August 31, 2011

Wahooze Pix -- Week One

Just like last year, I'll be making picks against the spread (ATS) for every ACC football game this season.

Unlike last year, we now have two more writers in the Wahooze family.  So Pierce and Mike will be making their picks each week, as well.

And since we have three people, we are making it into a competition.  Picks ATS are each worth one point.  Picks ATS for all of the Virginia games are worth three points each.  And new for this season, we're adding in our "Stone Cold Leap Pipe Locks" (SCLPL), two games we each choose from all of the available college football games that weekend.  The SCLPL picks are worth two points each.

Being the generous trio that we are, we are also inviting a fourth person to serve as the celebrity guest picker each week.  For week one, our celebrity guest is Nathan's Little Brother, the world-renowned yet nefarious ROOKIE.  Rook is one of my very best friends, he's awesome at fantasy baseball, middling at fantasy football, and dedicated enough to Virginia Football to be willing to make the 3.5 hour commute from Morrisville, NC (near Durham) to Charlottesville for every UVA home game.  He has earned the right to be the first celebrity guest picker.

Not the FSU Cowgirls.  Sorry.

Ah hell, just for old time's sake:

"F-L-O-R-I-D-A-S-T-A-T-E, Florida State,
Florida State, woooooooooooo!"

Alright, on to the picks for this week...

William & Mary @ Virginia (-8)
Picking W&M: Nobody!
Picking the HOOS: Kendall, Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: I think this will be a close, uncomfortable game for UVA fans, but our superior offensive line will pave the way for a 10-14 point win.  For a score prediction, I'll throw out 28-17, Hoos.

Western Carolina @ Georgia Tech (-35)
Picking the Catamounts: Kendall, Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Picking the Wreck: Nobody!
Kendall Sez: It's clear that we all believe GT has a flawed team this season.  They'll win this game, but a 35-point spread is too steep.  In general, I think the Yellow Jackets are going to struggle this season.  REVENGE on October 15th, book it.

Wake Forest @ Syracuse (-6.5)
Picking the Deacs: Kendall
Picking the 'Cuse: Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: I'm gay for Wake Forest.  I just think Jim Grobe is a great coach, and I think this year's WF team is ready to do some winning behind Tanner Price.  Syracuse, meanwhile... meh.  I like to think that ACC teams don't lose to these Big East shitbags.

Northwestern @ Boston College (-3)
Picking N'Western: Kendall, Mike
Picking BC: Pierce, Rookie
Kendall Sez: With Montel Harris out, I don't think that Eagles offense will have much teeth.  Plus, Northwestern is always sneaky-good.  This is an easy upset pick in my mind.

Appalachian State @ Virginia Tech (-25)
Picking Appy State: Nobody!
Picking VT: Kendall, Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: I wish Appy could channel that Michigan magic again, but I don't see it happening in Blechsburg.  Logan Thomas walks on water to the tune of 300 yards and 3 TDs in the rout.

Louisiana-Monroe @ Florida State (-29.5)
Picking ULM: Nobody!
Picking the Noles: Kendall, Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: FSU is legit.  This won't be pretty for the Warhawks.

JMU @ North Carolina (-18)
Picking the Dukes: Kendall, Mike, Rookie
Picking the Tarholes: Pierce
Kendall Sez: I thought I'd be the only one with the nuts to pick JMU.  Sorry I underestimated the angle of your dangle, Mike and Rookie.  Pierce, you suck.

Troy @ Clemson (-16)
Picking the Trojans: Kendall, Pierce, Mike
Picking Klempsun: Rookie
Kendall Sez: Funny story -- I'm on the 2019 season of my NCAA Football 2012 dynasty, and Troy has emerged as a national power, 5-star school, and just joined the SEC.  The real Troy isn't as good as the video game Troy, but they're still plenty good enough to give Clemson a major scare.  This is officially week one of the Dabo Swinney Shitcan Watch (I don't think he'll make it through the season with his job.)

Liberty @ NC State (-29)
Picking the Flames: Kendall
Picking the Wolfpack: Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: Have I gone too far drinking the Rocco Family Kool-Aid?  29 points is a lot.  State could win 35-10 and not cover this spread.  42-14 doesn't cover.  28-0 doesn't cover.  I don't know... go Liberty?

Richmond @ Duke (-8.5)
Picking the Spiders: Kendall, Mike
Picking Dook: Pierce, Rookie
Kendall Sez: This is just wishful thinking on my part.  I have come to really hate Duke.  Three years and running... MUST end this year.

Miami (-5.5) @ Maryland
Picking the Canes: Kendall
Picking the Terps: Pierce, Mike, Rookie
Kendall Sez: Against the grain yet again.  I just think Miami comes out with a big ol' chip on their shoulders, and Maryland isn't all that good beyond Danny O'Brien, who conveniently has zero receivers to which to throw.

Stone Cold Lead Pipe Locks:
  • Kendall picks Oklahoma (-24.5) over Tulsa and Oregon at home over LSU (-1).  Kendall Sez: Oklahoma is FOR REAL this season.  I expect them to come out looking to destroy the Golden Hurricane.  Meanwhile, I just kinda love the Ducks and that blur offense that Chip Kelly runs.  Go Quack Attack!
  • Pierce picks Notre Dame (-10.5) over South Florida and Boise State (-3.5) on the road against Georgia.  Pierce Sez: Brian Kelly is the real deal.  Irish by two TDs, at least.  Meanwhile, bet the bank, bet the house, bet the family on Boise.
  • Mike picks Arkansas (-40) over Missouri State and Montana over Tennessee (-28).  Mike Sez: I'd go up to 70 points on that Arkansas spread.
  • Rookie picks Boise State (-3.5) over Georgia and Oregon over LSU (-1).

Should be a great first weekend of football!

August 30, 2011

Wahooze Season Preview - Idaho & Georgia Tech

October 1st- Idaho @ Virginia

Idaho is a bad football team, so I'll keep this brief. We're not talking "underachieving," "talents, but young," or "missing a couple pieces." This team should end up in the middle/lower part of the WAC standings and on the outside-looking-in on bowl eligibility. This season, the Vandals are replacing their starting QB and WR corps, while returning one of the nation's statistically worst running games. There are a couple bright spots on the roster in speedy wideout Justin Veltung and linebacker Robert Siavii, but largely them team should match up poorly against an ACC team like Virginia.

Pierce's Preseason Pick: Victory.

If UVA can't handle the Vandals at home, then we have some seriously troubling issues. Luckily, I don't think there's a possibility of anything worse than a mildly-concerning close first half. Idaho is no Western Michigan after all...(le sigh)

October 15th. Georgia Tech @ Virginia

Few Wahoo fans need an introduction to GT's defensive coordinator: Al Groh, the man responsible for the decline in UVA football and the pathetic level of success at which we currently stand. Not only did he mismanage countless players, under recruit necessary positions (did you know that quarterbacks are an important part of a football program?), and coach the Hoos to numerous inexcusable losses, but in his last year as HC (the William & Mary year), Al absolutely sabotaged the team on his way out.

This is my first time commenting on this in a public forum, so in case one of our superawesome readers is unfamiliar, let me elaborate: Going into the 2009 season, Al Groh knew he was a losing season away from being canned by his alma mater. Should he have been fired beforehand? Yes. Did the idiotic UVA athletic department completely handcuff him by keeping him on without a contract extension? Absolutely. The entire process of Al's last two years on Grounds was a complete shitshow of fail - and Al knew what was coming. So what does he do in his last season (besides lose to William & Mary)? He burns redshirts. Rather than play upperclassmen looking to finish their careers at UVA with whatever effort they can produce on the field, Al took his marginally successful recruiting class and threw the majority into game action a year before they were ready. The effects of this idiocy are still lingering today - as our roster is full of players that a year ahead of where they should be in eligibility- and thus, will leave the program a year before they normally would have. It affects our depth, it affects Mike London's ability to get the most production out of each of them, and it clogs the current roster with upperclassmen (and their playing time).

