Heading into this weekends matchup with the Hoos (background for those of you interested), we sit down with Paul Wiley from SB Nation blog Streaking the Lawn. Let's hear what the other side thinks:
1. Last week against UCLA, Virginia's defense struggled mightily against freshman QB Josh Rosen. Given Notre Dame's new QB in Malik Zaire, and the weapons that the Irish have on offense, do you expect a similar result this Saturday? What can the Hoos do to keep the Irish offense in check?
STL's football guru hit the nail on the head with what the Hoos need to do. The defensive secondary is supposed to be the strength of this program but got carved up by Rosen. Some of the blame for that has to fall on Jon Tenuta, who sent tons of pressure at the young QB--a logical decision, but one that didn't pay off because UCLA's OL was simply better than UVa's pass rushers. Going against the Irish, the OL advantage is there again (if not even more exaggerated). If the Hoos play some press zones that force an inexperienced QB to make the right reads, the defense could fare a bit better. Given that Tenuta is a pressure-at-all-costs guy, I'm not sure if we'll see that look or if he'll go for delayed blitzes and secondary blitzes to try and mix things up.
2. What type of home field advantage are you expecting this weekend? There are plenty of Irish fans from around the area that seem to be making the trip - any highlights they should know about?
U.Va. has admittedly played better at home in recent years than on the road, though that's partly due to the fact the Hoos have been horrific road warriors. Whether that turns into an advantage Saturday remains to be seen. There's no shortage of disillusionment among the fanbase, and that's resulted in Scott Stadium being 50-60 percent full for most of the past two years, even in big games. The game is supposedly sold out, and I'm sure there will be a very strong Irish contingent among the sixty thousand attendees.
Outside the stadium, it's almost easier to answer what ISN'T a highlight. Fall in central Virginia is one of the best time-place combinations anywhere. History nerds (of which I proudly count myself as one) can soak up the Lawn and Academical Village, as well as presidential residences at Monticello, Montpelier, and Ash Lawn. Foodies will find anything their palate desires, from tapas in the Belmont neighborhood to world-class Chinese food in Barracks Road. And no visit would be complete without trying at least one winery and brewery; the Nelson 151 corridor, about 30-45 minutes west of Charlottesville, has almost a dozen intoxicating stops within 20 miles of each other.
3. Who is one non-star player that ND fans may not know who is going to have a huge game against the Irish on each side of the ball?
On the offensive side, look for production out of the tight ends. Redshirt freshman Evan Butts (heh, Butts) had a big game against UCLA, and Stanford transfer Charlie Hopkins is expected to be a major contributor too. If Notre Dame brings pressure on Johns, checking down to those two big targets could keep Virginia moving downfield. And I'm not sure if the former Gatorade National Player of the Year counts as a "non-star," but defensive tackle Andrew Brown could be in line for a big season. He spent most of last year battling injuries and split time at DT in the UCLA game, but this week's depth chart shows him as the sole starter at one of the DT spots. If there's one defensive player who has the talent to disrupt Notre Dame's stellar offensive line, it's probably big #9.
4. The Mike London era continues at Virginia, but the early success of his tenure appears to be further and further in the rear view. Is this a put up or shut up year for him, and do you think he has what it takes this season to stay in the job? What would it take for him to stay?
Welcome to the most hotly disputed question among the Virginia fanbase. I doubt anyone thinks 2015 is not a "put up or shut up year" for Mike London. There's been no shortage of voices (mine most certainly included) that have been calling for him to have been shut up already. For the last several years, we as fans have been told it's not the results, it's the trajectory that we need to be concerned with: London started with a program that was in dire condition and has, according to the athletic department, been bringing it on the right trajectory the past several seasons. That trajectory was enough to save London's job at the end of last season, in an announcement made just before Virginia lost to Tech for the 9 billionth consecutive year.
Personally, I don't know what trajectory the administration is looking at. I've seen a team that has failed to develop any of its quarterbacks and mismanaged very talented players into subpar results. I'm willing to look past pure results, as I've been asked to do. But my frustration doesn't come solely from the fact that we're losing; my frustration comes from HOW we're losing. To borrow a phrase familiar to Irish fans, Virginia is at a decided schematic disadvantage in every game.
For instance, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild seems to understand that our offensive line isn't good enough to provide adequate protection if the offense starts under center; consequently, Virginia spends a lot of time lined up in the shotgun. At the same time, Fairchild insists on adhering to a "power running" philosophy; consequently, Virginia spends a lot time running the ball out of the shotgun. Now stop and read those last two sentences again. If the offensive line is so bad that the offense has to play out of the shotgun, then how are they good enough to power a running game, especially when the runs are now starting three to five yards farther back?
But as to the question, "How much is good enough?" Who knows? Given the lackadaisical attitude toward football displayed by the athletic administration, it seems like a bowl game would be enough to keep London's head off the block. Five wins, with one win being over Virginia Tech, might also be enough. The brass tacks answer might be, "Whatever is enough to not piss off Paul Tudor Jones," since PTJ has the deepest pockets of anyone willing to give to the Virginia Athletics Foundation. If the benefactor--for whose father the basketball arena is named--decides he wants London gone and is willing to pony up the dough, that will be a big factor in the decision-making process.
5. Notre Dame's defense is known for its exotic packages and blitz schemes, and we will likely see a lot of the same this Saturday. What weapons do you see the Virginia offense using to combat the blitz?
What would a competent offense do, or what would Virginia's offense do? Because I can tell you that Virginia is going to use a lot of screens, but that isn't necessarily related to Notre Dame's pressure packages. Smoke Mizzell showed some really good hands and vision as a receiver out of the backfield against an aggressive UCLA defense, so don't be surprised to see Johns look his way again if things get hot in the pocket. Butts and Hopkins could also be pressure-valve options in the passing game. If Johns has to just freak out and chuck it deep, which he's done before, there is some decent size in the likes of Canaan Severin and Andre Levrone, both of whom played well in Pasadena. My best guess at what you'll see, though, is draw plays square into the teeth of the blitz and Virginia averaging between 2 and 2.5 yards per carry.
6. What's your prediction for the game this weekend, and how do we get there exactly? Bonus points for GIF usage.
Things start out well for Virginia, stopping Notre Dame on its first drive of the game. Then the offense takes the field. Things go good for a few plays, then something big and dumb happens.
By midway through the second quarter, UVa fans check their score updates on the go with increasing despair.
Into the second half, we all wish someone would take the headset away from Steve Fairchild.
As Notre Dame scores its fifth touchdown to put a cherry on the Hoos' crap sundae, we're all just begrudgingly impressed.
And UVa's Saturday ends as so many have before.
Notre Dame 29, UVa 18. It's weird, because U.Va. does dumb and weird, and Notre Dame just barely covers (or doesn't, depending on when you placed your bets, which you totally shouldn't do because betting on college sports is wrong).