April 27, 2016

Examining Broncoball

Earned, not given.



Will before skill.



Family (First, Last, and Always).

Go fast, go hard.

We want kids who are smart, tough, and talented.

More work, less drama.

Brick by brick, building a strong foundation to weather the storm of time.

These are some of the terms that have come to define the still-very-young Bronco Mendenhall era at UVA; these are the thematic undertones of this era of would-be Virginia Football Renaissance.  So if those things sound good to you, then you'll probably like what you see on Saturdays in the fall.  If not, then... well... Bronco Mendenhall might not be for you.


The hardest part of these things to write is the lede, so I'm going to just mail it in on this section.  You already know I've been spending the last few months doing "research" on Bronco Mendenhall, his defensive system(s), his assistant coaches, the type of offense Dr. Robert Anae might run, how Bronco recruits, how he runs his program, his theories on management, and how all of that projects to Virginia Football.  This post is my effort to share some of those findings.

Bottom line: In moving from Mike London to Bronco Mendenhall, we are moving from a nice guy who was a very bad Xs and Os football coach, awful at roster management, and a terrible program architect but [mostly erroneously] seen as a good recruiter to another nice guy (albeit very, very demanding and tough on his players) who is a very good Xs and Os football coach with a knack for roster management and program architecture who is [erroneously] seen as a below-average recruiter.  Said simply, we are moving from a small-time coach with a soft touch to a big-time coach with some grit in his britches.

In this post, I am trying to stay focused on telling you things you don't already know about Bronco, and giving you info you haven't already seen from the mainstream media.  In this post, you will not find information about how he named his three sons, or the background on some of the touchy-feely stuff that the newspapers have sunk their teeth into.  In this post, you will find the true root of his BYU success, a projection on his recruiting potential at UVA, and the overarching strategy behind Bronco's version of the 3-3-5 / 3-4 / 5-2 / 8-3 flex defense.  So on and so forth.

I'm writing this over the course of several days, weeks, and months.  This post is going to be long, the format might get wonky, it's going to be meandering, transitions could be rough and jarring... but I hope the post is also going to be awesome.

Let's do this fucking thing.


First up, an anonymous quote from one of Bronco's players at BYU.

"I was a member of the BYU football team when Bronco was promoted to head coach after the 2004 season. It was fascinating to watch the transition from Crowton to Mendenhall. Before his promotion, he had been the DC and Crowton had been the OC. They were such different coaches with such different standards that it really felt like two separate teams under Crowton. Offense had a very entitled and lazy attitude, and the defense had bought into Bronco’s approach of hard work and intensity and didn’t have much respect for the O. I was on defense, thankfully. When Bronco was named as head coach, we were all thrilled at the prospect of watching the O get their turn at some Bronco education.

That December and January were brutal, and not just on the offensive players. I saw a scholarship athlete and projected starter walk right off the field without saying a word during conditioning one day and never come back. There were others who quit as well, but not as dramatically. There was a clear standard set, and there was no compromise.

Sure, we lost some talent, but within a few months we were one team with one previously un-imagined high standard. You could look around at your teammates and know that every one of them had met the challenge and committed themselves, just like you. No one would have said we would have been better off by lowering our standard to accommodate those players that quit.

I remember Bronco once saying something along the lines that his job as a coach was to provide us with opportunities to learn that we could do things we didn’t think we were capable of. That was a really intimidating thing to hear the first time, but once you saw the results, you were hooked. It was perhaps the most empowering thing I’ve ever been a part of.

This process is hard, and it can be unnerving for fans and media as well. But I am confident that Bronco will bring you a vastly improved product on the other side.

Here are some things you can expect to see during this process:

- Some of your favorite players may quit or transfer. Broncoball is not for everyone.

- Some players will certainly be benched for less talented players who try harder and give better effort.

- You may lose some close games with highly-touted recruits warming the bench.

