William & Mary, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Duke
UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State, Pitt, North Carolina, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech
Series leader: Tie (2-2)
The series between the Cavaliers and Cardinals currently sits at an even draw at 2-2. In Louisville’s first year in the ACC, the Cards went down to Charlottesville and lost a close game 23-21. That was the first time that the two teams have played since they played in Charlottesville in 1989. The Cards would beat the Cavaliers a year prior to that in 1988 at home. When the teams met last year, running back Brandon Radcliff torched UVA’s defense for 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Kyle Bolin was the starter of the day for Louisville and threw for 139 yards and had a 21-yard touchdown pass to Cole Hikutini. Reggie Bonnafon saw some time at quarterback as he threw a touchdown pass to Jaylen Smith.
While the Cardinals defense was stout against the run by keeping Virginia under 100 yards rushing and no rushing touchdowns, Virginia quarterback Matt Johns did throw for 260 yards and had 4 touchdowns, three of which went to wide receiver Canaan Severin. Severin would finish the day with 8 receptions for 116 yards and 3 touchdowns.
UVA had a rough year last year by going 4-8. They started out the season with a tough two opponents in by playing at #13 UCLA and a week later hosting #9 Notre Dame. The game against the Irish came down to a last second heart-breaker for the Cavaliers. Notre Dame’s starting quarterback Malik Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the 3rd quarter while the Irish were barely in the lead at 19-14. In came redshirt-freshman DeShone Kizer, who had no playing experience on the college level. Notre Dame took a 26-14 lead on the Cavaliers heading in to the 4th. UVA would rally back to claim a 27-26 lead. UVA, thinking that they may have pulled off a big upset early in the season, would see first-hand how fast receiver Will Fuller was as Kizer hit Fuller for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left on the clock. This last-second Irish victory would leave UVA fans feeling like:
UVA would bounce back the next week with a win over William & Mary to go along with victories over Syracuse (a game which went to 3 OT), Georgia Tech, and Duke.
After going 4-8 in 2015, Mike London decided to step down after being named the head coach of the Cavaliers at the end of the 2009 season. In steps Bronco Mendenhall. Mendenhall is one of the many new coaches in the ACC after spending 11 seasons leading BYU. He has had quite a bit of success while at BYU. After going 6-6 in his first season, Mendenhall led the Cougars to 4 straight seasons of double digit wins, while winning the Mountain West Conference twice. Overall, he was 99-43 at BYU. More impressively, however, his teams made it to a bowl game every year he was there, with a 6-5 record.
*Side note: With the hires of Richt, Fuente, and Mendenhall, I don’t envision the Coastal being down for long.
UVA will return 10 starters from a year ago (5 offense, 5 defense). Virginia is tied with Duke for bringing back the least amount of starters in the ACC. On defense, their returning starters are on the back end of the defense, but the advantage of these returning starters may be negated because Mendenhall is switching schemes from a 4-3 to 3-4.
On offense, Taquan Mizzell will be the big returning starter. He averaged 4.05 yards per carry on 164 attempts in 2015. He also hauled in 75 receptions (which led the team) for the Cavaliers for an average of 9.61 yards per catch. Quarterback Matt Johns returns, but with a new head coach, the starting quarterback position will be up for grabs. Another key returner for Virginia will be running back Albert Reid. Reid transferred in to the program in 2015 from Maryland. Since he graduated from Maryland, he was able to play right away for UVA. Reid and Mizzell will be the key combo offensive weapons for UVA, as there is a lack of experience and proven production in the receiving corps.
Senior Matt Johns returns to the Cavaliers after being the starting quarterback a year ago. In 2015, he was unimpressive for the most part. He threw for 2,810 yards with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He didn’t help out much in the run game, having run for 86 yards and 1 touchdown.
While he was the starter last year, that doesn’t guarantee him anything for this upcoming season. Virginia brings in a new head coach, and as is the norm when a program brings in a new head coach, all positions are up for grabs. Matt Johns will have to prove himself the better option over senior Connor Brewer and East Carolina graduate transfer Kurt Benkert.
Mendenhall is bringing with him a 3-4 scheme on defense. Last year, UVA was pretty awful on defense, having ranked last in the ACC in scoring defense. Even with a good defense, it is always difficult to adjust and learn a new scheme. It usually takes a couple of years (and recruiting the right guys to fit the scheme) before the defense really takes shape and becomes successful. That’s not to say that there aren’t good players on defense, as senior Donte Wilkins has looked impressive at the nose, but overall this defense will be project.
The Cavaliers will return 9 players along the offensive line who have made starts at some point in their career. To go along with this experience and depth in the trenches, Virginia also returns their leading rusher from last year, senior running back Taquan Mizzell. They also bring back their second leading rusher, Albert Reid. Combined, the two have rushed for 1,024 yards and 7 touchdowns. Mizzell is also a threat out of the backfield, as he is the returning leading receiver as well. The depth at offensive line and the 1-2 punch of Mizzell and Reid is going to be very formidable for opponents to face.
4 players to remember
Taquan Mizzell: Currently is the returning leader in rushing and receiving for the Cavaliers, this running back can do it all.
Micah Kiser: The junior linebacker had a highly successful season as a sophomore in 2015. Kiser led the team in tackles (117), tackles for loss (13), and sacks (7.5). He also had 3 forced fumbles to add to his stat sheet.
Quin Blanding: Another sophomore in 2015 on the Cavaliers defense, Blanding had 3 passes broken up, 1 interception, and forced a fumble while also second on the team behind Kiser in tackles (115).
Evan Butts: While Evan’s 2015 stats as a freshman were decent (16 receptions, 182 yards, and 3 touchdowns), those alone normally wouldn’t be enough to pose any real threat. However, with leading receiver Canaan Severin gone, Virginia is depleted at proven receivers (not counting running back Taquan Mizzell). Evan will be a good candidate to step up as a go-to guy in the passing game standing at 6’4” and 240 lbs.
Despite going 4-8 in 2015, UVA seems to play the Cards close the last couple of times they have faced off, having won by 2 at home in 2014 and losing by a touchdown this past season. This is mainly attributable to Petrino still building the team to fit his schemes. Much like most of the ACC schedule, on paper the Cards look to be too formidable for a Virginia team that is uncertain at quarterback and depleted at wide receiver. However, Bronco Mendenhall has a track record of building up competitive football teams. The Cards should be able to go in to Scott Stadium and get a victory this time around, but UVA will be throwing everything it can at Louisville to try and get a signature win for the new Mendenhall regime.