Why did he do this? Because he was bitter that he failed to succeed at his dream job. Rather than manning up and trying his best to succeed that final season though, Al took the spiteful brat route - basically saying "Fine, since no one loves me, I might as well see if these 18 year olds I promised a career to can magically fix things" and "Fire me, but I'm going to make this job that much more difficult for the next guy."*

*EVEN THOUGH it was OBVIOUSLY APPARENT to anyone paying attention that his FRIEND and MENTEE, Mike London would be cleaning up his mess.

I can handle bad coaching and poor team management in a coach who's left UVA without holding a grudge. Pete Gillen is a great guy who couldn't cut in the ACC - Dave Leitao ran our once-proud basketball program completely into the ground, but he did everything he could to try and succeed. But no, Groh's actions crossed the line, not to mention immediately picking up a job on a conference/division rival. It's as if he wants all of UVA fandom to hate him.

Well, Al. I'm your huckleberry, shithead. Enjoy your 6-7 seasons on a gimmicky Navy offense. Your comically impractical defense should do just as well in Atlanta, assuming Chris Long suits up for you again. Though, you and your porcine head coach are already on probation, so you might not want to cut any corners.

Pierce's Preseason Pick- Victory. Revenge.

I'm not going to bother discussing scumbag Al's team in depth. They have some players, but they're replacing their QB. The backup played most of last season and the team led the country in fumbles in a 99% run-oriented offense. They wont be any good this year and the Hoos will be coming off a bye week. I think we get it done at home.

No cha-cha dancing for you this year, bitch.

Boardwalk & Park Place -- The Offensive Line

Flex nuts.

Boardwalk -- Oday Aboushi, OT, junior
I honestly wish I knew or understood how/why Aboushi is so underrated.  This guy is a freaking animal.  He's a great run blocker, very good in pass pro, and excels when he's out in space, pulling around, paving the way.  He's a future pro, and it's very possible that he'll leave after this season (let's hope not -- we could really, really use a senior starter at left tackle in 2012).  It can be argued that Aboushi was Al Groh's last important recruit (Tim Smith and to some extent Morgan Moses might argue).  I list Aboushi at Boardwalk because of a few reasons: 1) I think he's the overall best offensive lineman on the roster, 2) I think he plays the single most important position on the line, and 3) I think he has the highest NFL stock of any UVA player not named Chase Minnifield.  He's a huge talent, mystifyingly underrated.  He'll set the tone of the o-line this season, and help it emerge as the biggest strength of the team, and one of the better overall blocking units in the ACC.

Park Place -- Austin Pasztor, OG, senior
I once heard Pasztor described as a "grizzly bear," and that image really stuck with me.  He's a big, mauling blocker who really excels at the hand fighting and leverage that is so key in the interior o-line.  He's a steady player who consistently plays at a high level.  With Aboushi at LT and Pasztor at LG, our diminutive running backs should find great success running to the left, with a good pulling guard in Luke Bowanko pulling around.  Pasztor is a senior, and I'm looking for him to solidify a middle-rounds grade for the NFL draft.  He'll be playing on Sundays next year, with his prototypical frame, strength, and general nastiness.  This year, he's another underrated piece to the offensive line puzzle, and he's another main reason this o-line will really surprise some people.  I hesitate to use the term "road grader," because it's another of those silly football clichés, and because few people actually know what a road grader really is.  But Austin Pasztor is a road grader.

Road Grader

Community Chest:
  • Morgan Moses, OT/OG, sophomore --  He just missed making it into the properties list, but I couldn't list him above Aboushi or Pasztor, even though his talent and potential probably dwarfs theirs.  You already know that Moses is HUGE (6-6, 335) but what you might not know is that the guy is extremely agile and nimble on his feet.  A 350-pound ballerina.  That's his upside.  (I also like the term "man mountain.")  To some degree, I think right tackle is a slight waste of his talent, but he'll be able to show his stuff in run blocking this season.  No doubt, off tackle runs will be one of the staples of our offense in 2011.  God bless America.
  • Landon Bradley, OT, senior -- He deserves a mention here, even though it's unlikely he'll play this season, and seems possible that his football career has come to an end, due to extensive injury and surgery.  It's a shame, because Bradley is a very good player who would have been an asset to the line this season, even if he was a square peg being forced into a round hole at guard.  Anyway, I wish him all the luck in the world, and if a medical redshirt and a return in 2012 is in the cards, fantastic.
  • Anthony Mihota, C, senior -- Mihota has developed into a solid starting center.  He's a little bit light and can be blown back from time to time, but otherwise no complaints.
  • Luke Bowanko, OG, sophomore -- I'm excited to see the kid play this season, and I think he'll do a good job.  I think opposing defenses with target him as the weak link, but I suspect he'll be able to acquit himself well.  He's a mobile, athletic guy who still needs to fill out a little bit.
  • Cody Wallace, C, redshirt freshman -- Waiting in the wings to take the reins at center once Mihota graduates.  Many around the program have high hopes for Wallace.
  • Sean Cascarano, OT, sophomore -- An above-average backup who should be ready to step in as a full-time starter in 2012.
  • Kelby Johnson, OT, true freshman -- Looks like the redshirt is being burned.  This athletic 6-7, 300-pounder has been a buzzy player in camp, and it seems like he's going to be groomed to take over a starting spot if Aboushi leaves early for the NFL.
  • Matt Mihalik, OG, junior -- A solid member of the two-deep who probably still needs to add some polish to his game.
  • Conner Davis, OG, redshirt freshman -- Highly recruited, and talented enough to bubble to the surface on the interior o-line.

Chance -- The team's biggest strength in 2011, I think we'll see many a conservative gameplan built around the offensive line's ability to win the war in the trenches.  The first glimpse of that figures to be this coming Saturday, where I'm fairly certain Bill Lazor sees our biggest advantage over Bill & Mary being our overpowering offensive line.  Can the o-line pave the way for an even-better running game?  I think it can, and I think it will.  Can it protect our young quarterbacks and give them time to devlop timing, make reads, and develop their skills properly?  Yes, I think it can.  The o-line carries us to 6+ wins in 2011, and a bowl game.  After a highly successful season, Aboushi leaves early for the NFL, and Morgan Moses flirts with the idea, much to our consternation.

Development -- 4 houses
I'm bullish on the continued upside of Aboushi and Pasztor.  Morgan Moses is in the rarefied air of D'Brick, Hoogene, and Branden Albert.  Kelby Johnson is a monster-in-the-making.  Bowanko, Wallace, Cascarano, and Davis all have nice upside.  This is a very talented unit, with a lot more talent flowing through the pipeline...  But more than any other position, offensive line needs players to have at least three full seasons of caddy work before they take the field, just from a pure physical development standpoint.  Thanks to Al Groh under-recruiting the OL, we're about to see a hiccup in that succession plan.  It might not hit us this year (barring injury), but it's coming in 2012.  Be warned.  This is one of the main reasons I think we need to take the money and run this season, before we take that half-step back in 2012.

August 29, 2011

Depth Chart!

Just released...


