and 26 points to our Offense that will be much better this year. The two guys we have replacing the WR’s are both 6′4 plus and haul. Our entire secondary is back and the LB core will be better as a whole here, but you think VT wins by the same amount as last year? You’re either a VT homer or just don’t understand what is going on.