2011 Virginia Cavaliers Football Preview
When he was hired at Virginia in 2010, coach Mike London knew he was inheriting a program that was slumping downward and was going to be a multi-year rebuilding project. Still, London, who was a very successful coach at FCS Richmond, was upbeat about what he had on hand. While the Cavaliers didn’t get off to a very hot start in 2010, they finished the season hot and it became more and more clear that the team was taking on his aggressive personality and improving by the week. London followed up the encouraging finish by inking a very good recruiting class and now there is genuine optimism for Cavaliers fans. With 18 returning starters, Virginia has a legitimate chance of returning to the postseason fort he first time since 2007.
The Cavaliers return eight starters from last year’s offense that was in a bit of a transition in 2010. London prefers more of a pro-style attack but inherited personnel that was better suited for spread option offenses. Even through the transition, the players slowly began to grasp the offense. Marc Verica is gone at quarterback, but Michael Rocco might actually be better suited for London’s offense. Perry Jones split duties at running back last season but has the job all to himself in 2011. A pair of redshirt freshmen running backs that London is very high on will back him up. Senior receiver Kris Burd returns after notching 800 yards receiving last season. The players the coaches cant wait to see, however, is true freshman Darius Jennings. Jennings was a highly rated recruit that should see the field immediately and be effective. Tight end Colter Phillips also returns to be the new quarterback’s security blanket. Phillips caught three touchdowns in 2010.
The strength of the Virginia offense will be in a big, experienced offensive line that returns four of five starters and another who started 7 games in relief. The left side will be a strength where Oday Aboushi and Austin Pasztor hold down the tackle and guard spots respectively. Pasztor is an enormous athlete at 6’7, 320 pounds. Virginia will run behind him often. Anthony Mihota, another senior, returns at center, giving Virginia an experienced captain of the offensive line. While the Cavaliers might be breaking in a new quarterback, there are enough pieces with experience in place to make his job easy.
The thing that has London most excited about 2011 is his defense. Virginia returns nine starters from a defense that was transitioning away from a 3-4 attack under previous coach Al Groh. The defensive line is a bit undersized (no one over 275), but, returns three senior starters in Nick Jenkins, Matt Conrath, and Cam Johnson. Several redshirt freshmen could see the field as well. All three starting linebackers return, including LaRoy Reynolds, the team’s leading tackler last season. All three linebackers are athletic and fast and will often be used in blitzes and stunts to help compensate for a smaller defensive line.
The linebackers can be so aggressive because London loves his secondary’s ability to support the pass rush and play man coverage. Chase Minnifield has seemingly been at Virginia forever. Now a senior, he’s as dependable a lock down corner as there is in the ACC. The other corner spot will be manned by true freshman Demetrious Nicholson. Nicholson was a highly touted recruit that enrolled early and wasted no time locking down one corner spot. Both safeties, Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, are experienced and quick.
The schedule is ripe for a team looking to improve on last year’s 4-8 record. Out of conference, Virginia faces William and Mary, Indiana, Southern Miss and Idaho and only Indiana on the road. If the Cavaliers can win all four of those games, the conference slate won’t make getting to six wins impossible. They get Georgia Tech, NC State, Duke, and rival Virginia Tech at home, and travel to North Carolina, Miami, Maryland and Florida State.
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