Open it up and follow along, as I give you a few notes and observations...
  • Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings are BOTH on the two-deep.  (Slick move listing Tim Smith and Matt Snyder as an "OR" in order to get both true freshmen on the list.)
  • Kelby Johnson, another true freshman, listed as the backup at left tackle.  I had heard he was having a tremendous training camp, but this is a bit surprising.  I thought that was Cascarano's spot.
  • Mike Rocco is the starting QB.  We probably already knew that.  But the "OR" at QB2 is interesting.  We see David Watford situationally... BOOK IT!  Wildcat, anyone?
  • Khalek Shepherd over Clifton Richardson at RB3.  Richardson might still have a redshirt in store.
  • Poor Zach Swanson, not even on the depth chart as FB3.  Have to believe he had a chance to beat out Jake McGee as TE4.
  • Justin Renfrow on the two-deep above Brathwaite and Ruff!  That's a surprise to me.
  • I think it's only a matter of time before Ausar Walcott is the starter over Taliaferro at sam.
  • Rijo Walker moved to safety!  This is probably cross-training like we've seen with Dom Joseph in the past.  But maybe it sticks.  Weird.
  • Ant Harris makes the two-deep, but Brandon Phelps does not.  Interesting.
  • DT/DJ returning punts.  Explosive combo.  I like it a lot.
  • DJ/KP returning kickoffs.  Explosive combo.  I like it a lot.

The William & Mary game just became real to me.  Five more days... CAN'T... FREAKING... WAIT...


The Greens -- The Defensive Line

Welcome to the suburbs.

Pacific Ave. -- Cam Johnson, DE, senior
Cam Johnson is the key to the defense in 2011.  No candy coating on this --- if he goes down, or can't get the job done in the pass rush, the entire defense is going to struggle.  By that same rationale, if he stays healthy and productive, and takes that "next step" in his progression as a pass rush demon, the defense could be good to quite good.  Put simply, I think he's good enough to take that next step, take his sack total from 6.5 last year to somewhere north of 10 this year, take his TFL total from 14.5 last year to somewhere north of 20 this year, and emerge as a star player and a Friday (2nd/3rd round) draft pick in the NFL.  He's a guy offenses already have to gameplan around, and with better overall coverage in the secondary I think he'll have that extra split second to change all of those near misses from last year into QB-burying sacks this year.  His potential has been crystal clear and readily apparent... and now it's time for him to realize that full potential.  I have faith he'll get it done.

North Carolina Ave. -- Matt Conrath, DT, senior
I loved him as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, the perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end, with some very Chris Longian moments.  But I thought his move inside to defensive tackle was iffy.  I thought he was too tall and maybe not strong enough at the point of attack.  He sort of proved me right by having a ho-hum season in 2010.  But there is a growing buzz around him these days, as he's really coming on for his senior season, ready to make an impact.  He's good at penetrating the line and making plays in the backfield, and now that he has grown into his body a bit, his height (6-7) could be considered an asset to the line.  I still think he's a 34 end miscast as a 43 tackle, but he's learning the nuances of his new position and should be back to his old playmaking ways this season, ready to go out with a bang.

Pennsylvania Ave. -- Nick Jenkins, DT, senior
He faced a little bit less of a transition than Conrath, going from 34 nose to 43 tackle, but he still had to adapt to the new defense.  This season, I think he's 100% ready to anchor the line with steady play.  He's a block eating big man who is a bit of a tone-setter for the entire defense.  He's a blood-n-guts type whose play is extremely important to the run-stopping effort, an area in which the defense must make marked improvements this season.  I think Jenkins is up to the task.  The Conrath/Jenkins combo in the middle of the d-line is often overlooked, and rarely mentioned as a potential strength of the defense.  I want to change that, and mention this HUGE potential strength.  These are two fifth-year seniors who have benefitted from five full seasons of development in a college-level weight room, and have tasted three full seasons of starting experience heading into 2011.  They are veterans of the defensive line, and should be able to help the unit find and maintain a great level of consistency.  If football games are truly won in the trenches, then Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins have us poised to do some winning.

Community Chest
  • Jake Snyder, DE, sophomore -- A "tough, hard-nosed, blue collar kind of guy" (Mike London's words) who will be the starter at LDE, opposite Cam Johnson.  It is on Snyder to make offenses pay for rolling extra blockers over to Cam's side of the field.  If Snyder can match his good run-stopping ability with a little bit of a pass rush, the entire defense will benefit greatly.  I like the idea of an old-school battler on the left side of the line.
  • Will Hill, DT, junior -- He's the toast of the defensive line this offseason, and a guy who will basically push for "3rd starter" status at defensive tackle.  The staff is enamored with his ability to generate an interior pass rush, as evidenced by the great pressure he brought up the middle against BC and VT, once he became a regular part of the rotation.
  • Brent Urban, DE, sophomore -- 6-7, 280.  This dude is huge, and should be a regular in relief of Snyder.  He hasn't played much to this point, after redshirting and then fighting through an injury-marred redshirt freshman season in 2010.  His body and frame are ready, but his experience level must catch up.  He's actually one of the guys I'm really excited to see in real live game action this fall.
  • Bill Schautz, DE, junior -- Probably the best pure pass rusher behind Cam Johnson, and thus likely the true backup at RDE.  He's been a spring game star, but has yet to notch much action in the base defense during the regular season.  In 2011, he'll get his chance to stake a claim to the starting job at RDE in 2012.  I think Schautz will also take snaps at LDE in the nickel, so keep your eyes peeled and see if he can generate some pressure.
  • Chris Brathwaite, DT, redshirt freshman -- I love this guy.  He's a really violent player on the defensive line, the kind of guy blockers hate facing.  As the 4th DT, he might not see a lot of burn this season, but I'll certainly be watching intently whenever #98 is on the field.
  • Buddy Ruff, DT, junior -- Back from the dead (aka roster expulsion) and ready to add to the mix at DT.  Reports are that he's emerged as a solid player, adding a level of comfort in case of an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart.
  • Justin Renfrow, DT, sophomore -- A still-developing big man (6-6, 300) who is probably not quite ready for game action.
  • Connor McCartin, DE, junior -- Former linebacker turned rush end.  Might be able to add some juice to the pass rush in nickel situations.
  • Stephen Lawe, DE, redshirt freshman -- I think he's probably only a special teams guy this season.

Chance -- I like this defensive line, a lot.  Three senior starters with NFL upside, with plenty of talented depth waiting in the wings.  I think this season we'll see a greatly improved run-stopping unit and a player who can single-handedly destroy gameplans with the pressure he'll bring around the edge.  The pass rush will abandon us on occasion, but with an above-average secondary we'll still see plenty of "coverage sacks."  Cam Johnson blows past the double-digit sack barrier, and the entire d-line emerges as a team strength, much to the surprise and dismay of teams that think they'll still be able to run all over us with ease.  The d-line keeps us competitive in games we should lose, and goes above and beyond to control the triple option and hand-deliver a win against Georgia Tech.

Development -- 2 houses
Without a can't-miss pass rush stud on the roster behind Cam Johnson, I really can't go much higher than this for this season.  I do think this unit has good potential to improve over the course of the season, namely from guys like Will Hill and Jake Snyder improving via extended game action.  But the ceiling here is still somewhat low.

Wahooze Season Preview - Southern Mississippi

September 24 - Southern Mississippi @ Virginia.

The Golden Brett Favres of Southern Mississippi are a good, but not great, team and have been playing at a consistent level for quite a while. In fact, they have posted 17 consecutive winning seasons including last year's 8-5 mark. However, the fans and administration have been looking for the team to take the extra step (and compete for a Conference USA title) for a while now - and this season should give them the opportunity to do so. Record-breaking Quarterback Austin Davis returns to lead a USM team with a potent offense and inconsistent defense. The pieces are in place, but can coach Larry Fedora avoid the late-season championship-killing losses that have plagued the Golden Eagles recently?

