This week we welcome in Brendan of FromOldVirginia. Brendan runs an excellent site and since FSU hasn't faced UVA since 2006 it was imperative that we get some good info! Turning to the best Virginia writer on the net was a no-brainer. My questions follow and Brendan's answers are in the text boxes. I answered his questions here. Be sure to visit FromOldVirginia
1. What is the biggest change between Mike London and Al Groh?
Groh brought a lot of the NFL to UVA; London is a college guy all the way. You could even see it in the NFL-style uniforms. Groh emphasized NFL-style preparation and an NFL-style coaching hierarchy. Even his recruiting was NFL-style: it didn't matter where the players came from as long as they were good players. London pays more attention than Groh did to uniquely collegiate concerns, like keeping his thumb on the team about going to class, and building relationships with Virginia high school coaches so as to recruit locally first and foremost.
2. How has the 3-4 defensive personnel recruited by Groh adapted to the 4-3 London runs? Which guys have benefited the most from the move and which guys have been lost in the shuffle?
London shifted a lot of those guys down a slot toward the line of scrimmage, so they play smaller but faster for their position. The biggest beneficiaries have been the new starting OLBs, sophomores Laroy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott, who under Groh were backup safeties. Especially Reynolds, who's been a very pleasant surprise on the strong side. Also, MLB Aaron Taliaferro was a resident of Groh's doghouse, but London has him in the starting lineup.
Because of graduation, it's worked out so that nobody's really been lost in the shuffle, but a couple players have seen their playing time cut as they entered a rotation that they weren't in before. DT Matt Conrath used to be an every-down DE; now he's in a three-man, two-position rotation at DT. And MLB Steve Greer was the team's leading tackler with 92 in 2009; now he splits time with Taliaferro.
3. How has the offense changed schematically under London? Are the players taking to this well?
There's very little difference between the London offense and the offense Groh ran for most of his tenure. It's very pro-style; London brought in Bill Lazor from the NFL ranks to run it. Plenty of tight end and fullback involvement, which is what we're used to seeing the last decade. The big difference is from the disastrous spread experiment last year; Groh's extremely short leash meant that the necessary 100% commitment to the spread wasn't there, and by midseason nobody could tell exactly what the hell kind of scheme this was supposed to be. The O-line was just lost last year. Now that we're back to something familiar (an actual scheme as opposed to some spliced-together Frankenstein of an offense) and not lined up in line splits you could drive a bus through, the linemen have their head screwed on straight and are blocking competently again.
4. Who are UVA's best two offensive and defensive players?
This is a tough question, actually. We haven't learned much about the offense, given the competition. I'll go with the two best performers in the USC game: tailbacks Perry Jones and Keith Payne. High praise for Payne, given his disappointing career arc so far, but he's seen a major resurgence this year. Payne is an absolute load; finally we're seeing him use his massive size (255 pounds) to his advantage. Jones weighs about half that but he can still break tackles, and his running so far looks very instinctive and decisive, with the quickness you'd expect from a guy his size.
Ordinarily, Ras-I Dowling and Rodney McLeod, but both have been slowed down by nagging injuries this year, so the two new answers are the opposite corner Chase Minnifield, who's looked especially good this year, and Reynolds, who's really taken London's "attack the ball" mentality onboard.
5. Bigger game: hosting FSU or hosting Miami?
This year, probably Miami just because the coaches are setting that up to be a big-time recruiting weekend. But there's no historical significance to it. Heck, it barely even feels like an ACC game. Nothing worth remembering has happened in that matchup, not in Charlottesville. (The '07 game was awesome, but in Miami.) Whenever FSU comes to town (just once every five years now thanks to the slightly annoying schedule) UVA fans will always enjoy the opportunity to reminisce about 1995 and 2005. We haven't had any home games like that with Miami.
A big thanks to Brendan for the excellent Q&A