We're very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team-specific blogs to work with during game weeks. This week's edition of the Opponent Blogger Q&A features PMWiley of Streaking The Lawn, SBN's Virginia site. We talk Mike London, Greyson Lambert, and what must happen if the 'Hoos are to pull a major upset over the 'Noles on Saturday.
TN: The Cavaliers sit at 4-5 (2-3) and are currently riding a three-game losing streak after a 4-2 start. What were your expectations for the ‘Hoos entering the season, and what are they for the rest of the season? Do you believe Mike London will be back to coach the Wahoos in 2015?
STL: Expectations were all over the place. We all saw the talent we had and the talent that was coming in. The Hoos have strung together several strong recruiting classes (by our standards) in a row with some of the nation's top recruits peppered in. Even though 2013 was a bitter disappointment-pretty much the only thing you can call the worst season in 30-plus years-almost everyone was coming back. One had to think that so long as we could accomplish simple regression toward the mean in 2014, it would result in a better season.
Nine games in, it's hard to say this team has done much more than regress toward the mean. Yes, the losses to UCLA and BYU were close and against quality teams (although some of the petals are off those roses at this point in the season). Yes, we beat Louisville, a team that Florida State fans are more than familiar with. But the same mistakes have doomed us: mismanaged quarterback rotations, an absolute dud of an offense, and coaching blunders at the most crucial times. It's hard to look at the three games left on Virginia's schedule and find the two wins it will take to get to a bowl game. I don't know if Mike London will be back year, but I know that I hope he won't be. There will be a new coach in Charlottesville at some point; the only question now is whether we allow this coaching staff to keep dragging the program down.
TN: Greyson Lambert seemed like the guy under center for the Cavaliers entering the year, but Matt Johns has seen significant time at quarterback as well. Which quarterback do you hope to see more of on Saturday evening, and what does each bring to the table?
STL: No question, I hope it's Greyson. Even after Johns put in a couple strong performances, I have always been in Camp Lambert. Greyson distributes the ball better, he has a quicker release, and he has a bigger arm. To my novice eye, he also has a better grasp of the offense; there was an infamous moment in the UCLA game where Johns misread his wristband and called a run instead of a pass when we needed 8 yards to keep a drive alive. Lambert is nowhere near as mobile as Johns, a trait that has served Matt well when our offensive line breaks down. But Johns' mobility also causes problems: He can keep plays alive but tends to try and do too much instead of taking what he can get. Most importantly, Lambert is far more likely to be the starting quarterback in coming seasons. This season is damn near down the drain. Allowing the QB of the future to continue his development has to be a major consideration for the coaching staff.
TN: The strength of the Virginia offense is the running game, but it has struggled to get going in recent weeks. What has led to these struggles, and do you feel that the ‘Hoos can have success on the ground against the ‘Noles on Saturday?
STL: Play design and play-calling. We run delayed handoffs out of the shotgun instead of read-options. No one expects Lambert to run so his presence back there doesn't give the defense any reason to stay honest and off the RBs. Instead, Steve Fairchild's run designs just allow the defensive players an extra second to get to the ball-carrier. If it's first down, Kevin Parks is getting it to go right up into the middle of the line of scrimmage; everyone in the stadium knows it by the end of the first quarter. When Parks and Khalek Shepherd are able to get a gap or two, they've been able to gash the soft underbellies of opposing defenses. The line play has been inconsistent, which of course doesn't help matters any. But from what I've seen, blame flows directly back into the coaching box. This is a vanilla offense, and one without any discernible tactical identity.
TN: The UVA defense checks in at 26th in the country by F/+ this week. What does this unit do well, and where might it be vulnerable against a high-powered Seminole offense?
STL: This is a disruption defense. Speed off the edge of the line, stout up the middle, with safeties capable of both run support and pass coverage. When defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta sends his boys, they tend to find their target. They get after it on first down, aiming to put offenses in second- and third-and-long situations. But as with any aggressive defense, that is also its vulnerability. Our corners have shown a glaring weakness in deep coverage. Despite Virginia stonewalling UNC's offense for almost the entire game, the Heels won because they took advantage of that weakness. A defense that attacks hard off the line can get taken too far upfield and gashed by draws, screens, and options; Georgia Tech ran that effectively throughout last week's debacle. Florida State definitely has the talent both on the field and in the coaches' box to find and exploit mismatches.
TN: Who are two or three Cavaliers who must play well in order for the ‘Hoos to have a chance to pull the upset?
STL: The aforementioned Greyson Lambert is one. He is going to be under a lot of pressure, both from defensive players on every snap and from a game that is likely going to get out of hand early. Staying calm and going through reads to find open receivers will be important if Virginia wants to stave off embarrassment. Number two is DE Eli Harold. Eli had a MONSTER start to his year but his production has fallen off lately. If he can blow up his edge of the line or tie up blockers to allow OLB Max Valles to come free behind him, there's a chance Virginia's defense could get to Jameis Winston: they did it against mobile threats Brett Hundley of UCLA and Taysom Hill of BYU, both of whom are more inclined to pull down and run than Winston. Number three is the man in the headset, Mike London himself. Virginia has zero room for error in this game. They need to catch a ton of lucky breaks and take advantage of them if they want to repeat 2011. Coaching blunders aren't necessarily going to be the difference in this game like they have been in others, but if they happen then Virginia stands no chance of winning.
TN: How have Virginia's special teams fared to date?
STL: Less of a raging dumpster fire than last year? Punter Alec Vozenilek has had games where he's the undisputed MVP, and then had a real dud of a game against Georgia Tech. Kicker Ian Frye has been consistent if not outstanding, although he gets many points for moxie after his second-half performance against BYU when he'd learned at halftime that his father had had a heart attack. The coverage units have been much improved over years' past, but the punt return game continues to be abysmal. Darius Jennings as a kick returner has shown flashes of the abilities that led him to be so highly touted coming out of high school. We're in the bottom third of FBS special teams FEI, which sadly enough feels about right.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. The ‘Noles opened as 20-point home favorites. Will the Wahoos pull a second consecutive upset in Doak Campbell and retain the Jefferson-Eppes Trophy?
STL: Officer, this man is clearly intoxicated and should be put somewhere he won't be a danger to himself or others. But seriously. No. The 2011 Florida State team was a distant shadow of the 2014 Seminoles. This Virginia team may have more talent than back then, but I don't think many people would argue that Florida State's talent growth has outpaced UVa's. Throw in the propensity for serious mental errors, and I don't see Virginia hanging around for long. I'm going to go 31-12 FSU, because I'm picking dumb football scores for Virginia these days and scoring 12 points to cover by a point is up there in the dumb pantheon.
Big thanks to PMWiley for answering our questions! Be sure to head over to Streaking The Lawn for all things UVA. Our answers to their questions will be up Friday morning.