Our second installment of this week's Opponent Blogger Q&A feature is a conversation with Streaking The Lawn. Blog Manager Brian J. Leung and editor TikiUVA answered our questions and provided us with even more information on the 2011 Wahoos.
TN: Virginia sits at 7-3, an excellent record for a team picked to end up towards the bottom of the Coastal Division by many during the pre-season. To what do you attribute the success the ‘Hoos have seen so far this season? How has Mike London seemingly steered the UVa program onto the right track? Will UVa pay top dollar to keep London and his staff should other programs come calling?
STL: Well, my initial response to this question was that I give a lot of credit to the freshman, who made an immediate impact the second they stepped on grounds. But then I cheated and read the question below, so I'll hold that thought. Would you believe that this only London's second year? Meaning, he inherited three classes' worth of teams here, and only has one recruiting class of his own. To that, I have to credit London and his coaching staff for figuring out how to get these players to produce. He's turned the entire mentality of the team around. A year ago, athletes weren't going to classes and, it appears, generally felt like they were on top of the world. London came in and settled these guys down, makes random classroom appearances, and has changed this place into a, for lack of a better description, "Clear Eyes, Full Heart" mentality. If that phrase catches on, I get the credit.
I think UVa will gladly pay top dollar to keep London around. While Virginia attendance continues to struggle, I don't think there's any doubt that there's a new wave of optimism in Charlottesville. That the Hoos are even 7-3 right now is a real testament to London. I welcome Penn State to give us another ring (if that report is even true).
Hit the jump for more!
TN: The Cavaliers brought in a nice recruiting class last year and many members of the class are seeing the field early this season. Talk a little bit about the effects of the influx of talented freshmen and more generally about how London and staff are approaching recruiting in the fertile tidewater and D.C. areas.
STL: The freshmen (which I generally include Kevin Parks in, but KP is really a redshirted frosh) have been instrumental this season. True freshman Clifton Richardson is our third leading rusher with 295 yards (5.1 ypc). Dominique Terrell heads up our (struggling) kick and punt return teams. Tra Nicholson has pulled in two interceptions. These are all good things. Unfortunately, the problem is also that we get a decent number of freshmen mistakes. We see it happen most often on our punt returns. Last week, Terrell saw a ball surrounded by 4 or 5 Duke players, and while he didn't mean to touch the ball, he managed to give it just enough of a nudge to let Duke recover.
London and company are going on strong in Tidewater. To be honest, a big part of the noticeably increased recruiting efforts down there are simply as a result of ditching Al Groh, who managed to burn just about every bridge in sight down there. It's been reported that at least one high school coach said that, so long as Groh was at the helm, he'd never send a student to Virginia - and sure enough, they never game. More than that, though, London has worked hard to improve the Virginia Football image in the Commonwealth, and being from the 757, he's reclaiming his backyard, and the Hokies have a lot to worry about.
TN: Let's get into this week's game - the ‘Hoos come in ranked 42nd in both offense and defense by Football Outsiders. The offense is characterized by a solid running game, and has seen some rotation at the quarterback position between Mike Rocco and David Watford. The past few weeks, though, have seen a shift towards a more exclusively Rocco-led attack. How has this impacted the unit and do you see Saturday's offense featuring Rocco under center or a return to the rotation?
STL: Michael Rocco will be your starting quarterback this Saturday. Since he's gotten the nod from London that he will be at the helm, we've seen his confidence, accuracy, mobility - everything - increase. The rotation was nothing short of a disaster. We still pull Watford in for a few plays here or there, but it's Rocco's ship to steer. We've gone three games without getting sacked now, and while part of that is due to a big offensive line holding its own, another part is Rocco's increased awareness, willingness to throw the ball, and ability to squirm his way out of a tackle. The Michael Rocco you'll see Saturday won't be the same Michael Rocco that threw three interceptions and no touchdowns against Southern Miss. Hopefully.
TN: Which match-ups will Bill Lazor and the Cavalier offense look to exploit against the FSU defense, an extremely talented and deep unit that is the strength of its team? Are you worried about the quarterbacks having to carry the offense if UVa isn't able to run the ball against the stout ‘Noles front seven?
STL: It is pretty clear that we're going to struggle to run the ball, but we'll still try. The interior of our OL is very good, and can open up holes. We don't need big plays, we just need to make the defense respect the run. If the LBs have to focus on the run, they won't be pressuring the QB. If Rocco has time, we can get some plays in the passing game. Our RBs may be key factors in the passing game, especially on screens.
TN: Florida State's offense features Virginia native EJ Manuel at quarterback, and he is the focal point of the ‘Noles attack. Manuel is a special player because of his legs; he's an incredibly fluid runner at 6'5" 240lbs with a great feel for running the option. How has UVa's defense handled mobile quarterbacks this year? Which areas of the Cavalier D are its strengths?
STL: Our defensive strength is the front 7. They may not be as talented as FSU's front, but they are playing out of their collective minds the past 3 weeks. Mobile QBs have killed us this year, but not for the reasons you'd expect. Our secondary, in particular, tends to play tentatively against dual threat QBs, and as a result, they end up having big games passing, while not doing much on the ground.
TN: This match-up may present a risk vs. reward decision for the UVa defense. FSU's offensive line suffers from significant inexperience, as none of the five current starters began the season as a starter at the position he currently plays. As a result, the prudent strategy for the ‘Hoos defense might be to bring a lot of pressure to overwhelm the young line and stop EJ and the FSU offense before it is able to get started. How aggressive has the Virginia defense been and do you see the Cavaliers choosing this option to defend the Seminole offense?
STL: If Virginia's defense can find a way to poke some holes in FSU's O-line, they're going to bring as much heat as they possibly can. If you want to beat the Hoos, you'll take it to the air and get it downtown, since, as we said above, our secondary has a tendency to give up some big plays. I think this defense can be extremely aggressive, which was part of the strategy against Miami a couple weeks back on a Thursday night game. In that game, the Hoos ended up getting 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.
TN: Florida State fans like the match-up between the ‘Noles 3rd and 4th receivers and the Virginia nickel/dime corners and safeties, as the Seminoles wide receiver corps has been a pleasant surprise with outstanding depth and talent. The ‘Hoos second corner has often been Demetrius Nicholson, a promising player, but a true freshman (and high school teammate of EJ Manuel). How will UVa attempt to mitigate the concerns elicited by these match-ups?
STL: Our secondary has given up a lot of big plays through the air. Our safeties, especially Corey Mosley, have been out of position far too often, and Tra Nicholson has gotten beat even when he's had good coverage. Nicholson has improved dramatically over the course of the season, but he is still too small to cover big WRs. The only way we can combat FSU's talented WR corps is to get pressure on Manuel and not let the WRs get downfield. If Manuel gets time to throw, he'll pick us apart.
TN: How do you see the game playing out on Saturday evening? Do you have a final score prediction?
STL: I don't want to say.
Okay, fine. Florida State is bigger, stronger, faster. On both team's best days, I'd probably also say better. It's the ACC, which means that any team can win on any day (which is the only way Duke beat us three straight years prior to this one...right?). If you ask me, Virginia's going to cover the spread (17 points), but I'm not sure the Hoos will have enough to come out of Tallahassee with a win here. I was hoping to call this a trap game for FSU, with Miami last week and Florida next week, but the fact that it's a 7:30 game, homecomings and senior day, and the fact that the various hype machines around the country have brought this game to everyone's attention as a game that could lead to a UVA-VT Coastal showdown next week means that the Noles won't just look past this one. FSU 34, Hoos 21.
Thanks to Streaking The Lawn for chatting with us! Our answers to their questions will be up later today.