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Summer Scheming ‘21: Virginia Cavaliers

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The ‘Canes host the Cavaliers at night on ESPN. Can Miami beat the pesky Hoos at Hard Rock?

Louisville v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Bronco Mendenhall is heading into year six as the head football coach of the Virginia Cavaliers. Mendenhall, who has a career record of 129-75, pulled UVA from obscurity into a Coastal championship run in 2019. After a nice steady climb, Coach Mendenhall saw his “Hoos” drop back down to reality with a 5-5 record in 2020.

While the head football coach at BYU, Mendenhall had one .500 record (6-6 in 2005, his first as head coach), and five double-digit win seasons. Mendenhall has proceeded to have only two losing seasons at UVA, a program that only had two winning seasons the ten years prior to his arrival.

Info: Virginia @ Miami in Miami Gardens, FL.

Day/Time/Channel: September 30, 2021 / 7:30pm / ESPN.

UVA under Coach Mendenhall has been known for sound, fundamental football with a nard-nosed edge. He’s an old school coach that runs an old school program. Even when they’ve been bad under Bronco, he’s managed to have them pounding the other team and keeping the score close.

Miami has an 11-7 advantage all-time in the series. The ‘Canes also have a two game win streak over UVA, an ACC Coastal rival. You can watch Miami and UVA’s first ever meeting, in the 1996 Carquest Bowl, above.

2020 Record/Ranking: 5-5/Unranked.

2020 Data: 30.7PPG scored (117th in FBS), 29.6PPG allowed (100th in FBS).

Bowl Game: None.


Personnel

Key losses: Tony Poljan, TE; Charles Snowden, LB; D’Angelo Almos, DB.

The Cavaliers return 14 starters of 22 on offense and defense, and have seven players on the Athlon All-ACC preseason list. UVA’s first player doesn’t pop up until the second team defense. LB Nick Jackson made the 2nd team after making 103 tackles including six TFL’s in 2020.

Louisville v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Another Cavalier isn’t listed until the third team defense, with Safety Joey Blount. Blount logged 25 tackles and two BPU’s a year ago. The fourth team offense has WR Billy Kemp (also 4th team punt returner) and OL Chris Glaser.

The 4th team defense has DL Mandy Alsonso. Kemp had 644 receiving yards and a TD in ‘20, and averaged only 5.1 yards per punt return. I guess when your competition is whoever Coach Patke threw out there in 2020, you’re getting a nod. Alonso had four TFL’s and two sacks last season.


Hoos Scheme on O

UVA bases in the standard 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) grouping that 90% of the NFL and over 80% of the Power 5 utilize in the 2020’s. However, they were nearly a single wing team against Miami last season. Brennan Armstrong is an athletic dual threat QB who ran for 552 yards (including sack yardage) and threw for 2,117 yards while scoring 23 TD’s with 11 interceptions.

How do you lose to the UVA offense? The UVA offense isn’t equipped to run by you, they’re going to attempt to run through you. Armstrong and Keytaon Thompson can play the QB position and are useful runners. Wayne Taulapapa and transfer Ronnie Walker Jr. are power backs. UVA will utilize a six-foot-seven, 275 pound tight end in ‘21. They also have four of five offensive linemen returning from last year’s squad.

Is Miami big enough up front with the new defensive ends and linebackers to stop UVA from going full ground-and-pound in ‘21?

How do you beat the UVA offense? Make them throw the football. Armstrong is turnover prone and UVA only returns one pass catcher with any real stats from ‘20 in Kemp. The Miami DB’s should be able to man-up the Hoos WR’s leaving more players in the box to stop the run. This might be a game where Bubba Bolden needs to play centerfield and allow another safety a crack at playing in the box.


Hoos Scheme on D

Mendenhall is a 3-4 defense coach which UVA ran under different coaches throughout time. Mendenhall does a great job of coaching gap sound, disciplined football like an old 90’s NFL defense. Players aren’t freelancing and the ‘position-less football’ ideal isn’t happening in Charlottesville, VA as long as Bronco is the head guy.

How do you lose to the UVA defense? You try to run up the middle, or take nothing but deep shots. UVA might be fooled once and burned deep, like in the 2020 game with King’s big TD to Mike Harley. But that’s not a sound, consistent decision. They’ll just keep backing up and force the offense to beat them with a long drive.

How do you beat the UVA defense? OC Rhett Lashlee will beat the UVA defense by utilizing screens in the RPO game, and really honing in on an intermediate passing attack. That passing game will take time because it’s a second and even third read event. Think of Shallow Cross like we talked about in the Summer Scheming ‘21 self-scout of the Hurricanes. There’s a rhythm at 1.8 seconds, but also two potential read hitches that gets the ball out in around 2.6 seconds. That takes time in protection from the running backs and the offensive line.

What concept can Miami use against UVA? I’m prescribing less of a particular play, and more of a mindset heading into this contest. Rhett Lashlee can NOT line up and go right at the UVA defense. Lashlee will need to use all 53 13 of the width of the field as UVA will cut off the depth with a deep Cover 4 as Mark Richt saw in his time here.

Lashlee needs to think wide versus deep. That’ll come from empty formations, and his spread out bunch sets. I would keep the tempo moving faster, but not hurry up as UVA will find ways to slow that down, anyway. UVA is well coached so things like hurry up, motion, and shifts wouldn’t affect them like it does a sloppier team like Miami or FSU.

One caveat to the empty set is the protection- the QB has to know to get rid of the ball on the back of his rhythm drop, so within 1.8 seconds. There’s not enough time, typically, to reset your feet. At least not more than once unless the team only brings three, which I see UVA blitzing one linebacker every play to create a four man rush.


Canyonero keys to victory

1- Stop the run. Miami can beat UVA if they can stop the run and then intercept Armstrong when he starts to freelance. The Miami DB’s need to be able to play man-to-man defense and not give up the big play.

2- Use width. Spread out and get in empty sets, bunched sets, and throw quick smoke and bubble screens. Don’t let the UVA blitz get to you, and make UVA’s slower linebackers and DB’s chase Harley and Miami’s alleged speed on the outside.

3- Limit mistakes. Miami isn’t going to be able to turn the ball over a lot against a ball control offense. UVA will milk the clock for all it’s worth and run their single wing behind basically six offensive linemen down Manny Diaz’s throat. King is a sound QB when it comes to ball control which is a plus, but the WR’s and RB’s need to secure the football.

Way too early prediction: Miami by 7.