Virginia Football Season Opener: William & Mary Preview

The Hoos open their 2011 season against one of the top FCS teams in the nation, the William & Mary Tribe. As anybody who is reading this blog will remember, William & Mary beat the Hoos 2 years ago in the first game of Al Groh's final season, driving what may have been the final nail into Groh's coffin.

While that game was certainly an upset, were the Hoos really any better than W&M that season? If that Tribe team was a good one, this one is better. Picked as perhaps the top FCS team in the nation, the Tribe will present a tough challenge for the Hoos.

Still, there's no way they beat us again, right? Keep reading after the jump to find out.

Virginia on Offense

So, we know that Michael Rocco will take the first snaps at QB. We also know that freshman QB David Watford will play. There are still questions. If the game remains close throughout, how much time will Watford actually see? If the game is a blowout, could we see Ross Metheny or Michael Strauss as well? 

The thing is, last time we played W&M, we needed a QB to make plays. I remember Vic Hall scoring on a QB keeper early in that game (about the 32 second mark of this video, if you have the stomach to watch it). If something like that happens this year, it'll be one of the dynamic incoming freshmen, Darius Jennings or Dominique Terrell, running the HooCat. None of the actual QBs on the roster are capable of that type of play. Well, Watford might be, but the staff still sees him as more of a pocket passer, so he's more likely to run on a broken play as opposed to a designed run.

The only thing that the QB needs to do in this game is not turn it over. If we have 7 turnovers again, we will almost certainly lose. If we win the turnover battle, we will almost certainly win the game.

W&M play a 4-3 defense not all that dissimilar from the one the Hoos will play. The Tribe, however lost a lot off of last years defense, and must replace most of it with underclassmen.

The star of the DL is senior DE Marcus Hyde a second team all-conference performer a year ago. He racked up 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks last year. Senior DT Harold Robertson is listed at 300 pounds, the rest of the Tribe DE is all around 250 pounds. This means the UVA OL, which averages over 300 pounds, should have their way, at least in the ground game.

At LB, Jake Trantin returns after missing all of last season due to "family reasons". Trantin was all-conference in 2009 at MLB, and will return in that spot. Last year's MLB was Dante Cook, who also was also named to the all-conference team and he moves to OLB in order to make room for Trantin. Cook will be all over the field.

The real strength of the Tribe defense is in the secondary. Junior CB B.W. Webb is one of the best players in all of FCS and could probably start for most FBS teams. The rest of the secondary is all upperclassmen (2 seniors and 2 juniors in total), and all can play. This is going to pose a problem for whoever is taking snaps for the Hoos.

The hope, at least for me, is that our OL is able to manhandle the smaller Tribe DL, and we can move the ball consistently on the ground. It would not surprise me to see us run the HooCat, and let the young speedsters try to make plays on their own. We should also see some screen passes and quick hitters, designed to get the ball quickly into the hands of our playmakers. What we do not want is for our QBs to be forced into difficult long yardage situations. Let's just hope we don't have seven turnovers again.

Virginia on Defense

While the focus throughout the offseason was largely on the QBs, perhaps the more important questions are on defense. The Hoos defense last year was, by and large, atrocious. We finished 106th in the nation in rushing defense, and 78th in total defense. The entire team totaled just 19 sacks, and forced just 16 turnovers. (Stats courtesy ncaa.org)

We return almost that entire defense, which isn't necessarily a good thing. A number of players are switching positions, most notably LBs LaRoy Reynolds and Aaron Taliaferro who are moving to Will and Sam from Sam and Mike, respectively. (I hope that isn't confusing. Reynolds moves from Strongside to Weakside, and Taliaferro moves from Middle to Strongside.)

There are a number of youngsters who are expected to make an early impact on the defense. Three true freshman are listed on the 2-deep, including Demetrious Nicholson who is starting at CB. Anthony Harris is the backup SS and Dequan Romero is the backup WLB. The 2-deep also includes 2 redshirt freshmen and 4 sophomores.

Defensive end Cameron Johnson had a little bit of a breakout season last year as a junior. I expect big things from him this season, and this game could be his coming out party. Another senior, Chase Minnifield, has gathered a few pre-season accolades. This game will be his first chance to live up to the hype. Chase also has another reason to look forward to this game. In the 09 contest, Chase dropped an interception (2:36 in the video) that surely would've been 6 points. If he makes that play, we win that game. I'm saying now that Chase won't let that opportunity pass again.

For the Tribe, their offense is led by Michael Paulus, brother of former Duke PG and Syracuse QB Greg Paulus. We all hated Greg, so it shouldn't be too difficult to gather up some venom for Michael. Paulus is a senior, and he performed well last year, especially in big games, nearly leading them to an upset at UNC, before leaving with an injury. Paulus, however, missed all of the spring due to a shoulder injury.

Paulus won't be asked to do too much, and the reason for that is starting TB Jonathon Grimes. You may remember Grimes from two years ago, as he was the primary back in that game. Grimes is a preseason FCS first team All-American, and the pre-season conference player of the year. Plain and simple, if we stop Grimes, we stop the Tribe.

The Tribe's top WR is Ryan Moody, who torched the Hoos for 70 yards on just 3 catches in the previous matchup. However, he will miss this game with a knee injury sustained during spring practice. Still the Tribe have a fair amount of depth at WR, with a number of upperclassmen ready to step in. Keep an eye out for 2 seniors, D.J. Mangus and Ryan Woolfolk. Also involved in the passing game is senior TE Alex Gottlieb, who is one of the top TEs in the nation, regardless of subdivision. Gottlieb is the one player on the Tribe who provides a true mismatch. We simply do not have a LB or S who can consistently cover him man to man. It will take a team effort to keep him contained.

The Tribe OL returns just two starters from last year, senior C James Pagliaro and junior LT Mike Salazar. Pagliaro is pre-season all-conference and Salazar is moving over from RT last year. The two OGs and the RT will all be new starters, but all received a fair amount of playing time last year.

Especially with their top WR out and their QB coming off a major shoulder injury, the Tribe's offense is going to rely heavily on Grimes. The question is whether or not the Virginia run defense has improved from last year. If Grimes can get into a groove and keep Paulus from having to do too much, we're going to have trouble winning this game. Grimes isn't really a home run threat, he's more of a "grind it out" back. But he can wear down the defense and come up with big plays late in games.

Conclusion

Like I said, the ground game is going to be huge for this game. The Hoos are unproven at QB, but have a strong OL and a solid corps of RBs. The Tribe rely on a strong ground game led by a senior All-Conference TB, and they are going to be want to shorten the game. If our OL can open up holes for Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, our offense should score points. If our DL and LBs can bottle up Grimes and keep Paulus from getting too comfortable, our defense should stop them.

The Hoos, as a higher division team playing at home, are favored. We have more talent. We will have fan support. We should be looking for revenge after the loss 2 years ago. Of course, the Tribe have plenty to play for as well. They want to prove that the previous game was no fluke. And, any time an FCS team beats an FBS team it lends a little bit more credibility to the entire FCS.

No doubt, we will need to come out and play our game to win. The one thing I think we can count of from a Mike London coached team is effort. Our guys will give their all. Will it be enough? I think so.

Prediction: Hoos 38, Tribe 13

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