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VIRGINIA WEEK: Second-look preview

Perry Jones is UVa's indispensable man.  Think Bart Johnson plus Joseph Turner.
Perry Jones is UVa's indispensable man. Think Bart Johnson plus Joseph Turner.

In Frogs o' War's final installment of VIRGINIA WEEK, we look a little deeper at TCU's third opponent's depth chart. This third game isn't going to be a cakewalk like the '09 tilt with the Cavs. This team is very well coached, and the upper-classmen heavy offense is being pushed by Mike London's more talented recruits. The coach really shows his chops in how he has not lost the effort of his inherited players, but has let his recruits push the older guys to better performance. Virginia is built for long-term success.

First, the situation at receiver reminds one a little of TCU last year-- lots of unproven players vying to replace last year's go-to wideout. The bar was set pretty high by graduated Kris Burd, who nearly tallied 1,000 yards last season on 66 catches. Tim Smith and Perry Jones (a tailback) were the other half of the team's aerial production, hauling in 81 passes for over 1,000 yards. They return.

But the news is going to be how much hyped recruit Darius Jennings can flourish. Jennings had a mediocre year, and a lot of upside.

Perry Jones, the senior tailback, is the star of the team. Jones carried the ball 184 times last season for a very solid 5.0 ypc, and (as mentioned) was Mike Rocco's escape valve in the passing game, as well. Jones plays in tandem with Kevin Parks, a sophomore this season who tallied pretty good numbers himself last season (152 carries, 4.7 ypc).

So the skill positions are not in bad shape. Of course, it remains to be seen who'll be throwing to these players.

Junior Mike Rocco ain't a bad quarterback, but he's not a headliner, either. Phillip Sims is, but the NCAA hasn't decided whether or not his "family emergency" warrants an exception to the transfers-sit-out rule. (I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Mr. Sims's situation, but I'm not buying the emergency would have warranted his return to Virginia had he become Nick Saban's starter.) Rocco reminds me of Andy Dalton in 2008-- but it's very much unclear whether he has the upside Dalton had. Sims clearly does.

Three of the big guys return up front; finding new players to step into the roles left by all-American guard Austin Pasztor and all-ACC center Anthony Mihota and backup Landon Bradley is a big deal. Last year's line paved the way for 4.2 ypc, Virginia's best mark on the ground in many years. London projects all of his starters up front to be upperclassmen, which is a hopeful sign in Hoo-ville.

The defense will be weaker than last year's squad, early (which wasn't a barn-burner, but was competent).

The defensive line must be rebuilt almost completely. The Cavs lose 38 of last seasons' starts off the line (over 70%) including drafted end Cam Johnson. Coach London is a d-line coach, and has his toughest job yet at that level of the defense. The sole returner is end Jake Snyder; senior Bill Schautz starts at the other end, and inside are sophore Chris Brathwaite and senior Will Hill. The tackles are not as big as one might expect-- Hill is the biggest at 6-4, 280. If this new-minted line can match last year's sub-4.0 ypc mark against the run, Mike London will deserve a raise.

UVa deploys a 4-3 defense, of which the linebackers are the leading unit. Senior WLB LaRoy Reynolds and senior MLB Steve Greer led the team in tackles last season, and both return. The new man at SLB likely will be sophomore Daquan Romero.

Much like on the d-line, the secondary is going to about three-fourths new. Expect TCU to be able to move the ball through the air; this is where TCU's strength most outmatches Virginia's weakness. The returner is cornerback Demetrious Nicholson. Daquan Hoskey will play opposite him, with new safties Rijo Walker and Anthony Harris inbetween.

Like TCU, Virginia replaces both its punter and kicker.

So what to make of this team? It reminds me of TCU in 2006 and '07; the talent isn't yet in the starting positions, or if it is, it ain't as experienced as you want. But Virginia is going to have a say about the ACC, if it can hold on to Mike London. Will the Cavs beat TCU? They made a career of over-performing last season; sustaining that kind of streak is difficult, even for the best of coaches and teams. TCU is glad to catch them early.