A quick tangent: Conference USA is absolutely the worst name for anything in the entirety of the NCAA. They could name the conference "Football Conference" or "Group of Schools" and it would sound better. "Legends and Leaders" is less dumb. Seriously, it sounds like the brand name a Chinese toy company would use for its knock-off NCAA merchandise. Come see JOE AMERICA and the AMERICAN EAGLES play AMERICAN FOOTBALL in AMERICALAND. If I didn't know better, I would think it's a product of post-9/11 pandering to the masses with faux-patriotism. Conference USA and Coors Light are proud to present the AMERICA-FUCK YEAH Championship game featuring the USM Eagles of Awesomeness and the Houston We'll Shove a Boot Up Your Ass's (also sponsored by Chevy and Uncle Sam's kickass hot dogs). /rant

Commissioner Lincoln's got your conference realignment right here.

So how will USM achieve its goal of CONFERENCE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA domination? Defense. The offense is there - these guys will have no issues scoring points. But late last year, the Eagles gave up 50 and 44 pts to UAB and ECU respectively. USM can't afford to gamble on shootout wins for every game, so their weird-looking 4-2-5 stack defense will need to be more consistent.

Pierce's Preseason Prediction: Defeat.

I just don't see it. It would be absolutely wonderful (and poetic justice) to steal a game back from these guys, as the Hoos blew an enormous lead when they last played in Hattiesburg. However, this USM team should be even better. Virginia could benefit from a strong secondary and (hopefully) improved pass rush, but the offense will have to at least match the production of Davis and Co.. Maybe it'll work out, but I'm betting against it.

At least we don't have to live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

August 28, 2011

The Yellows -- The Cornerbacks

Some people swear by Marvin Gardens and her yellow sisters,
some people hate the yellows.  Personally, I think if you can
properly develop them (no easy task), they really help you win.

Atlantic Ave. -- Chase Minnifield, senior
Easy enough.  He's the best player on the team, a future first round draft pick, and a shutdown cover corner with great ball skills.  [The interesting thing to watch unfold this season will be the "Chase Effect."  As Minnifield renders his half of the field radioactive, passers will be forced to go to the other side, where young players Tra Nicholson and Rijo Walker await.  If either (or both!) of those guys can emerge as bonafide playmakers, we could have a defense that is quite inhospitable to opposing passing games, which would allow us to roll a safety up into the box to assist with stopping the run.  But back to Chase...]  He's a stud; the kind of difference-making defender who can change the whole complexion of games and elevate the play of an entire defense.  Every year he's been in the program, he's improved by leaps and bounds.  If he makes a similar improvement from his junior to senior season, look out.  He's not the physical freak of a Ras-I Dowling, but he's a cerebral guy who plays with great technique and the best coverage instincts I've seen in a UVA cornerback since Marcus Hamilton.  I don't want to gush (too late!) but this is one of those situations where great natural ability marinates with an ever-increasing skill level and is grilled to perfection with on-field experience to create a thick, juicy elite player.  Chase Minnifield is the best player on the team, and I'm not sure he isn't the best overall player UVA has had since Chris Long.  (And yes, I just made a T-bone analogy.  Sports and food, dog.  Always on my mind.)

Ventnor Ave. -- Demetrious "Tra" Nicholson, true freshman
He's one part Muffin Curry, one part Darrelle Revis, and one part Predator.  He's a true freshman, so he's going to be a little raw, and he's going to make some mistakes, but he has the physical capabilities and natural cornerback savvy to overcome those occasional gaffes, and take full advantage of the "Chase Effect."  It didn't take Tra long to leapfrog Rijo Walker in training camp, and I think that's for good reason.  Not because Walker is bad, but because Nicholson is THAT GOOD.  He'll be an All-ACC candidate by his sophomore season, this year is just going to be the bridge from his illustrious high school career to his illustrious college career.  Some people worry about his slight (5-11, 165) build, but I do not.  If you've got the goods, you've got the goods.  He'll get steamrolled in run support, but he's not in there to come up and stop the run, he's in there to stick to receivers and pick off passes.  I think he'll quickly emerge as an impact player in our more-aggressive 43 scheme.  Cam Johnson pass rush pressure + the "Chase Effect" = lots of INT chances for Tra Nicholson.  Keep your eyes glued to #1 this season -- I think he'll easily make a believer out of you, too.

Marvin Gardens -- Rijo Walker, sophomore
Last year, he was one of only three true freshman to play (along with Morgan Moses and Mike Rocco), but logged most of his time on special teams.  No doubt about it, he was (is?) an A+ player on 'teams.  But now he has a shot at big chunks of PT in the base defense.  Dom Joseph will probably be the primary nickel back, but Walker has a chance to wrestle that distinction away from the veteran.  Meanwhile, if either Minnifield or Nicholson go down, Walker would likely become a starter at corner.  I don't know a lot about his game, other than the fact that the coaches see him as well-rounded and extremely capable.  His high school career suggests that he might be a bit of a ballhawk... which plays extremely well as the #3 corner behind Minnifield and Nicholson.

Community Chest:
  • Dom Joseph, senior -- Talked about him with the safeties.  He's a no-frills / no-worries backup, who has the coaching staff's full trust.  He'll fill in whatever cracks the young players leave in the secondary.
  • Brandon Phelps, true freshman -- Well, he's a four-star recruit with incredible upside.  He's fast, and at 6-0, he's relatively tall for a corner.  Conventional wisdom says he'll redshirt, but I'm not expecting that; I think London is aching to get more pure speed and talent on the field, and Phelps offers both of those traits.
  • Drequan Hoskey, redshirt freshman -- He's a track star who is probably eager for people to stop mentioning the fact that he's a track star, and start mentioning the fact that he's a good cornerback.  He's still very raw and must develop some skill and some instincts for coverage.  Until those things come, he'll play special teams and likely won't even sniff action in the secondary.

Chance -- Six (plus) picks for Tra Nicholson, via the "Chase Effect."  Good, solid, reliable play from Rijo Walker, establishing him as an above-average future starter.  A handful of great moments from Dom Joseph, who makes us glad that he's on the team as a senior.  A handful of great moments from Brandon Phelps, who makes us feel okay about his burned redshirt.  And of course, an All-ACC season from Chase Minnifield, and a top-25 draft pick in April 2012.  The cornerbacks secure us an unexpected upset win with game-changing interceptions.  I'm looking at you, Mike Glennon and NC State.

Development -- HOTEL
Minnifield is going to be a Thursday night NFL draft pick.  Nicholson is going to be a four-year starter if he doesn't go pro early.  Rijo Walker is a rock-solid future multi-year starter.  Phelps has star potential, and Hoskey has incredible speed.  Add it all up, and this is a group that simply has a TON of talent.  And that talent will emerge this season in a very real way.  Plays will be made, and quarterbacks embarrassed.  Jesus H. Logan Thomas, I'm looking at you.  Chump.

August 27, 2011

The Reds -- The Tight Ends

Statistically, the BEST properties to own if you want to win the game.
Still, the reds aren't without their limitations.  They're hard to develop,
but can really come through in the clutch.

Kentucky Ave. -- Colter Phillips, junior
It's one of those tired football clichés that I tend to hate: nothing helps a young quarterback more than a good tight end.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it.  Big target, good blocking, reliable hands, nice routes, safe option for short dumpoff passes.  We get it.  But said simply, I'm thinking that nothing will help Virginia's young quarterback(s) more than Colter Phillips.  He should easily be able to build off of his 18-catch, 155-yard, 3-TD season in 2010.  In fact, I'm looking for those numbers to DOUBLE in 2011.  Of course, it's still slightly murky how the tight end truly fits in the Lazor offense, and there are an awful lot of mouths to feed in the passing game, especially considering that this still figures to be a run-first offense.  Still, Colter Phillips is the next star in line at Tight End U.

