I'm back from my holiday hiatus with a HUGE piece of news --- as per Jeff White, Ras-I Dowling is returning to UVA for his senior season. While he didn't have a great season in 2009, his return adds a blue-chip NFL-caliber talent to our secondary, and actually improves two positions, as Ras-I at corner allows Rodney McLeod to stay at safety. I'll stack our starting secondary -- Dowling, McLeod, Chase Minnifield, and Corey Mosley -- against anyone in the ACC. What a fantastic [late] Christmas present! GO HOOS!
December 16, 2009
In case you missed it on Sunday, UVA won the national championship in men's soccer.
I'm not a soccer fan (at all), but I am a fan of seeing the Hoos win national championships.
I'm not a soccer fan (at all), but I am a fan of seeing the Hoos win national championships.
We've now won 20 national championships. Six in men's soccer, six in men's lacrosse, three in women's lacrosse, two in boxing, two in cross country, and one in track & field.
I'm guessing at least one of baseball, men's lacrosse, and/or tennis brings home a championship this spring.
Compare this record to that of Virginia Tech. Zero national championships. A much better football team than ours in recent years, but zero national championships.
Suck it, Hokies.
December 11, 2009
Many college football fans are used to seeing the 4-3 defense. In fact, other than places in which they run "gimmicky" 4-4, 4-2-5, or 3-3-5 defenses, I'd say most college football fans are used to the 4-3. Why, then, is Mike London's announced switch from Al Groh's 3-4 back to the traditional 4-3 an exciting thing for UVA fans? Well, there are a few reasons.
1) At any level, a 3-4 base defense requires a huge, strong, behemoth nose tackle to anchor the scheme. These players must be short (generally less than 6-2) and squat, and must weigh 320+ in order to win the leverage battle at the point of attack. These types of players are extremely difficult to find coming out of high school, and since the nose tackle position is usually responsible for handling two blockers at the point of attack, the 3-4 nose isn't a stat-heavy position on the field. There isn't a lot of glory for the nose tackle. Therefore, it was nearly impossible for Virginia to recruit and develop ideal nose tackles... so in many ways, Groh's 3-4 defense was flawed from the drop. The 4-3 defense requires two defensive tackles instead of just one, but the 4-3 DTs can be a bit taller, and will often only be responsible for one gap, meaning they'll be more free to attack the quarterback in the pass rush, meaning there will be more stats and glory to go around. It's just a fact of football -- it's easier to find a 4-3 tackle than a 3-4 nose.
2) Defensive ends in the 3-4 function in many of the same ways tackles function in the 4-3. Here at Virginia, we were recruiting "big" ends (think Chris Long) or "small" tackles (think Nate Collins) in order to find our 3-4 DEs. Even though the two examples I just provided were star players at UVA, the 3-4 end is not usually a difference-making type of position. They are on the field to occupy blockers and free up the linebackers to make plays. Think about the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the NFL team largely credited with the current rise of the 3-4 defense. Are the Steelers' ends considered stars? Meanwhile, 4-3 defense ends are one of the true glamour positions on the football field. These guys are responsible for generating the pass rush out of the base defense, and typically end up with the sacks. The 4-3 can work with smaller defensive ends, as long as they have an explosive first step and the speed and quickness to attack the backfield. In other words, it's much easier to recruit 4-3 defensive ends than 3-4 defensive ends. Also, defensive ends in the 4-3 have the potential to be able to play much earlier in their college career, as they require much less physical development.
3) Outside linebackers in the 3-4 are generally the same as the defensive ends in the 4-3, in that they are responsible for generating the pass rush in the base defense. That being said, the 3-4 OLB is asked to drop back into coverage much more often than their 4-3 DE counterparts, so here is yet another situation where more development time must be invested before the players can see the field. Al Groh typically recruited high school defensive ends (like Clint Sintim and Darryl Blackstock) and shaped them into outside linebackers for his 3-4. Often, those former DEs turned OLBs would have [understandable] lapses in coverage, leading us to sacrifice big plays in the intermediate passing game. The 4-3 generally calls for less size and pass-rushing ability from its OLBs, providing another opportunity to put increased levels of speed on the field. In fact, big safeties can often be easily converted into weakside OLBs for the 4-3.
