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Notre Dame Football 2015 Off-Season Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

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Is this the last ride for Coach DGT™?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

VIRGINIA CAVALIERS

2014 Record: 5-7

F/+ Rank: 39

Wins: Richmond, Louisville, Kent State, Pittsburgh, Miami

Losses: UCLA, BYU, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech

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Season Recap

All things considered, Virginia had a promising start to the season. They stayed close with UCLA and would beat Louisville in week 3 on their way to a 4-2 start in 2014. However, they lost 5 out of their last 6 games with the defeats to Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech coming by a combined 12 points. Georgia Tech ran away from them (35-10) but the Cavaliers did stay with FSU for a while before falling by 2 touchdowns.

Series: 1-0-0 Notre Dame

It's kind of hard to believe this will be only the second meeting between the schools. The first came in the beginning of the 1989 season with the Irish being defending National Champions. The Cavaliers would go on to a great 10-3 season but were blitzed 33-0 by halftime against what might have been Lou Holtz' best team at Notre Dame. The Irish finished the game winning 36-13.

Coach Resume: Mike London (23-28, 6th Year, 47-43 Overall)

Back in 2011 our own burger23 mentioned that Mike London (then on his way to a 8-5 season) was doing good things in Charlottesville. Thus, the DGT™ tag was born. Since then, things haven't been too peachy. The Cavs are 11-25 over the past 3 seasons and London has only been to one bowl game--a loss to Auburn in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl. London also recruited very well early on but has since moved back towards the middle and bottom half of the ACC.

Returning Starters: 10 Total (6 offense, 4 defense)

A team that was probably much better than their record indicated has to replace a lot of talent from last fall.

Linemen Situation: Solid

A lot of experience is back for an offensive line that struggled running the ball in 2014 finishing with just 1,653 yards at 3.67 yards per rush. Redshirt junior Michael Mooney is back after making all but 3 starts at left tackle. Junior Sadiq Olanrewaju made 2 starts as a backup and returns. Redshirt junior Ryan Doull made the first six starts at left guard last year before missing the rest of the season with injury. His backup Cody Wallace finished at LG and will not be back.

Fifth-year senior Ross Burbank made 11 starts at center and is back as is backup redshirt junior Jackson Matteo. The Hoos do lose right guard Conner Davis who made all 12 starts but welcome back junior Eric Smith who started every game at right tackle.

7 out of the top 8 defensive linemen return for the TENUTA BLITZ scheme in Charlottesville.

Defensive end Eli Harold (14.5 TFL & 7 sacks) did not return for his senior season and declared for the Draft ultimately getting picked 79th overall by the 49ers. On the other edge senior Mike Moore (8 TFL & 3 sacks) returns while senior Kwontie Moore (2 sacks) added depth and looks to slide into a starter position in 2015.

Fifth-year senior David Dean (8 TFL) returns after starting every game at tackle. Junior Donte Wilkins made 5 starts last year and finished with 2 TFL. Former 5-star recruit and rising sophomore Andrew Brown should make some strides on the interior.

Returning Quarterback: Yes

Rising redshirt junior Greyson Lambert saw some time late in 2013 prior to winning the starting job coming into last season. Lambert was benched in the opener and spent the rest of the season in a quarterback battle with fellow redshirt junior Matt Johns.

Neither player was all that effective. Both were under 60% in accuracy and combined for 2,741 yards with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Johns was listed atop the depth chart coming out of spring.

Biggest Problem for 2015: Finding New Linebackers

The Cavaliers top three linebackers have to be replaced. On the weak-side Daquan Romero leaves behind 86 tackles and 8 TFL. On the inside Henry Cole totaled 76 tackles and 8 sacks. 2012 signee Max Valles spent a season at Fork Union Military Academy and left for the NFL after just 2 seasons at Virginia. He totaled 8 sacks, 12.5 TFL and was picked in the 6th round, 179th overall by the Raiders.

Biggest Strength for 2015: Offensive Line

Virginia has to replace a lot of talent all over their roster. With the amount of returning players with starting experience on the offensive line this has to be a foundation for 2015.

Offensive Scheme: Pro-Style Spread

Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is technically a pro-style coach but Virginia runs most of their plays out of shotgun, spreading the field with receivers, and using a H-back a lot. Occasionally, there's two-back sets, some motion, and half-hearted attempts at the option read which neither Johns or Lambert are particularly good at executing. They rely heavily on a short passing game while taking some stabs down field--usually down the sidelines and on fade passes.

