Bronco Mendenhall came to Virginia with a strong history as a defensive coach. He was gifted two of the better players in the country in Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding. With those guys gone and a couple of recruiting classes to bring in his own guys, the defense has looked somewhat inconsistent so far this season.
The front for UVA is trying to find a way to replace Andrew Brown at defensive end. They have utilized former nose tackle, Eli Hanbeck at that left end spot but he hasn’t been able to make very many plays so far. Hanbeck is a massive player and does a good job as a run defender but he doesn’t bring anything to the table as a pass rusher. Jordan Redmon is a guy to keep an eye on. He’s a 320 pound true freshman that starts in the middle of the line.
So far this year, the linebackers have been the best group for this defense. Jordan Mack has moved over to take over for Kiser and he already has 2.5 tackles for loss. He hasn’t had the amount of tackles that Kiser put up but his impact is seen on every defensive play. He’s always around the ball. Malcolm Cook shifted into the weakside inside linebacker spot but he missed the Ohio game with an injury. He’s expected to be back this week and that would be big for this defense. His backup left a lot to be desired last week.
On the outside is where you really get the impact plays from this defense. Chris Peace led the team in tackles for loss and sacks last year and he’s doing the same so far this year. Peace is a really good edge rusher but his game has developed to be a more complete player. So far he is playing the run much better and can use his speed in coverage at times. Charles Snowden is a super intriguing player to me. He came to UVA as a 6-7/200 pound outside linebacker and he’s bulked up to 225. He uses his length so well and has made more of an impact than the stats show. These two guys will be key for the defense defending the read option.
I expected the Virginia secondary to be one of the best in the conference but that hasn’t been the case so far. It hasn’t helped that the pass rush has been almost nonexistent but these guys were expected to be able to hold their own without much help. Bryce Hall has been able to do that with 7 pass break ups on the year. He gave up a touchdown pass against IU but they played in bad weather and he slipped on the play. Outside of that, he has been a lock down corner all year.
The safety spot has done pretty well so far replacing Blanding. Juan Thornhill returned at his “Sabre” spot. It’s kind of a strong safety spot but he is also used in coverage a good amount. Thornhill is a very good player and I would expect him to make a play on any balls over the middle that miss their mark. Brenton Nelson is still the odd man out in the secondary but he plays plenty as the fifth defensive back. He earned some accolades last year as a freshman. Joey Blount is the new guy at free safety and he leads the team in tackles. He is also used as a cornerback sometimes so those plays could provide an opportunity for the offense to take advantage.