Indiana Ave. -- Jeremiah Mathis, sophomore
I list him second above Freedman, because I think Mathis will be more involved in the offense, in general.  Tight end, H-back, maybe a little fullback.  He's a versatile weapon who brings a bit of that d-line nastiness to the offense.  If rumor holds true, Lazor will be incorporating some Magic 3 looks into the offense this season, and Mathis would be an integral part of that, as the "move" tight end.  I know it's lame to quote myself, but I like what I said about Mathis after attending the open practice on August 7th, so here's me quoting myself:
#81 Jeremiah Mathis -- He runs with a really bizarre gait. Almost like a broken robot. But he's big and can move. I've heard the term "unorthodox" used to describe his game, and I think that's apropos. He seems like a good weapon in the passing game, and I'm more than ever sold on his upside at H-back.

Ha ha, "broken robot."  Oh Kendall, you're the greatest.

No but seriously, there are a few guys I have a strong hunch about this season.  LoVante Battle.  Kevin Parks.  Chris Brathwaite (more on him in a few days, when I get to the d-line).  Go ahead and add Jeremiah Mathis to the "hunch list."

Illinois Ave. -- Paul Freedman, junior
I really like what I've seen from Freedman to this point in his career, but I can't believe he's already a junior.  He was one of the victims of Al Groh's "scorched earth" exit, which included stupidly burning redshirts right along with the bridges.  Freedman is a big (6-6, 260), square-built, thick, hard-charging guy.  He's a plus blocker, and seems to be a plus receiver.  He really reminds me of early career John Phillips, which is ABSOLUTELY a compliment.  Freedman just strikes me as a guy who can manhandle and ragdoll defenders, and I think he'll be a valuable member of the tight end rotation as we try to protect young quarterbacks and pave the way for a productive running game.  He'll break open and haul in a few timely receptions, but I have the feeling that part of his game isn't what will bubble to the surface so much this season.  He's a grizzly-esque mauling blocker, and that's what we'll see him doing more often than not.  I just wish this were his sophomore year of eligibility, because I feel like Freedman has the potential to develop into a really good all-around tight end... but the clock is already ticking down on his career in orange and blue.  Stupid Al Groh.

Community Chest:
  • Jake McGee, redshirt freshman -- A former two-star QB prospect (like Heath Miller) who has really taken to his new position.  Coaches and onlookers see a really bright future cooking with this guy, and I'm sure the fans will get a few glimpses under the lid this fall.
  • Zachary Swanson, redshirt freshman -- He's a fullback now, but I don't completely buy it.  I loved what I saw from him [at tight end] in the spring game: lots of surprising speed, good hands, hustle.  I'm sure if the injury bug stings us hard at tight end, Swanson would move back... and I think he'd be a good option for extensive PT at the position.
  • Kevin Royal, sophomore -- He's a wideout now, but still has almost the frame to hold up at tight end.  He's not much of an in-line blocker, but he offers great natural receiving chops, and speed that would be difficult for linebackers to cover.  Another guy who could switch back to tight end in an emergency.

Chance -- Magic 3.  We see it this year, and it's effective as hell.  With Phillips/Mathis/Freedman all on the field at the same time, that's a lot of height, a lot of strength, a lot of blocking, and a lot of pure receiving skill.  In other words, that's a lot of options.  Remember Schaub-to-Miller?  Of course you do.  A sort of comfort in knowing there's a fantastic red zone option in the passing game.  With Mike Rocco's QB pedigree and willingness to efficiently check down in his reads, I'm thinking Rocco-to-Phillips emerges in a very real way this season, offering shadows of Schaub-to-Miller.  Six total touchdowns for Colter Phillips this season.  Book it.

Development -- 3 houses
Good upside here, especially when you factor in Jeremiah Mathis' rapid improvement and the high ceiling for Jake McGee.  Phillips and Freedman have also only begun to scratch the surface of their potential.  That being said, I don't see a Vernon Davis in the bunch.  Good players, but no transcendent talents.

August 25, 2011

The Railroads -- The Wide Receivers

Totally fun to own, and the more you have, the better.
Still, you cannot win the game with only railroads.

Reading Railroad -- Kris Burd, senior
At this point, we know what we have in Kris Burd: rock solid in pretty much every capacity.  He runs good routes, has a savvy about getting open, has a solid 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, has good hands, is a good leaper, has decent deep speed, offers nice YAC ability, has good enough toughness over the middle, is courageous in traffic, gives you good downfield blocking, is reliable, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  He might be a tad injury-prone, but otherwise, no knocks on his game whatsoever.  That being said, Kris Burd is a lot of things, but what he isn't is explosive.  He's not a guy you look at and think, "Wow, that guy is a game-changer, he's going to blow this bitch wide open."  The way I think about late-career Derrick Mason is about the way I think about Kris Burd.  Really, really good, but not quite blessed enough to be special.  Still, he's our #1, go-to wide receiver this season, and I'm really glad for it.  He should be able to make life easy for inexperienced quarterbacks because he gets open, he's pretty much where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there, and he fights hard to make tough catches.  Given even mediocre play at quarterback, go ahead and pencil Kris Burd in for 70+ catches and 900+ yards.  (Beyond this season, I actually think he has pretty decent NFL prospects.  I'm a Bengals fan, so sue me for this comparison, but Burd looks a lot like Darnay Scott.)

Pennsylvania Railroad -- Tim Smith, sophomore
Returning from last season's injury that led to a medical redshirt, I love that this guy is still only a sophomore.  And please don't make the mistake of forgetting about him amid the hubbub over Jennings and Terrell.  Tim Smith has legit deep speed, and the only thing Kris Burd lacks -- true, gamebreaking explosiveness -- Smith brings in spades.  Granted, his hands can desert him from time to time, and despite this being his third year in the program he can still be considered green.  I list him second in the pecking order because I think he'll start the season opener across from Burd, and I think he'll log the second-most plays from scrimmage at wideout.  I think he'll have a good year, and I think he'll offer enough of a consistent deep threat to soften defenses and pull safeties out of the box, where they took way-too-regular residence last season.

B&O Railroad -- Darius Jennings, true freshman
This is what I said about Jennings after watching the open practice on August 7th:
#6 Darius Jennings -- Go ahead and start getting excited about this guy. We haven't had an explosive athlete like this at wide receiver since... hell, I can't think of anyone. Pete Allen, I guess? He's just blur-quick, makes unbelievable cuts, makes it all look effortless. Seriously, the closest thing I've seen to DeSean Jackson at UVa.

Believe the hype.  This guy is the real deal.  So why only third in this position preview?  Kris Burd has earned his, and Tim Smith probably knows the offense and the routes better.  Plus, Jennings will be at his absolute most dangerous working from the slot this season.  But if either of the starters go down, I have no worries about DJ sliding outside.  At 5-11, 165, he's a tad on the small side, but Jacoby Ford was only 5-10, 160 when he was ripping fools new assholes at Clemson.  The aforementioned DeSean Jackson was 5-10, 155 at Cal.  If you've got the wheels and the skills, the size doesn't matter.