- You may be disappointed by some vanilla play calling early on while the players are learning, because Bronco demands mastery of the system over tricks and gimmicks.

- Bronco’s over-the-top intensity and insistence on having things done in his quirky ways will rub some fans and media really wrong, but a year from now virtually all the players will be singing his praises for it.

- The first year will be completely devoted to changing the team foundation of culture. This will be more valuable than wins to Bronco. I would expect to see the biggest improvement in the second year, though I would still expect a modest improvement in the first season.

Count me as a new Virginia fan. You have every reason to be optimistic and excited about this hire. Just know that the kinds of deep changes Bronco attempts to bring about take time. I only got to spend a few short years around Bronco, but I consider him one of the most influential men in my life. I hope he has many years at Virginia to similarly improve the lives of those young men."

I think that does a wonderful job of framing up Hoofans' expectations for the transition from London to Mendenhall.


By now, you've no doubt heard the number 99 in reference to Bronco.  As in, 99 wins in 11 seasons at BYU.  I'm not a math genius or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's 9 wins per season.  You know, that's pretty damn good.

But where did those 99 wins come from?
Specifically, did Bronco really beat anybody?  (P5 wins are in bold.)
  • seven wins against UNLV
  • seven against Utah State (considered a BYU rival)
  • six against Colorado State
  • six against New Mexico
  • six against San Diego State
  • six against Wyoming
  • five against Air Force
  • three against Utah (BYU's biggest rival)
  • two against Boise State
  • two against Connecticut
  • two against Georgia Tech
  • two against Hawaii
  • two against Houston
  • two against Idaho
  • two against Idaho State
  • two against Middle Tennessee State
  • two against New Mexico State
  • two against Oregon State
  • two against San Jose State
  • two against TCU
  • two against Texas
  • two against Tulsa
  • two against UCLA
  • two against Washington
  • one against Arizona
  • one against California
  • one against Cincinnati
  • one against Eastern Illinois
  • one against Eastern Washington
  • one against ECU
  • one against Fresno State
  • one against Nebraska
  • one against Nevada
  • one against Northern Iowa
  • one against Oklahoma
  • one against Ole Miss
  • one against Oregon
  • one against Savannah State
  • one against Tulane
  • one against UCF
  • one against UTEP
  • one against Virginia
  • one against Wagner
  • one against Washington State
  • one against Weber State

99 wins... 23 of them against P5 programs, 76 against G5/FCS opponents.

And where did the losses (43 of them) come from? (Again, P5 in bold.)
  • seven against Utah (BYU's biggest rival)
  • five against TCU
  • three against Notre Dame
  • two against Arizona
  • two against Boise State
  • two against Boston College
  • two against Florida State
  • two against Nevada
  • two against UCLA
  • two against Utah State (considered a BYU rival)
  • one against Air Force
  • one against California
  • one against Memphis
  • one against Michigan
  • one against Missouri
  • one against Oregon State
  • one against San Diego State
  • one against San Jose State
  • one against Texas
  • one against Tulsa
  • one against UCF
  • one against Virginia
  • one against Washington
  • one against Wisconsin

43 losses... 31 at the hands of P5 opponents.  So during his time at BYU, Bronco went 99-43 (.697) overall, 23-31 (.426) against Power 5 opponents and 76-12 (.864) against the Group of 5 and FCS.

Utah held a 7-3 edge over Bronco's BYU teams.


  • Bronco went 39-9 in the Mountain West before BYU went independent in 2011.  This includes two undefeated seasons in-conference.
  • Bronco went 10-7 against the Pac-10/Pac-12 during his time at BYU.
  • I really like the smattering of marquee wins against elite-level programs.  Texas, UCLA, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon... these were some fancy wins.
  • 6-5 in bowl games.  Nothing to write home about, but it's a winning record.
  • Bowl wins: Oregon, UCLA, Oregon St., UTEP, Tulsa, San Diego St.
  • Bowl losses: Cal, Arizona, Washington, Memphis, Utah
  • Speaking of losing to Utah... 3-7 against your biggest rival isn't good enough.  Bronco will need to correct that at UVA.  (Then again, 3-7 beats the fuck out of 0-12, which is our record against VT in the last 12 seasons.)
  • The overall losing record against P5 raises a bit of a red flag.

