.500. That is what Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s squad finished last year. This was Mendenhall’s worst record since arriving in Charlottesville and it started just shy of catastrophic. The Cavaliers opened the 2020 campaign 1-4.
Offensively if UVA looks to rebound in 2021 it will be under the leadership of starting slick southpaw quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Due to a covid year, the reclassified returning sophomore needs to shore up his ball security. Armstrong threw for 11 interceptions last year and his 58.6% completion rate could improve as well.
Armstrong will have junior Billy Kemp IV and his team leading 67 receptions back at the wide receiver position. A big play threat in Ra’Shaun Henry also is a viable option for the Hoos. Despite only having seven receptions, Henry had four go for touchdowns and carried a 29.4 yards per catch average.
At the tight end position, Oklahoma State transfer tight end Jelani Woods will be called upon to provide depth as Tony Poljan and his team leading six touchdown catches graduated last year.
Armstrong was the team’s leading rusher with 552 yards on the ground and number two on that list Wayne Taulapapa, is back as a battery mate. Taulapapa had 88 attempts and netted 395 yards. Ronnie Walker Jr is an Indiana transfer who will also look to tote the rock in 2021 and you could see a running back by committee if situations arise.
Along the offensive line there is a healthy amount of returning beef. Virginia did a good job at protecting the quarterback last year and were tied with Clemson for the least amount of sacks given up with 20. Names like Haskins, Swoboda, Oluwatimi and Ryan Nelson will bolster depth in the trenches.
Defensively Virginia will look to regain the trend of methodical efficiency and disruption which are staples of Mendenhall’s. Although the Cavaliers were top 5 in rushing defense in the conference, they were dead last is pass defense giving up a healthy 304.4 yards a game.
UVA plays a three man front and they will lean on Adeeb Atariwa and Gulliver Prep’s own Mandy Alonso along the defensive line. Both Alonso and Atariwa recorded a pair of sacks last year.
The leader in sacks last year was Charles Snowden at linebacker and UVA will need someone to step up and take his place. Noah Taylor and Nick Jackson will have big shoes to fill as they look to fill the inside and outside linebacker positions respectively. Jackson however is a stud. The team leader in tackles with 105 will create his own havoc from the linebacker position.
Sophomore linebacker Nick Jackson this year at #Virginia:— Saturday Gameday (@SaturdayGameday) February 18, 2021
2nd in the #ACC and 6th in the FBS with 105 total tackles.
2nd in the ACC and 16th in the #FBS with 5.5 solo tackles per game.
The secondary is the cause for concern and although they have experienced players back there in Bratton, Baker, Johnson and Dixon, being last in the ACC in pass defense is never a good look.
Coen King will look to lock up a safety spot and was top ten in team tackles with 30. Antonio Clary will look to lock up the other safety spot which once again needs to improve in the backend in 2021.
Prediction Time. I simply refuse to accept that the ACC coastal is anything but difficult for the Miami Hurricanes. For a decade plus the term, “Miami should win ten games with THAT schedule” has been repeated at nauseum.
Miami has won four out of the last five vs. the Cavs but the overall record between the programs is 11-7 in Miami’s favor. 17-9 and 19-14 were the final two win totals for the Hurricanes and expect another close one at home.
Miami wins 28-20 and Mendenhall once again makes it hard for the Hurricanes to score as efficiently as they want. The coastal division is not as easy as it looks.