Short Line -- Matt Snyder, senior
If Kris Burd is everybody's favorite ice cream -- chocolate, and Tim Smith is underrated butter pecan, and Darius Jennings is exciting black cherry, then Matt Snyder is ol' reliable vanilla.  (Wow, terrible analogy, but I'ma leave it.)  Snyder is a battler, a possession guy who has carved out a niche by blocking hard, playing tough, and honing his ability to make difficult grabs in traffic.  What you don't expect is his better-than-bad ability to get deep and make plays, but he can do that.  I think he's a great weapon to add to the mix, especially when defenses are off balance with the raw speed we can throw at them with Burd, Smith, Jennings, Dominique Terrell, and E.J. Scott.  Snyder strikes me as a guy who will make some serious hay in the clutch, and I'm elated that he's a member of our rotation at wide receiver this season, because he offers a terrific complement to the other receivers.

Community Chest:
  • Dominique Terrell, true freshman -- Ubertalented, but maybe still a tiny bit more raw than Jennings.  But make no mistake, this kid is a gamebreaker.  Spreading four wide with Jennings and Terrell in the slot will be beastly.  He's a weapon, but still probably only #5 in the pecking order this season.
  • E.J. Scott, redshirt freshman -- Scott is the kind of guy who would eventually make a great #2-type, but I'm not sure he'll ever get the chance with the massive influx of receiving talent we're seeing added to the team.  He might need to make his mark on special teams this season.
  • Miles Gooch, redshirt freshman -- Awkwardly built, but oddly effective.  We have a lot of big, possession-type receivers lingering on the depth chart, but I think Gooch is probably the best of the litter.
  • Ray Keys, senior -- He's a worker, a blue-collar guy.  Good hands, good downfield blocker.  I'm not sure he won't be completely lost in the shuffle.
  • Kevin Royal, sophomore -- A big receiver (6-3, 220) converted from tight end.  A pure possession guy who will likely struggle to find playing time.
  • Bobby Smith, sophomore -- I expected more from this long-limbed condor (a legit 6-5 with a great wingspan), but he's struggled to stay healthy.  At this point, I don't see a clear path for him to get on the field.
  • Thomas Wheet, freshman walk-on -- Has been coming on like gangbusters in training camp, but he's a bit of a mystery to me.  I know he was a "priority" recruited walk-on, so someone on the staff must have high hopes for the kid.

Chance -- This is an above-average receiving corps, with very apparent potential to be great.  The problem is, the receivers are entirely dependent upon the quarterback play, and I just don't think the QBs will be consistently good enough for the receivers to play up to that potential.  Kris Burd leads the team in catches and receiving yardage, and emerges as an All-ACC candidate.  Tim Smith breaks a few big ones, and Jennings and Terrell give us a taste of the excellence we'll be seeing from that duo for the next few years.  Still, the receivers come off seeming just above-average... blame the quarterbacks.

Development -- HOTEL
No, I know, I know.  You can't build houses and shit on the railroads.  But just give me a bit more poetic license here, okay?  Anyway... hotel...  Yeah, Kris Burd is a rock, Tim Smith has great potential, and Jennings and Terrell have upside off the charts.  This could end up being the best top-to-bottom receiving corps UVA has ever had.  This year.  Imagine if we had Matt Schaub or Shawn Moore flicking the passes.  We don't, so the ceiling is much lower.  But you have to sort of grade the position groups in a vacuum, and as a group these receivers have a ton of potential for greatness.


Wahooze Season Preview - North Carolina

September 17th. Virginia @ North Carolina

I'd like to begin this preview with a brief statement: HAHAHAHAHAHA Butch Davis. HAHAHAHAHA Carolina sold its soul for a couple tire bowl wins.* Really though, who didn't see this coming? Even if Butch was blissfully unaware of his assistant coach's actions, he is still culpable. Eventually, the administration decided to cut ties - though the timing of such was both inexplicable and potentially damaging to their football program. But, let's get to where the Tar Heels stand currently.

*Note, The Continental Tire Bowl is a fine mid-level bowl that I have enjoyed attending and would be ECSTATIC to see UVA play in this or next season. However, it's not worth ruining your program's NCAA standing/integrity.

Newly appointed coach Everett Withers has a talented team, for sure, but the big key to their success will be cohesion in the face of an NCAA investigation. The front seven on defense have NFL talent, headlined by uber-freak Quinton Couples on the line and Quan Sturdivant at LB. However, the secondary is young, unproven, and replaces three starters from a unit that wasn't all that good last season.

Virginia native, Bryn Renner, takes over for the Heels at QB, replacing 7-year starter T.J. Yates. Renner was highly recruited, but UNC should be looking for him to simply manage the offense - not act as a game-changer. Ryan Houston finally takes over the starting job at RB (though I'm pretty sure he's scored 10+ TDs against UVA already in his career). At wideout, the Heels have talent and experience, highlighted by Dwight Jones.

So, how will it all come together for UNC? Can Coach Withers keep the talented group at the same level of production as his predecessor, or will the distractions and transitioning lead to mistakes on the field? I think the Heels have already proved they're a resilient bunch and their talent alone should get them to eight wins. Will they challenge VT for the Coastal? Not a chance.

Pierce's Preseason Pick: Defeat.

I have to follow this game while participating in my Tar Heel fan friends's wedding, which is a bad omen. I actually wouldn't be too shocked if we won, but I don't see it happening. Last year, the Heels showed that their athleticism is head and shoulders above UVA's - which isn't a shock, considering the players they paid enroll there. The South's Oldest Rivalry will probably remain baby-blue colored this year, as an upset this season would require stellar Mike Rocco play and plenty of mistakes on the Carolina side. That being said, worse UVA teams have beat better UNC teams in recent memory down in CH, so anything could happen.

UNC's campus feature an impressive antique urinal collection

August 24, 2011

Wahooze Season Preview - Indiana

September 10th. Virginia @ Indiana

The Wahoos begin their road schedule this year with a trip to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers who are coming off a 5-7 2010 campaign. While the '10 Hoosiers were a late TD drop against Iowa from playing in a bowl game, the '11 squad might be taking a step back in their progression towards relevance.

IU must replace it's star QB/WR combo in Ben Chappell and Tandon Doss and, as far as my crack reporting skills have found, a starter at QB has yet to be named. New coach Kevin Wilson has created plenty of buzz though and Hoosier fans are excited for his first year at the helm. The QB race has five contenders, but early reports hint that a freshman has the lead so far in practice.

IU also has to be concerned with its inexperienced secondary as well as what production it can get from both lines. The conference schedule is killer for Hoosiers, so they'll be looking to capitalize on the UVA game to find a chance at a bowl game. However, this team should be buried in the bottom of the Leaders (or is it Learners? Leggings? Lenders) division of the Big Ten.

Pierce's Preseason Pick: Victory.

Ah, the Out-Of-Conference early away game. Have we ever won one of these? USC-East, USC-West, Wyoming, Southern Miss...I can't think of a win. Anywho, I think this will be the year. One of the worst Virginia teams in decades completely destroyed IU in 2009 and this year's not looking much better for the Hoosiers on paper. However, it is a road game, so we could lose by 30. One thing is for sure, no lead is safe.

Yes, I know this movie is about high school basketball

James Robinson to Pitt

DeMatha point guard James Robinson has selected Pitt over offers from UVA, Georgetown, and Notre Dame, among a host of others. This needless to say is a blow to the 2012 recruiting class as Robinson was seen as all but locked up by the Cavaliers in the months prior to this weekend's visit to Pitt. Obviously Jamie Dixon knows what he's doing up there. Reports are that Robinson was sold on the development  of former point guards at that program, specifically Levance Fields. While this is a bummer for UVA this does point to the one hole this program has, and that is stars at the next level. Will that come in time? Absolutely, with the caliber of players Coach Bennett has brought in there is bound to be some star power in the NBA soon. However it appears those top tier players want to get to the NBA fast and play in a system that prepares them for it, and we might not have that. In the time the Bennetts were at Washington State they produced all of 1 player who is in the NBA. That is not a good track record for kids who are only focused on getting to the next level, which are usually the biggest fish in recruiting. That being said Coach Bennett appears unconcerned with that fact knowing that his system can win without those big name stars, and I'm sure Craig Littlepage isn't crushed that one and done players will most likely be shying away from UVA because of this.

