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THE BIG PREVIEW: UVA vs. William & Mary

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Coastal Carolina v South Carolina Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Mike London returns to Charlottesville for the first time since resigning as head coach after the 2015 season. He returned to the head coaching ranks at Howard and had some success before being hired at William & Mary this year. Despite his struggles at Virginia, London continues to have success at the FCS level.

For all of London’s faults as a head coach, he was a tremendous recruiter. Maybe at FCS, his recruiting prowess gives him a talent advantage. But London was never able to develop his players properly. It’s still somewhat early in Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure, but this appears to be a strength for him.

It’s London’s first year at William and Mary and he brought in an entirely new coaching staff, where there are a few familiar names.

  • Vincent Brown - Defensive Coordinator, assistant coach at Virginia under London
  • Josh Zidenburg - Special Teams/S Coach, FB/ST at Virginia from 2005-2007
  • Matt Johns - Inside WR/TE Coach, QB at Virginia from 2013-2016
  • Gordon Sammis - OL coach, OL at Virginia from 2003-2007
  • Ras-I Dowling - CB Coach, CB at Virginia from 2007-2010
  • Keenan Carter - DL Coach, DL at Virginia from 2005-2006
  • Darryl Blackstock - Def. Assistant, LB at Virginia from 2002-2004

That’s a lot of UVA on the sidelines for the Tribe.

But that’s more interesting to the fans than the players. Let’s get on to the game itself.

Virginia is favored by about 35, which is pretty standard for games between FBS and FCS teams. As UVA fans know, FCS teams win these games from time to time. You may recall that W&M pulled off the upset in 2009.

That’s not going to happen this year. Yes, the Tribe won last week (30-17) over the Lafayette Leopards. But Lafayette isn’t good and didn’t play well. Four turnovers and a FG blocked.

This Virginia team is good and hungry. They’ll be ready.

Virginia on Defense

Players to Watch

#12 FR QB Hollis Mathis

#5 SR QB Kilton Anderson

#25 SO RB Owen Wright

Here is the opening play of the game for the Tribe last week against Lafayette.

Weird, right?

OK, maybe it’s not that weird to run a trick play on the first play of the season. Coaches have had a lot of time to think about this play. But take a deeper look and you’ll see just how strange this play is.

Junior QB Ted Hefter takes the snap. He hands off to freshman QB Hollis Mathis, who pitches to senior QB Kilton Anderson. In the backfield at the snap, and working as a decoy is junior QB Shon Mitchell.

Yeah, they started the season with four QBs on the field. And it worked!

They used multiple QBs throughout the game, but Mathis ended up taking most of the snaps. He broke the QB rushing record for the Tribe with 127 yards. In his first game. He also completed 6/13 for 66 yards. At this point in his career, he’s more runner than passer. But he can definitely run.

He does that all by himself, after he drops the snap. Impressive for a true freshman.

Considering the Hoos struggled to contain Kenny Pickett, that’s a bit scary. The LBs will have to be better about their lanes when pass rushing. Seeing a guy like Mathis at QB will be useful when they play other dynamic QBs such as Notre Dame’s Ian Book.

Chances are, Virginia will see at least one other QB, Anderson. He’s a grad transfer from Coastal Carolina. Not as dynamic a runner, but a more accomplished passer.

The Tribe offense was atrocious last season. They ranked 122th in FCS (out of 124) in total offense at just over 240 yards per game. Amazingly, they were worse in rushing offense (123rd). As a team, they averaged just 1.8 yards per rush. That’s hard to do. They were a bit better passing (87th, but 98th in efficiency).

In the opener against Lafayette, the Tribe totaled 418 yards, with 255 of that coming on the ground. With a dual-threat QB, they plan to focus much more on the ground game.

The starter at RB is sophomore Owen Wright, who had 14 carries for 63 yards and 2 TDs last week. Senior Albert Funderburke led the team last year with all of 261 yards.

Virginia’s run defense was strong against Pitt. Excluding sacks, Pitt totaled 106 yards rushing on 26 carries (4 ypc). Much of that was Pickett’s scrambling (8 for 44 yards). So again, they need to sure up that part of the equation.

The Tribe will run a lot of the zone-read with both QBs. Most plays will open with a zone-read look. They’ll run different counters off that action, similar to what you saw above. But not usually with another QB.

Eli Hanback is probably the best DL the Tribe will face this year. Charles Snowden is almost definitely the best LB the Tribe will see this year. And Bryce Hall is definitely the best CB the Tribe will see this year. This is not a good combination for the Tribe.

Mathis will make some plays. The Tribe offense will go as far as he can take it. Virginia will use this game to prepare for other dynamic QBs they’ll face in coming weeks.

Virginia on Offense

Similar to above, Bryce Perkins is the best QB the Tribe will see this year. Joe Reed might be the best WR the Tribe will see this year. Even without knowing which Virginia RB will start, there’s a good chance that one of them is the best the Tribe will see this year. And though still unsettled, Virginia’s OL is probably the best the Tribe will face this year.

And once again, this is a bad combination for a William & Mary defense that was solid last year. They were 45th in total defense, which is even more impressive considering how bad the offense was.

When London took over at Virginia, he implemented a 4-3 defense. But upon taking over for William & Mary, he’s implemented a 3-4. His teams at Howard were 3-4 as well. Has he been converted to Al Groh’s preferred 3-4?

The Tribe forced four fumbles, recovering three. That’s probably not repeatable, especially as a couple of them were fluky plays.

They also posted six sacks, though most of them were coverage sacks.

That Tribe DL is Bill Murray, who had 5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and blocked a FG. He led the team with 4.5 sacks a year ago. But he isn’t chasing down Bryce Perkins on the outside.

Lafayette did pile up 368 yards, after ranking 118th in FCS last year, averaging 258 yards. So that’s really not a good opening for Mike London’s defense. They’ll get better as they get used to the new schemes.

Lafayette QB Cole Northrup rushed for 39 yards and a TD.

That is a lot of space for him to run into. Give Bryce Perkins that space and he’s going off. Last time Perkins faced an FCS school he rushed for 108 yards and 2 TDs. And that was his first game.

The top player on the Tribe defense is OLB Nate Atkins. He led the team in tackles last year as a 4-3 MLB and now plays one of the ILB spots. He’s a two time captain for this team. The secondary is solid, led by S Isaiah Laster and CB Corey Parker, both receiving All-CAA recognition last year.

That DL is still manned by guys recruited to play a 4-3, so they’re undersized. Murray plays inside at 280 and Carl Fowler plays DE at 265. Virginia’s OL should be able to push them around pretty good.

Conclusion

We hope Mike London succeeds. He’s a good guy. But his team is simply overmatched. There really isn’t a single Tribe player who would start for Virginia.

The Hoos will win big, which should provide plenty of time for some youngsters to get action. Wahoo fans will be looking to see Mike Hollins get some touches at RB, Brennan Armstrong to get some more experience at QB and young defenders like Jowon Briggs and Nick Jackson getting some needed experience.

Prediction: Virginia 52, William & Mary 10