Despite a 2-2 record that is about what fans would have expected, the Virginia offensive output has Wahoos in a panic. But things aren't all bad! The defense is one of the conference's best (not to mention one of the better ones in the nation).
So this week, let's discuss who is making this defense work...Who has been the MVP of this season so far?
Brian Leung: So I want to say that the MVP this season is the entire Cavalier Defense, but that obviously is the easy way out. So, I'll take it.
Kidding. MVP for me has to be junior safety Ant Harris, who leads the Hoos in terms of sheer numbers. He's got a team high two interceptions and 34 tackles, one of which was a sack for a loss (I guess, all sacks are for losses, but that's neither here nor there at this point). Dominique Terrell obviously gets most of the punt returns, but I'd be curious to see how well Harris could handle it.
He's only had the chance to do it once this year, and he returned it for 18 yards.
Brian Schwartz: Despite the fact that the heralded unit of the Virginia defense is the D-line, I am going to say that Demetrius Nicholson is the most valuable individual to the defense. Often, the best corners have quiet seasons, devoid of high interception stats because QBs simply don't throw that way. This is the case with Tra, who has shut down opposing receivers all year. (He did grab a key interception against Pitt - however, he failed to return it for a touchdown, so what's the point anyway?)
In aggressive defenses, it's key to have a shutdown corner who can play man defense against opponent WRs without requiring help. This frees up linebackers and other members of the secondary to cover the other receivers and, ultimately, pressure the QB. Nicholson is this guy, always running in-step with the opponent's best. In addition, he is a sure tackler on run plays or if his man does come down with the ball.
Take away a member of a dominant defensive line...and you have a pretty good defensive line. Take away Tra, and the secondary becomes a bit thin, and the pressure defense may not click as well as it has this year.
Paul "Tiki" Guttman: Since MVP clearly means Most Valuable PLAYER, I can't choose Tenuta. Frankly, he'd be the obvious choice. He's what's making this defense work.
As far as players are concerned, I'm going with Brent Urban. Try finding another DL who leads his team in passes broken up. Urban is also 5th in tackles, and first in TFLs. Plus, he's one of the emotional leaders of the defense. When a guy can consistently get pressure up the middle, it throws a huge wrench in the offense's gameplan. QBs get some happy feet, and RBs have to start cutting and juking almost as soon as they get the ball. That pressure is arguably the best thing about this defense.
For what it's worth, I liked the previous two answers also. Except Harris' punt return was actually a punt block. He hasn't actually been back for a PR. Terrell has taken every one of those.
Leung: Well then that explains why I wasn't able to remember when Harris actually took a punt return. So, once again I say that I would like him return one and see what happens.
Guttman: There's a number of candidates who I'd like to see back there. That includes Harris, Nicholson and Phelps from the defense, plus Smith, Gamble, and Smoke from the offense. This isn't really answering the original question.
Paul Wiley: Great minds think alike: I'm agreeing with Tiki and putting Brent Urban on that MVP pedestal. Blowing up an O-line from the inside out disrupts both phases of the offense. Against teams that trap and pull a lot, it gives you the chance to tuck a DL into the pulling lineman's hip pocket and blow up the play in the backfield. Plus I'm a huge J.J. SWatt fan, so any D-lineman knocking down passes is gonna be ok in my book. We all talk about the #757 pipeline, but the Urbanator makes me think we ought to look more at our crazy neighbors to the north. (Canada, not Maryland. Maryland can go to hell/the Big Ten.)
Sully Sparks: Well its tough to find a bright spot on offense so I also go with a defender for MVP of the season so far. Sophomore defensive end Eli Harold is my pick. He was more athlete than football player last year and this year he looks to be learning how to use that ability to get to the QB. The play of our front four + Valles has been a huge surprise to me, but the play of Harold is what stands out. 3.5 sacks & 5.5 TFL through four games is a tremendous start to his year. I like the picks in the secondary, but their job has been made much easier with the play of the boys up front. Harold is setting himself up for a banner season and is putting himself on the map as one of the top pass rushers in the ACC.
My sleeper pick here would be David Dean. Many of us coming into this year were sweating the DT position. He has been stout against the run, and is providing a decent pass rush for the position with 1.5 sacks. He obviously isn't the DT who gets the most attention, but he's turning in a solid performance himself.
This defense is feeding off the pressure being generated. The team has 13 sacks through four games; to put that in perspective, we had a whopping 17 all of last year, and graduated/lost players who accounted for 8 of them. This pressure is generating turnovers: this team had 4 INT's all of last season and has 3 through four games this year. This defense is legit and will be one of the better units in the ACC this year.
One last thought, two of our bright spots on defense this year have been Max Valles & Maurice Canady. Neither were heralded recruits. You have to feel good about what Tenuta is doing for the defense as a whole, but also how he is getting the most out of the talent on campus. If he can use Dean-Valles-Canady the way he has this year, imagine the possibilities with Brown/Blanding.
Alright I'm done. That last part went way off topic, but I'm supposed to talk recruiting right? GO HOOS! I still believe. I'm also for sending Maryland to hell. If we can somehow keep Stefon Diggs in the process.....
Caroline Darney: I feel bad waiting so late because now I'm behind the name 'Sully Sparks', which eclipses mine in coolness. I'll try anyway. I am going to go with Anthony Harris as well. He's been so consistent all season, and I felt that every tackle on Saturday it seemed like the commentators were saying his name. Add to that the obvious interceptions, forced fumble, and blocked punt...not a bad line up.
Second vote for me goes to Voz. I'm so serious. I remember the Tom Hagan days of misery and this is such a nice treat. A 77 yard punt? It was not exaggerated that the watch party exploded with excitement at that punt. It was incredible. He's the only thing that makes our offense not so bad at this point.
Alright fans, what do you think? Hoo is your MVP of the season to date?