#85 Virginia Football 2016 Preview

Virginia Cavaliers
Overall Rank: #85
#14 ACC


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With just one bowl appearance in six years under Coach Mike London, it was time for Virginia to make a change. Last year ended with just four wins and too many tough losses. It was no surprise that the Cavaliers would try something new in 2016, but it was a bit of surprise that they were able to lure Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU. Coach Mendenhall has had great success with the Cougars and now will attempt to jump start the Virginia program. It will not be easy, but Virginia had to spend big to make a big hire and the expectations are on the rise.
2015 Record: 4-8, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (0-0 at Virginia, 99-43 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Robert Anae
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Taquan Mizzell, RB, 671 yards
Passing: Matt Johns, QB, 2,810 yards
Receiving: Taquan Mizzell, RB, 721 yards
Tackles: Micah Kiser, LB, 117
Sacks: Micah Kiser, LB, 7.5
Interceptions: Tim Harris, CB, 1; Quin Blanding, S, 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Albert Reid, WR Olamide Zaccheaus, S Kelvin Rainey, P Nicholas Conte
Key Losses: WR Canaan Severin, WR T.J. Thorpe, OL Ross Burbank, DT David Dean, DE Mike Moore
For the first time in seemingly forever, Virginia has some stability at quarterback. Matt Johns may not be the best quarterback in the ACC, but he is an experienced senior who started all 12 games in 2015. Johns threw for 2,810 yards and 20 touchdowns during his junior season and completed 61.3 percent of his attempts. His 17 interceptions were the most obvious issue for a team that committed way too many mistakes. For Johns, a year of experience should help. Taquan Mizzell takes some of the pressure off of Johns. The senior running back led the team with 671 rushing yards and added 721 receiving yards. He totaled eight touchdowns on the year and is one of the most explosive players in the conference. Olamide Zaccheaus had a promising freshman campaign, rushing for 262 yards and adding 216 receiving yards. Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling figure to play a bigger role at wide receiver after they both struggled through injuries last season. The result should be a pretty solid offense with the occasional spectacular sprinkled from Mizzell. As long as turnovers and penalties do not set the offense back again this year, UVA will win some games with their offense.
The defense was often put in bad positions last year thanks to the terrible turnover margin, so ranking dead last in the ACC in scoring defense is a bit misleading. Still, the defense was not very good and Coach Mendenhall has his work cut out for him transitioning this group to his preferred 3-4 or 3-3-5 defense. The front line has to replace David Dean and Mike Moore, who combined for 11.5 sacks a year ago. The pressure will be on players like Andrew Brown, Eli Hanback and Andre Miles-Redmond to step up. The linebackers are in good shape thanks to the return of Micah Kiser, who led the team with 117 tackles, including 7.5 sacks and 13.0 tackles-for-loss. Zach Bradshaw is also a returning starter and the expectations are high for sophomores C.J. Stalker and Chris Peace. The pass defense was terrible last year, but at least the secondary has a leader with safety Quin Blanding, who recorded 115 tackles last season. Kelvin Rainey is also back to man the free safety spot and cornerback Tim Harris has plenty of starting experience as well. Even if Harris emerges as the shutdown corner this team needs, somebody like Juan Thornhill needs to play well on the other side or the pass defense will not improve much at all.
The Bottom Line:
Coach Mendenhall is not an East Coast guy, so even the recruiting could take a little more time than usual. However, the recruiting is off to a decent start for a the new coach and now he just needs to keep learning the ropes and get his team to win some games on the field and show some potential and promise moving forward. The previous regime did not leave the cupboard bare, nor was Virginia as bad as their record indicated during the last couple of years. If Coach Mendenhall and can get this group to play smarter and avoid turnovers and penalties, those close losses could turn into close wins and suddenly this is a team seriously competing for a bowl berth.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 144.8 (99th in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 238.3 (51, 7)
Total Offense: 383.0 (75, 9)
Scoring Offense: 25.8 (89, 12)
Rushing Defense: 156.6 (50, 8)
Pass Defense: 254.9 (96, 13)
Total Defense: 411.5 (79, 12)
Scoring Defense: 32.2 (96, 14)
Turnover Margin: -0.75 (110, 13)
Sacks: 2.25 (53, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.75 (49, 6)


Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:

#71 Quin Blanding