The Sports Daily > College Football Zealots
2013 Pre-Season Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

2012 Record: 4-8 (2-6 in ACC)

Head Coach: Mike London (16-21 at UVA, 40-26 All-Time)

Last Bowl Game: 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl: lost to Auburn 43-24

Stadium: Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA (capacity = 61,500)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 60th out of 69 BCS teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference Games: 8/31 vs BYU, 9/7 vs Oregon, 9/21 vs VMI, 10/5 vs Ball State

Toughest Conference Home Game: 10/2 vs Clemson, 11/30 vs Virginia Tech

Toughest Conference Road Games: 11/9 at UNC, 11/23 at Miami (FL)


Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: -1.17 turnover margin (last in ACC)

Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 30.73% on third downs (4th in ACC)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 78th out of 124 teams



Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 2

Key Defensive Returnees: SS Anthony Harris (87 tackles), DE Eli Harold

Key Offensive Returnees: RB Kevin Parks (734 yds rush, 4.59 ypc), WR Darius Jennings (48 rec), WR Dominique Terrell (38 rec)


Inside Scoop with Lambeth Field:

CFBZ: After posting eight wins in just his second season, Mike London and the Cavs fell back down to four wins last season. What were the primary reasons for the decline?
Lambeth Field: Virginia was the beneficiary of some close games turning out their way in 2011. The backbone of that team was the ability to control the line of scrimmage on offense and running the ball effectively. During their late season success, the quarterback just had to manage games and sustain drives to keep the offense on the field. Flash forward to 2012, and all of that changed. With pretty much the same offense from the year before, Virginia had serious problems up front, mainly with the interior line. That caused a serious domino effect. The Cavs running game was routinely blown up behind the line of scrimmage, which caused both QBs to sit in shotgun and rely on the pass, something neither were great at. This lead to a quarterback 'battle' which is never good for a team. On defense, they were just on the field too long, and against ever the lesser adept offensive teams you start giving up points. All of this lead to a very disappointing 4-8 season.
CFBZ: Virginia ran into some issues this off-season at QB. Who will be taking snaps under center this fall?
Lambeth Field: This is the 4th year under Mike London, and the 4th QB race I've had to cover. The departure of Rocco and Sims were slightly unexpected, but not shocking. Michael Rocco could not hold off Alabama transfer Phillip Sims by mid season and with one year remaining, decided to move on to Richmond where he will have a shot in 2014 to start. Sims fell to 3rd on the Spring Depth chart and then was declared academically ineligible and transferred to Liberty. Without completely stirring up the rumor mill, it was evident from coaches that he was not picking up the offense as quick, nor putting in the time to make up the difference. That leaves two front runners for the starting job this year. David Watford is a RSo. from Hampton, VA is the slight clubhouse leader. He actually played his 1st year, then redshirted last season when the Rocco/Sims battle was on going. He is a athletic quarterback (as most are from the 757) and is considered 'pass-first', but his running ability and reading defenses gives him a new dimension not seen for a while under center. Right beside him is RFr. Greyson Lambert, a prototypical pocket passer from Jesup, Ga. He is a gun slinger that has some amazing touch on deep balls, but still has to learn the speed of the college game, especially being able to see the coverages and check down to 2nd and 3rd options. 
CFBZ: What are the strengths of this team?
Lambeth Field: This is going to sound bad, and I'm sure I'll get killed in Wahoo-land, but I don't see any clear cut strengths, and I would be remiss for anyone to point out any at this time. Because of last year's showing, Virginia essentially cleaned house on assistants. There is a new Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams Coordinator, as well as some others. On offense, we will have two very good running backs in Kevin Parks back and 5-star 1st year Taquan Mizzell along with a strong cast of WRs, but as we stated, there is a new signal caller under center in a new offense behind an interior line that is still in flux. On defense, Virginia will move from a cover first team to a heavy blitzing/stunt team, which should allow for the young secondary players who have been getting battle tested the past 2 seasons to mature and contribute. But outside of the defensive ends, there was a lot of turnover in the front seven. While we have been told not much will change (Pro Set Offense/ 3-4 Defense), they would not make wholesale changes if they were going to do the same thing, and with this, it is impossible to really figure how they will use the players this year.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season successful in your eyes?
Lambeth Field: 2013 will be a success if at the end of the year I'm not talking about Mike London on the hot seat. Associate Athletic Director Jon Oliver put together a daunting non-conference schedule with BYU and Oregon along with our ACC rotation with Clemson and away games at UNC and Miami. Throw in our annual game with VT and you start at 6-6 on the year, not accounting for the 1 or 2 that slip away. If they could somehow get to 6-6 and a Whatever.com Bowl, that could stay the execution for another year. Another 4-8 year and both London and Oliver could be on the way out and we have another 2009 season where we had a 'lame duck' coach.
Mike London has remade his offensive staff bringing in offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild (former Colorado State head coach) and associate head coach Tom O'Brien (former NC State head coach). Now they just have to find a QB. Greyson Lambert put up better stats in the spring game but I think it will be David Watford that will be called upon to start at QB for UVA this year. Watford brings the added dimension of athleticism to the offense and could be a problem for defenses if he can balance his ability to run with some semblance of a passing game. Virginia returns leading rusher Kevin Parks, but as was stated in the Q&A the offensive line needs to do a better job opening holes. Virginia returns it's three leading pass catchers from last year but the TE will be a key with such youth at QB so keep an eye on Jake McGee and others at that position. According to Phil Steele, Virginia returns 81 career starts on the OL so there is experience, they just need to put it all together.
One area the defense digressed in last season was red zone defense. They went from allowing a 72% score rate (including just 48% on TDs) in 2011 to an 84% score rate (including 62% TDs) in 2012. They will need to tighten up inside the 20s in 2013. Mike London brings in Jon Tenuta to run the defense. The defense didn't get to the QB much last year so that will be one of the first things Tenuta will work on. They will also need to replace the team leader in sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (10) as Chris Brathwaite is no longer with the team, The key returnee here is rising sophomore Eli Harold. The Cavs weren't bad against the run last year (3.99 ypc) but they have to get after the QB more. At LB, they must replace their two leading tacklers. There is talent here with Henry Coley (2010 3-Star), DaQuan Romero (2011 3-Star), Mark Hall (2012 3-Star) and Kwontie Moore (2012 4-Star) but talent must meet execution for Tenuta's LB unit. The secondary looks like the strength of the defense with four starters returning. 
Virginia lost four games by one TD or less in 2012. In 2011 they had the opposite happen as they won five close games. Is Virginia good enough this year to swing some of those close games over to their side? The schedule will be a challenge for Virginia this season. The tougher out of conference games come first as they host BYU and then Oregon before facing VMI in week four (after a bye) and Ball State (who is no push over) in early October. The ACC schedule starts off a bit easier (at Pitt, at Maryland, vs Duke) but closes like a bear (vs Clemson, at UNC, at Miami and vs VT). When I look at the schedule I think the two key games are the early conference road games against Pitt and Maryland. If they can win those games they will likely go bowling but if they fail then it will be another long season in Charlottesville. Right now I see Virginia as a 4 or 5 win team. If the offense comes together that could change quite a bit.