4) 3-4 inside linebackers are fairly equivalent to the 4-3 middle linebacker. The one exception is that [once again] the 3-4 calls for bigger/stronger players whereas the 4-3 can function with a smaller, faster MLB.
So across the board in the front seven, Al Groh's 3-4 defense usually meant sacrificing speed in favor of size, strength, and power, and was a more difficult system to sell to recruits. ("We're recruiting you, stud defensive end, to come to Virginia and learn how to play outside linebacker. Why would you want to go to Virginia Tech and play the same position you've been playing the last four years?")
I would argue that despite Groh's relative success on the defensive side of the football, Virginia was usually lacking one or two "playmakers" who could change games around by making explosive plays on that side of the ball. Yes, we usually kept scores low, but how often did the defense force turnovers and score touchdowns? Yes, Virginia's defenses were solid, but how often were they spectacular?
I'm not trying to bash the 3-4 defense. It's a great defense, where the opposing team has to constantly guess where the blitz is coming from. But without the right types of players and athletes in the front seven, the explosive blitzing Steelers-esque version of the 3-4 faded into a milquetoast version of a glorified 5-2 defense. Good enough... but never truly great. As Virginia struggled to recruit huge nose tackles and dynamic defensive ends willing to learn a new position, Groh had no choice but to go with nose tackles that were too small, and OLBs that weren't really elite-type talents. Therefore, the OLBs had to creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, and voila! We were running a 5-2 and calling it a 3-4. Too much size, too much thinking, too much reacting, and not enough attacking the offenses' weaknesses.
So Mike London is committing to the 4-3 base defense, and I think it will quickly prove to a boon to the Virginia defense. We'll be able to field faster players at DE and OLB, and we'll have a defense that can pin its ears back and attack... and hopefully generate a bunch of game-changing plays. As for recruiting, there will no longer be an absolute need to land the elite size/speed/strength pass rush specimens, as we can take smaller guys who can speed rush and also bigger guys who can push the pocket, and then play them at the positions which they are already comfortable. Instead of forcing the square pegs into round holes, we can just take the players and let them be who they are. Instead of watching our players being bogged down by indecision and overthinking
I love this move back to the 4-3. It worked for George Welsh, and it will work for Mike London. Hell, it works for most effective college defenses. Gone is Al Groh's paralysis by analysis, and while he'll be lauded for his effective defenses here at UVA, I'll slightly mourn the what-could-have-beens of players like Blackstock, Sintim, Aaron Clark, and pretty much any other players this decade that were forced to learn a new position in order to play in Groh's front seven.
December 8, 2009
Here are some of the choisest nugs from Mike London's first few days as UVA's new head football coach, in no particular order...
1) It's official. Coach London is switching the UVA defense back over to the traditional 4-3 scheme. This is great news, as hulking nose tackles and size/speed/strength specimens at outside linebacker are difficult for a school like Virginia to land in the recruiting wars. Operating out of a 4-3, London can now recruit smaller pass rushers at defensive end and big safeties to bring in and develop into outside linebackers. We'll be able to put more speed on the field via recruiting the 2- and 3-star caliber athletes that are typically in our wheelhouse. The initial switch could be difficult, as we lack numbers at defensive tackle, but the change is indeed a good one for the long-term potential of a Londonesque attacking defense.
2) According to the guys at CavsCorner, Noel Mazzone and Jim Reid are the best first-guesses for the offensive and defensive coordinator positions. That being said, it sounds like Mike London might be willing to wait out the Atlanta Falcons' season in attempt to lure Bill Musgrave back to his old post here at UVA. Remember the razzle-dazzle of the 2002 season? It was all Musgrave. No doubt that these coordinator picks are almost as important as the choice of head coach. London is great, but he is woefully inexperienced as a head coach. He needs experienced and effective coordinators supporting his mission.