4 Players to Remember

RB Taquan Mizzell, Jr.- One of the top backs in the loaded 2013 running back class, he should take over the starting role this fall after totaling 899 yards from scrimmage through his first two seasons.

WR Canaan Severin, Sr.- The Hoos leading returning receiver broke out last year with 42 receptions, 578 yards, and 5 touchdowns.

WR T.J. Thorpe, 5th Sr.- A graduate transfer from North Carolina who could have a big impact if he can remain healthy as he's broken his foot three times. Has caught 36 passes in 22 games but was primarily a tailback at UNC with 1,115 career yards.

S Quin Blanding, So.- The top safety in the 2014 class turned in a freshman All-American season and won the ACC rookie of the year award last fall. Blanding led Virginia with 123 tackles and also chipped in 3 interceptions and 6 passes broken up.

Special Teams: 1/4

Virginia has to replace 3-year starter at punter Alec Vozenilek, however, Ian Frye returns for his senior season and was a Lou Groza semi-finalist in 2014 after nailing 22 out of 27 field goal attempts.

Wideout Darius Jennings was the primary kick returner and has moved on although Mizzell took back 9 kicks as a backup. Bowling ball running back Khalek Shepherd has also left after returning punts last fall.

Uniforms: 7/10

UVA

Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports

Virginia's traditional home uniform set isn't flashy but it's crisp, clean, and underrated overall. While they also use some pleasing color combos at home (orange/blue/orange vs. blue/orange/blue vs. blue/orange/white vs. orange/orange/white) their modern pants stripes are a step down from their traditional white set and they wear the boring all-blue sets way too often. Virginia's throwback set, which they've worn once in a while in recent years, are amazing and should be their standard uniform.

What's To Like About the Matchup?

The Cavaliers have to travel to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA in week one. They could have a quarterback controversy. They have to replace their top two rushers, two out of the top three receivers, and 5 out of their top 6 tacklers. Without significant improvement at quarterback they'll likely be offensively challenged, especially early in the season when they play Notre Dame.

What's Not To Like About the Matchup?

Virginia was frisky (5-2) at home last year. Played UCLA tough, and beat Louisville and Pitt inside Scott Stadium in 2014. Irish could be reeling after a loss to Texas or emotionally spent after a tough win in week one. High trap game factor squeezed between Texas and Georgia Tech.

Opponent Power Ranking Based on Irish Schedule: 9th Toughest

If Virginia is going to win this game it'll likely be due to a strong defensive performance that frustrates and forces turnovers on the Irish. I'm sure most Notre Dame fans will bristle at Jon Tenuta pulling that off but UVA was pretty solid on defense in 2014.

FEI loved Virginia's defense and ranked them 10th in 2014, although S&P put them at a more modest 35th overall nationally. The Hoos forced 29 turnovers (tied 17th best), and totaled 33 sacks (tied 31st) with 78 tackles for loss (56th). They weren't great--every opponent at least scored 13 points and they averaged an okay 24.1 PPG surrendered on the season--but there were some good things going on last fall.

The question, as you've probably surmised already, is if Virginia can re-load after losing 7 starters. Out of those 78 TFL they need to replace 51 of them. In sacks, they're losing 26 out of the 33.

Offensively, I don't see a whole lot to fear for an offense that finished 88th in scoring, 68th in FEI offense, 78th in S&P with 73% of their rushing and nearly 47% of their receiving yardage gone. Johns or Lambert are going to have to take very significant steps forward for marked improvement.

Could this be a tough game? Come on, this is Notre Dame of course it could be. Yet, this should not be a loss and a comfortable win wouldn't be surprising in the least bit. There may be a general perception among Irish fans that this could be a tough early road game (true, I suppose) but I think there's decent odds Virginia really struggles this season.

The Cavaliers miss Florida State AND Clemson in league play but could easily start 0-2 (UCLA, Notre Dame) and possibly 1-3 with Boise State coming to Charlottesville in week 4. They'll still have road games at Pitt, North Carolina, Miami, and Louisville plus home dates against Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia Tech.

I don't think they improve upon their 2014 record.