2009 ACC Football Preview: Virginia

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Virginia Cavaliers

Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returnees: QB Jameel Sewell, QB Marc Verica, QB/CB Vic Hall, RB
Mikell Simpson, OT Will Barker, OG Austin Pasztor, OG B.J. Cabbell, C Jack
Shields, DE Matt Conrath NT Nick Jenkins, DL Nate Collins, LB Denzell Burrell, CB Ras-I Dowling, CB Chris Cook, S Corey Mosley, CB Chase Minnifield

Key Losses: RB Cedric Peerman, WR Maurice Covington, WR Cary Koch, WR
Kevin Ogletree, TE John Phillips, OT Eugene Monroe, DE Alex Field, LB Clint
Sintim, LB Antonio Appleby, LB Jon Copper, S Byron Glaspy

Overall View

UVA has a new offensive coordinator in Gregg Brandon, the former head coach
at Bowling Green who developed quarterback stars Omar Jacobs and Josh Harris.
The Hoos will employ this new spread style offense this year, though they don’t
yet know who their quarterback will be, and they are breaking in a new group of
wide receivers.

Defensively, UVA loses three of their four starting linebackers. Despite this
loss, the front seven should be decent, and the Hoos will also have more speed
at the safety position this year.

UVA plays a tough schedule this year, including non-conference games against
TCU, at Southern Miss and Indiana.

Offensive Strength

Virginia has a number of options at the quarterback position. That can
be good or bad, but for now we’ll list it as a strength. Jameel Sewell returns
after a year of academic suspension. He has 22 career starts. Marc Verica
started nine games last year, and threw for over 2,000 yards.

Vic Hall played quarterback against Virginia Tech last season and was
effective in the running game. It remains to be seen how effective he can be in
the passing game. If he can pick up the passing game, his ability to make big
plays with his feet could give him the nod for the starting job.

Virginia also has the ability to run some trickeration in their offense this
year. It’s possible we could see Vic Hall on the field with Jameel Sewell, at
the same time.

Offensive Weakness

UVA lost three starting wide receivers in Kevin Ogletree, Maurice
Covington and Kary Coch. There is some talent returning, but they will have to
get used to starting. Jared Green has made some splashes in practice. The son of
NFL legend Darryl Green, he has speed to burn.

Kris Burd and Dontrelle Inman also need to be ready to step up and fill the
void. Not only must they get used to playing a lot, but they must also continue
to pick up Gregg Brandon’s new offense.

Defensive Strength

Expect UVA to be much improved in the secondary this year. The Hoos
have not had much speed at safety for the last few years, but that should change
this year. Corey Mosley enters his second season as a starter, and Rodney McLeod
should be ready to start at the other safety spot.

At cornerback, UVA will have Ras-I Dowling, who is one of the ACC’s best.
They also return Chris Cook, who was academically ineligible last year. Cook
could also play safety if needed. If quarterback doesn’t work out for Vic Hall,
he would be welcomed back to the secondary with open arms.

Defensive Weakness

UVA returns two starters on the defensive line, but their depth is
poor. Matt Conrath has the tools to be very good, but there are no other proven
defensive ends. Andrew Devlin had to move from tight end during the spring.
John-Kevin Dolce and Kevin Crawford have been ineffective in the past.

At nose tackle, Nick Jenkins and Nate Collins are solid players, but they are
not the space eaters that a 3-4 defense typically requires. Physical opponents
will have success running on UVA this year, particularly since the Hoos are
breaking in three new linebackers behind a soft defensive line.

Key Game

UVA’s second game of the season against TCU could be big. Following
the TCU game, the Hoos have road trips to Southern Miss and North Carolina. They
are not a good road team. In fact, they’ve lost their last three road openers by
an average of 27 points (2006: 38-13 at Pittsburgh; 2007: 23-3 @ Wyoming; 2008:
45-10 @ UConn).

Unfortunately for UVA, TCU is a very good team. They are very physical in the
trenches, and they put an outstanding defense on the field every year. (In the
last ten years, TCU has been the sixth-best
defense in the nation
, on average, per research we did for a
column on Bud Foster.) That’s not the type of defense that the Hoos will want to
break in a new offense against.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

When I look at UVA’s team, I see some quality players such as Vic Hall,
Mikell Simpson, Will Barker, Matt Conrath, Chris Cook, etc. However, I don’t see
quality players across the board. I see them mixed in with some very average
football players, and I don’t see a lot of depth behind them at most positions.

I also see a team that, as usual, has a lot of new assistant coaches. Ron
Price is back, Gregg Brandon has joined the staff, and Al Groh got tired of
hiring a new defensive coordinator every year, so he just gave himself the
title. Groh is on the hot seat at the beginning of the season, as usual.

Unfortunately for Groh, I’m not sure how much his coaching changes will help
him this year. UVA is switching to a new offense that will demand a lot out of
the quarterbacks and receivers. It will take them awhile to get used to it and
get their timing down. Time is something that Groh doesn’t have.

To be fair, Groh does have a habit of pulling a rabbit out of his hat every
now and then. 2007 was supposed to be a down year, and the Hoos started out by
losing to Wyoming 23-3. However, they eventually won nine games and went to the
Gator Bowl, and Groh got some new life.

However, what is the long-term potential with Groh? He’s 65 years old (a
little over two years older than Frank Beamer), and he doesn’t have a lot of
time left, whether he gets fired or he retires. He’s also successfully managed
to leave a negative impression on most of the UVA fan base. There aren’t many
blind followers anymore. Most UVA fans I know have given up on him, and some
downright can’t stand him.

If I’m Craig Littlepage, then I’m pulling the plug on Groh after this year,
no matter what. The fans don’t embrace him, he’s failed to take the team to a
bowl game in two of the last three years, and in-state recruiting is getting
even more difficult as the gap between Tech and UVA grows. There’s nothing
exciting about UVA football right now, and things are getting back to the pre-Groh
era … empty seats and not a lot of noise.

I don’t know how UVA will do on the field this year. They could take some
teams by surprise with their new offense and win more games than expected. Or
they could do exactly as expected and finish around .500, or worse. Either way,
I think this is the last year of the Groh era in Charlottesville.

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