3) Believe it or not, Coach London has already landed his first recruiting commitment as head coach of the Cavaliers, and it's at a position of dire need. 3-star quarterback Michael Strauss (from Miami, FL) said, "In the first few minutes of talking with him, I knew that I wanted to play for [Coach London]." Strauss is fully qualified and could enroll in January, which would be great as it would give him the spring practice sessions to stake his claim for our wide-open starting quarterback position. Strauss has been described as a heady passer who throws a very accurate ball and who has some wheels with which to scramble. I've heard comparisons to Ken Dorsey, Charlie Frye, and Riley Skinner so far...
4) If you missed Coach London's [impressive] press conference yesterday, bang it here for the full transcript. It's a long but exciting read.
5) It has been confirmed that Anthony Poindexter has been retained by Coach London and will join the new staff. Wayne Lineburg and Bob Price have also been mentioned as having the potential to return. It is expected that London will bring several members of his staff at Richmond with him to Charlottesville, including former UVA standout Byron Thweatt and offensive line coach and former UVA graduate assistant Bill Polin. Vincent Brown (linebackers) and Jeff Hanson (defensive line and associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at U of R) are two others who are being eyeballed. Hanson, a grizzled vet, has been coaching college football for almost 30 years.
6) The 2010 schedule is coming into focus. We already knew about the ACC slate (@ Duke, BC, GT, and VT and home against Maryland, UNC, FSU, and Miami) and the home game against Richmond and on the road against USC. Jeff White just announced that home games against VMI and Eastern Michigan have been added to the mix. It's interesting that we're playing two FCS teams, but we need wins of any sort (see also: "schedule cupcakes!") Only one of the FCS wins can count toward bowl eligibility. And won't it be weird/gut-wrenching for Coach London to face the Spiders in his first game as UVA's head coach?
December 7, 2009
December 6, 2009
December 4, 2009
December 3, 2009
I heard a rumor today that was sort of corroborated by CavsCorner's Chris Wallace: Mike London-to-UVA is a done deal, and Major Applewhite will be London's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. The announcement will take place no later than December 19th, also known as the day after the FCS national championship game. Please take all of this with a grain of salt, because it is just a rumor... But I will admit that it's a rumor that has me extremely excited.
Learn about Major Applewhite by banging it HERE.
December 2, 2009
- Jim Grobe has called for a mandatory team meeting for tomorrow afternoon. Rumors are swirling that he's going to tell his team that he's leaving Wake. But to go where? UVA? Marshall? Marshall makes a ton of sense because he's from Huntington and would be able to play out his career there without a ton of pressure. Losing Grobe from our list of candidates would be a bad thing, as I've recently gotten the sense that he was our "safety net." Two reasons it would be bad: 1) we lose our safety net, and 2) Wake Forest would enter the fray as competition for our coaching candidates, especially Troy Calhoun, who was an assistant under Grobe at Wake at one point in his career.
- Charlie Strong to Louisville seems like a done deal. I feel a little tinge of jealousy there. I think Strong is going to be a great head coach.
- Tommy Tuberville could be on his way to Georgia... as Mark Richt's new defensive coordinator. Good luck holding that powder keg together, 'Dawgs.
- Brian Kelly-to-Notre Dame is picking up a lot of steam. I'd say that's the most likely scenario for both parties... which potentially hurts us here at UVA because Cincinnati would enter the coaching search bonanza and could conceivably have interest in Al Golden, one of our top candidates.
- ESPN Insider has a blurb about Skip Holtz being named the next coach at UVA. I think that report is highly bogus.
- Mac McDonald is standing by his earlier claim that Chris Petersen will be UVA's next head coach. (At least, that's what I think he's saying. That dude speaks worse and worse English with every passing day.) Take it with a grain of salt. I mean, I hope it's true, but I highly doubt it.
- The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Mike London will and should become our next head coach. The fit is almost perfect and the timing is exceptional.