Too Easy
All that being said this still leaves UVA with a bad taste in it's mouth for the 2012 PG position. So where do we go from here? Well first off it gets a lot easier to recruit a 2013 PG, but also a lot more dire. We NEED a point guard in that class or we will be in serious trouble. This also means Malcom Brogdon will probably be getting a lot more playing time at the point this season, which may or may not be a good thing. Look for the heat to be turned up on Nate Britt immediately. As far as 2012 the logical choice is LJ Rose who has recently been spurned by UCLA and Texas, his top choices. However since UVA has been so focused on Robinson of late it could be a bad situation for the Hoos to walk back into. No one likes to be the backup date. (I was going to go with the rebound but I thought that was too much). Hopefully Coach Bennett can court Rose into the fold and land Nate Britt who looks like an absolute stud out of Gonzaga in DC, but that will be quite a fight.

Kendall Sez:  I posted this as a comment, but figured it was meaty enough to tack on to the original post.

Make absolutely no mistake -- we NEED a point guard in the 2012 class. In 2012-13, the only point guard on the roster will be senior Jontel Evans, unless we can bring in a guy in this class. To me, that is an absolutely pressing need.

I don't want to be overdramatic, but I think Tony Bennett's coaching career at UVA might be teetering in the balance with his ability to pick up the pieces and find (or develop) a primary ball handler after being spurned by Robinson.

The 2013 class is too late, unless we're willing to punt the 2012-13 season, and roll into 2013-14 with a true freshman running the point.

Brogdon might be the answer, but that's no gimme.

At some point, Tony Bennett needs to get into the Tournament and win some games there, if he wants to stay employed as the head coach at Virginia. This same thing happened with Pete Gillen, with Majestic Mapp's injury and Keith enifer (no J) being a total flop.

Bennett is exploring options for the 2012 class right now. Maurice Watson is a name that is bubbling to the surface, along with LJ Rose. I have faith we'll land a guy, and hopefully that guy will be something more than what we have in Jontel Evans, who should only ever be a backup.

August 23, 2011

The Oranges -- The Running Backs

My favorite properties in Monopoly, bar none.
I'll go ahead and admit it -- I always get excited about doing the running backs preview.  I just love writing about these guys.  So if you detect a bit more sizzle in this piece than you did in... say... the piece about the kickers, well now you know why.

Also, I hope you're enjoying the Monopoly-style presentation.  I know it's a little bit silly.  Why am I using it?  It makes it more fun for me to write.  I like a cohesive theme, and I like confusing, convoluted mixed metaphors.  Anybody can give you a position-by-position breakdown.  Only Wahooze will give it to you in the format of a game of Monopoly.  Snake eyes, bitch.

Anyway, the running backs...

St. James Place -- Kevin Parks, tailback, redshirt freshman
I love Perry Jones.  I think he's great.  But I'm putting KP at St. James Place and first in the pecking order at the running back position based entirely on a gut call.  I've got a feeling about the kid, a funny kind of feeling.  He didn't impress me at the spring game (due mostly to ball security issues, easily solved), but I think I have a fairly good grasp on what kind of runner he is.  He's a one-cut type, adept at dodging tackles, but deceptively powerful when he needs to be.  Low center of gravity, great balance, strong lower body, amazing leg drive for a kid his size.  Willing to lower a shoulder and plow into the pile.  A generally tough-nosed runner.  10,000 rushing yards in high school points to a simply uncanny ability to produce yards and touchdowns.  Think Thomas Jones at Big Stone Gap, under-recruited despite dizzying high school production.  KP is built like and runs like Maurice Jones-Drew, and I think that parallel is probably apropos.  One more high school stat from KP: as impressive as those 10K rushing yards are, how about 158 total touchdowns over four seasons.  ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FREAKING EIGHT.  Jesus.  I'm telling you, I have a funny kind of feeling about this kid.  I think he's going to be a star. 

At 5-8 and a buck ninety-five, Bill Lazor thinks KP has a chance to replace Keith Payne as Virginia's power back.  'Nuff said.

Tennessee Ave. -- Perry Jones, tailback, junior
HERE's what I had to say about Perry Jones last season, before I had ever seen him in extended action (note: I was pretty cocksure about Dominique Wallace... and dead wrong to be so confident).

If Dominique Wallace is the overpowering fastball, Perry Jones is the devastating changeup / curveball / splitter. He came to Virginia as a small (5-8, 185) scatback who was instantly slotted at defensive back by the departed coaching staff. But Jones eventually battled his way into the [admittedly underwhelming] mix at tailback during his redshirt freshman season. He carried that momentum into the spring, where he beat out Torrey Mack, Keith Payne, and Raynard Horne to earn the first-team listing on the post-spring depth chart (with Wallace still out, rehabbing his injury). I've seen Perry Jones in action a few times now, and I can tell you that he is QUICK, he's dangerous in the passing game as an outlet option or dump-off target in the flat, and he's electric slipping through traffic and into the open field. Best of all, he runs with a lot of toughness despite his tiny frame. I love this guy, I absolutely love him. And I think he'll do extremely well with 8-10 carries per game behind Wallace, along with a few receptions scattered here and there working as the 3rd down back or from the slot. In other words, I think he's a great complement to Dominique Wallace. (The term "thunder & lightning backfield" is extremely cheesy, so I won't touch that. How about steak & sizzle? Peanut butter & jelly? Fox & hound? Brad Pitt & Angeline Jolie? Am I reaching? David & Goliath? T&A? Too far?) That's not to say that Jones has gamebreaking speed, because he doesn't. He's quick in his cuts, but he's not a burner. He has his limitations. But as the wicked knuckleball to Wallace's high stinking cheddar, Perry Jones is money.

It turned out that Keith Payne was the sledgehammer back instead of Wallace, but Jones still played the complimentary role, and he played it extremely well.  A lot of Virginia fans grew frustrated with PJ's "dancing" behind the line, trying to find a crack.  Okay, that's fair.  But by and large I think he had a good season in 2010, and I'm excited to see what he'll do with another season of regular playing time in 2011.  Do I think he has enough to be UVA's feature back?  Well... maybe.  He's still small, but his 4.7 yards-per-carry on 137 attempts suggests to me that Jones can carry the load.  I think PJ and KP will basically split carries right down the middle, and while both are similarly small, they are very different runners.  Change of pace still applies here, and Perry Jones is still the curveball.

New York Ave. -- Max Milien, fullback, senior
I'll admit, I was skeptical last year.  I though Terence Fells-Danzer converting from linebacker was a much better story, and I thought Milien's 6-0, 215 frame was too small to play fullback.  I didn't think he'd succeed as a lead blocker, and I didn't think he would be able to beat out TFD for playing time at the position.  I was wrong.  It didn't take Milien long to gain a stranglehold on the fullback position, and his receiving ability added a nice dimension to the offense.  I now expect him to build on that success and have an even better season in 2011, especially considering the fact that we probably need a true power back to emerge for short yardage situations.  Milien is a decent lead blocker, a plus receiver, and has the potential to be that grinding pile-mover.  In other words, solid as our starting fullback, and possibly in line for a major uptick in production.

