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Summer Scheming ‘23: Virginia Cavaliers

Tony Elliott and the Cavaliers are tasked with overcoming a 3-7 season on the field, and a tragedy off the field.

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

The Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Cavaliers will face off on Saturday, October 28th at Hard Rock Stadium. Miami hosts Clemson the week before while UVA takes a road trip to Chapel Hill before heading to Miami. Miami holds a 12-8 lead over the Hoos all-time, including a win over UVA in 2022.

Tony Elliott’s first season as the UVA head coach was a hard one on the 43-year old first time boss, and not just on the field. The tragic shooting that injured and took the lives of students on campus impacted the football program and the lives of those involved forever. You just felt for coach as he went through that tragedy.

On the field UVA struggled with Brennan Armstrong at QB without Robert Anae (Syracuse, now NCSU) as his OC. UVA finished 3-7 and had one of the nation’s worst offenses. On the flip side, they have the makings of a top-25 type of defense in Charlottesville.

Per Bill Connelly’s SP+, the Hoos are the 79th overall team in FBS heading into the 2023 season. UVA is ranked 124th on offense and 24th on defense.

Summer Scheming SWOT Analysis

This year’s Summer Scheming will look different than in years past by featuring a SWOT Analysis on each opponent the Hurricanes will face in the 2023 season. SWOT in this iteration will stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Traditions* (not Threats). We’ll discuss one cool tradition from each of the football programs on the ‘23 schedule.

Strengths: Defense

UVA finished 2022 with the 49th ranked defense per the SP+. The Hoos defense allowed 24 points per game (49th of 131), with little to no offensive backing. DC John Rudzinski came to UVA in ‘22 from Air Force where he spent 14 seasons on the Falcons staff. Rudzinski made his impact known immediately moving the Cavaliers defense from 100th to 49th.

Nine of 11 expected starters on defense are seniors or grad students, while the other two are juniors. That’s an experienced bunch for Rudzinski and Elliott to rely on while getting their offense in order. The group is led by linebacker James Jackson, but the Hoos will miss LB Nick Jackson who is now an Iowa Hawkeye.

Weaknesses: Offense

WR Dontayvion Wicks (Packers) and Athlete Keytaon Thompson (NFL free agent) are now trying to make it in the NFL. UVA brought in transfer wide receivers, including Northwestern’s Malik Washington, to try to replace what they lost this off-season.

At running back, Mike Hollins and Perris Jones return. They’re joined by Clemson transfer Kobe Pace. Pace looks to steal the starting RB job that he never had a chance to have behind Will Shipley with the Tigers.

Opportunities: QB, OL

Then there’s the QB position. Tony Muskett transfers in from Monmouth as Elliott hit the portal for nearly every position this winter. Muskett is in a QB battle with dual sport athlete Jay Woolfolk. Woolfolk has been Brennan Armstrong’s backup QB while also serving as a relief pitcher for the baseball team (93 K’s in 71.2 IP).

The offensive line brought in three transfers after being hindered by the portal a year ago. Ugonna Nnanna comes to UVA from Houston, while Jimmy Christ transferred in from Penn State. UVA had to do something to improve their O-Line and not only protect their QB, but establish a run game that can produce more than 1,000 yards rushing on the year.

Traditions: The Good Old Song

From the UVA athletics website:

“The Good Old Song” was written in 1893. Sung to the familiar tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” it has since served as UVA’s unofficial alma mater... The song is most frequently heard during home football games as UVA fans stand and sway, arm-in-arm, singing “The Good Old Song” after each Virginia score and at the end of the game.

Need a rating of this chorus from Cam Underwood in the comments.

UVA offensive scheme

Tony Elliott likes to run a fairly standard 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) pro style offense. A mobile enough QB with a solid run-first run game and play-action passing is a big part of the scheme. Limited on RPO’s and other ‘gadgets’ in modern college football.

I’ve seen Wisconsin OC Phil Longo speak a number of times and he comes back to three traits that are necessary for QB’s:

1- Arm strength. Strong enough to make the throws he has to make.

2- Accurate. You have to put the ball not only on the right person, but in the right spot.

3- Athleticism. Has to be mobile enough to pick up first downs, read option game.

Above- Righty rolling right, Muskett puts touch and location on the ball. Also ability to set his feet enough while rolling out. Good stuff here.