Community Chest:
  • Clifton Richardson, tailback, true freshman -- Maybe the only back on the roster who fits the prototype of an every down workhorse.  I'm sure his redshirt will be burned and he'll play, but his role is still fairly uncertain at this point.  If KP struggles, I could see Richardson rise up and snare a big chunk of the timeshare with Perry Jones.  If KP ends up being superfly TNT dynamite (as I suspect he will), then Richardson might only get sporadic time as the #3 tailback.  He's wildly talented, but that cream might not rise during his freshman season.
  • Khalek Shepherd, tailback, redshirt freshman -- He's another diminutive back, but more of a swiss army knife than PJ or KP.  He's got great receiving chops, and is very quick and shifty, but is still very green and probably not physically ready for very much pounding.  I expect we'll see him on the field from time to time, but probably mostly on special teams as he gets acclimated to this level of football.
  • Terence Fells-Danzer, fullback, senior -- He's a big, old school style thumper.  I love his story, never able to get traction at linebacker, then volunteering to fill the gaping hole at fullback once London was hired.  TFD plays in a lot of the special teams packages, and he also sees regular duty in the base offense.  I think he'll be able to build off of last season's transition to his new position, but he's still only the #2 fullback in this offense.
  • Zachary Swanson, fullback / tight end, redshirt freshman --  Moved to fullback after Ryan Cobb left the program, mostly because Milien and TFD are both seniors and London wanted some amount of carryover from this season to the next.  I honestly think Swanson is a dicey project as a fullback.  Too high-slung at 6-foot-6, and with a fairly lean-looking 235-pound frame; I doubt he'll be much good as a lead blocker gaining leverage.  He's basically a tight end masquerading as a fullback.  But I'm sure he brings plus receiving skills to the position, a trait that now looks like a prerequisite for the fullbacks in the Lazor offense.

Chance -- Kevin Parks and Perry Jones combine to emerge as the engine that drives the UVA offense in 2011.  Max Milien plays his bit part to perfection, busting a few big plays like he did in Atlanta last season.  TFD and Clifton Richardson see time, but aren't really relied upon, as the top three backs do just fine carrying the load.  KP explodes in one of the seven home games, notching 200+ yards and 3+ TDs, and powering the Hoos to an unexpected blowout victory.  The Kevin Parks / Perry Jones combo is so effective, it earns a cheesy nickname given by the chumps in the popular media, something stupid like "double dragon" or "cut & run" or "point & click."

Development -- 4 houses
I'm obviously bullish on Kevin Parks' upside.  I love Perry Jones, and I think he's got two more great years to give us, very Alvin Pearman-like.  Clifton Richardson is the real deal, and his future is extremely bright.  Khalek Shepherd is a fantastic #4 halfback.  What we lack here is the true bellcow power back, the 230+ pound ox who can develop into our version of Toby Gerhart.  With nothing but smaller backs, there will be days when the sledding is too tough in the trenches, and that puts a bit of a ceiling on the potential for the running backs.  Still, I think this unit will be very good this fall, with the upside to get better and better as the season slides along.

"Flash & Dash?"

"Rock & Roll?"

"Slip & Slide?"

"Banana Twins?"

"Bert and Ernie?"

"Rocky and Bullwinkle?"

"Smash & Grab?"

"Wine and Cheese?"

Okay, I'll stop now.

Rock & Roll.  The Rock (KP) & Roll (PJ) backfield...  actually kinda like that one.

Wahooze Season Preview - William & Mary

September 3rd: William & Mary at Virginia

William and Mary is no slouch, not that UVA fans need a reminder. In their previous meeting (2009), Virginia committed roughly a bajillion turnovers while attempting a QB carousel en route to an embarrassing start to a forgettable season (and final one for coach Groh). William & Mary quarterback (and fellow former Joe's softball bat boy) R.J. Archer established a tone of mature and patient domination by a severely less-talented team.

This year's Tribe should be better than the 2009 version, featuring All-American tailback Jonathan Grimes and UNC-reject-little-brother-of-a-donkeymutant Mike Paulus at quarterback. The returning CAA champions feature a solid defense as well, so this will be a stiff opening test for Mike Rocco and the Hoos. However, I wouldn't call it a "trap game." I fully expect the Cavs to be well aware of the challenge the Tribe presents and prepared to take this first game as serious competition.

Virginia features a mixture of experience and transition throughout its depth chart and while having a veteran secondary, OL, and DL will definitely help - the severity of the situation at quarterback cannot be understated. Simply put, UVA cannot afford another Olsen/McCabe/Sewell debacle (or Hall/Sewell for that matter) to begin the season. Rocco needs to grab onto the starting job and excel. At the very least, he'll need to effectively manage the game by making the right decisions and avoiding turnovers.

That being said, there's one
HUGE difference between this year's team and 2009's: the coaching staff. Last season may have been full of almost-wins and large losses, but let's remember that in one off-season, Bill Lazor turned the most offensively-inept BCS program in the history of competitive amateur sports into a solid, TD-producing offensive system. Sure, there were a ton of issues - but good lord what a difference from the Mike Groh/Greg Brandon faux spread failure. Bottom line: our coaches are going to have this team prepared.

Pierce's Preseason Pick: Victory. Rocco should get enough practice and confidence (it's growing daily) to manage Lazor's gameplan on the field. My biggest concern is actually the run defense. Last year, UVA made opposing RB's look like Gale Sayers, but another year in the 4-3 system can go a long way. This game should be close, but the Hoos should win. Should.

Say it with me: "We will NOT lose to this! We will NOT lose to this!"

August 22, 2011

The Utilities -- Kickers/Punters

In Monopoly, the utilities are really
not much more than a gimmick. 
Almost totally worthless, but still
occupying two spots on the board.

Electric Company -- Jimmy Howell, punter, senior
He kicks a nice, high punt.  Produces a lot of hang time, but doesn't always get a lot of distance.  He's also good for a regular backbreaking shank every here and there.  Still, he's solid, and should settle in at around the 42 yards-per-punt mark. which is the baseline goal for any good punter.

Water Works -- Robert Randolph, placekicker, senior
Ho hum.  He went 10-for-14 on field goal attempts last season, which included a 10 kick streak.  He's accurate with his kicks, but doesn't have much ooompf behind his leg, which is why he gives up the long attempts to Chris Hinkebein.  Made kicks from 33, 44, 25, 24, 31, 32, 35, 37, 27, and 40 yards during the streak.  So basically, get to the 25 yard line or closer, and a Randolph 3-pointer is money in the bank.

Community Chest -- Chris Hinkebein, kicker, senior / Ian Frye, kicker, true freshman / Alec Vozenilek, kicker, redshirt freshman
Hinky kicks the long ones.  He went 1-for-4 last season, making from 52 yards and missing from 51, 50, and 50 yards.  So a Hinky kick is a 25% shot in the dark from the 35 to the 25 yard line.  He also handles kickoffs, with a 65 yard average and 17 touchbacks.  Pretty decent.  Frye is a 6-foot-6 behemoth who -- GET THIS! -- didn't require a full freaking scholarship in order to come to Virginia to kick!  I assume he's the future at the position(s).  Vozenilek is a walk-on who should join the kicking/punting derby in 2012.

God bless you for walking on, Ian Frye.

Chance --  With Howell, Randolph, and Hinky all graduating after this season, that opens up three scholarships for real football players.  Here's my Chancy prediction: Mike London won't needlessly burn scholarships in recruiting kickers or punters.  Amen and Hallelujah.

But seriously, all joking aside, this trio of seniors represent solid play at the specialist positions.  No worries with Howell's booming punts, Randolph kicking the shorties, Hinky on kickoffs and taking those roll-of-the-dice shots at the long ones.  It's nice to not have to really worry about your kickers.