Above- Your Q doesn’t have to throw 80 from a knee. Muskett here puts the ball about 50 yards downfield in a nice arc where only his WR could really get it. Great catch and his run after catch was a broken tackle and TD.

Above- Defenses are too fast to not have the QB as some kind of run threat. They don’t have to be Cam Newton but they have to be able to pull against aggressive EMOL defenders that can be read. That’ll slow him down next time and keep the ball in the RB’s hands where it belongs.

Above- Muskett takes off and shows the ability to evade tacklers and pick up a 1st down with his legs. Again, just mobile enough which is what Miami is missing in their QB.

Above- Everyone is running some variation of Mesh these days. The progression isn’t always how Mike Leach would have ran it but wheel to spot to crosser isn’t a bad progression here from UVA.

Above- We saw a similar look from Clemson and I think UNC inside the five. Zone blocking with the TE picking up the BSDE. Mike Hollins powers through after everything he’s been through it was a beautiful thing to see.

Above- Stretch blocking and let the RB use their patience and vision to cut under the blocks and get in the end zone for a TD. Pistol with no RPO tag, just standard stuff here.

UVA defensive scheme

UVA is going to run an even front, 4-2-5, style of defense under Rudzinski. They lost Jackson to the portal, but gained a pair of graduate transfer cornerbacks and return Chico Bennett, Jr. at D-End.

Above- Every defense robs Peter to pay Paul in some way shape or form. UVA’s softy zone leaves the middle of the field open. That 10-12 yard dig works in the hole if there’s protection to allow for time.

Above- I thought Jake Garcia would play with more guts than he did at Miami. Garcia looked timid at times and didn’t trust himself. Could’ve been part of the Josh Gattis and Frank Ponce issues. UVA drops seven and Garcia has a run lane but forces a throw in 3OT.

Above- I love anything with a split backfield flow. LB’s slow way down when RB’s and TE’s work in opposite directions. Here it’s a slide from the TE. Garcia just keeps it and scores in 4OT for the win. Didn’t trust the wide open throw, but aye, why throw when you can run!

Above- Mario Cristobal has promised a hard nosed, downhill, bully ball run game. Where is it? Hope to see it more in ‘23 with a new OC and offensive line ‘upgrades.’ UNC pushes UVA around and runs in for a TD.

Above- UNC lets Drake Maye throw it deep. On 3rd and long, Maye hits Josh Downs in the corner of the end zone. Tyler Van Dyke is a big fan of the smash concept (hitch-corner). Let him throw that sucker to Xavier Restrepo in the corner. Let the guys work!

Above- I expect more ‘rush’ routes from Shannon Dawson, the new Miami OC, than we saw under Josh Gattis. Wisconsin (formerly UNC) OC Phil Longo uses them as check downs for the QB. Here Maye is looking for the fake screen-wheel concept, when it’s not open he flips to his RB and hits him on a swing for a TD.

Canyonero Keys to Victory

Miami shouldn’t struggle with UVA, but for some reason they seem to. The last five match-ups have been decided by a combined 20 points.

1- Guidry be Guidry. New Miami DC Lance Guidry is known for his ‘anyone can come, anyone can drop’ style of play calling. Unlike past Miami DC’s, Guidry doesn’t show much at the LOS. It’s all post-snap behavior which masks the pressures, stunts, and coverages. Well taking on a bad offense that lacks playmakers and an FCS QB should be easy for Guidry to put pressure on Muskett and confuse him while he adjusts to the ACC.

2- Score some damn points. New Miami OC Shannon Dawson was brought on to modernize the offense, much like Rhett Lashlee did when Manny Diaz hired him in 2020 after the Dan Enos debacle. Dawson comes to Miami from Houston where scoring points hadn’t been an issue with Clayton Tune or D’Eriq King at QB. Miami can’t be held to only 14 points (four field goals and a 2-point try in OT) again.

3- Bounce back after a loss. Miami will more than likely get slapped by Clemson once again. Will the ‘Canes respond and show focus and resilience, or will they allow a loss from the week (maybe two weeks prior with UNC) prior to ruin another week? That’s one sign of mental toughness- it’s not up downs, it’s focusing on the task at hand no matter where your mind is going.

Prediction: Miami by 7.