Math!  9.5 P5 games x .426 win percentage = 4.047 P5 wins per season; 2.5 G5/FCS games x .864 win percentage = 2.16 G5/FCS wins per season; 4.047 + 2.16 = 6.207 total wins per season.

In other words, If you extrapolate Bronco's .426 win percentage against P5 opponents to the kind of schedules he'll face at UVA (assuming 2.5 games per season against G5/FCS opponents -- some seasons we'll play two of them out of conference, other seasons we'll play three), that equates to 6.2 wins per regular season, on average.  It's a 6-6 record.  But it's also a bowl game.

 But that's assuming the same talent level he had at BYU.

Which really begs the next question we need to ask as we examine Broncoball.


Can Bronco recruit?

I guess now is the time to address that giant elephant in the room.  Bronco Mendenhall (and the staff he brought with him from BYU) are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  They are all LDS.  Many Hoofans are (or were) nervous that this would potentially prevent Bronco from being able to connect with kids outside of Utah.

Or maybe it's the other way around?  Maybe Bronco will be free from the restrictions that BYU placed on his recruiting, and will be able to really take off in that regard?

There probably isn't a more unique or interesting program in FBS level football than the BYU Cougars.  Between the school's unique honor code, the requirements for staff (the head coach must be a practicing member of the LDS Church), and even the altitude at which the team plays its home games, there's a lot to set apart this program from all the others.
From a football strategy perspective, the Cougars have one of the more unique rosters in the country, via a totally different and unique talent pool from which to build their teams.  Because of the honor code, which prohibits behaviors such as the consumption of drugs and alcohol while also requiring sexual abstinence, and the existing demographics on campus, you can be reasonably confident that only Mormon students are going to be attending the school.

There are about 15 million Mormons in the world and six million within the United States, which makes for a limited pool, but on the other hand BYU is THE athletics program for LDS Church members, so they have a major recruiting advantage in every instance where a top-rated athlete happens to be a Mormon.

Other interesting aspects of the BYU talent pool and roster composition have to do with the LDS Church's missional focus.  Members of the Church are expected to complete a two-year mission after high school, so BYU's players are either spending their first two years out of high school on mission before they arrive on campus or else starting their college careers and then pausing them in order to complete their service.

Between that and the tendency of the Mormon community to eagerly embrace starting their families early in life, BYU's roster is often loaded with 24-25 year-old married men.

Another fascinating result of the LDS mission is that it has had great success reaching Pacific Islanders and bringing them into the Church.  There probably isn't a genetic pool on this planet that produces a higher rate of FBS-level football players.  Pacific Islanders just tend to have thick bones and big frames, which are both useful for allowing athletes to thrive in a violent, contact sport where suddenness and power reign supreme.

Because of all those factors, the BYU roster has typically been comprised of powerful Islanders and relatively older, married guys.

Now, at UVA, Bronco is free from the constraints inherent to BYU football recruiting.  I think that's a pretty big deal.  In fact, I think that's ultimately the reason he decided to leave BYU and come to Virginia --- no more ceiling imposed on the program by the available talent pool.

The hope is that he's able to maintain his traction within the LDS community and keep the Polynesian Pipeline open and flowing WHILE AT THE SAME TIME recruiting regular ol' run-of-the-mill football prospects.  This is me being greedy.

Anyway, here's how 247 rated BYU's last seven recruiting classes (keeping in mind that the two-year mission throws off the normal timeline for their players):
2016 -- 24 recruits, class ranked #56 in the country
2015 -- 23, #64
2014 -- 19, #66
2013 -- 25, #65
2012 -- 15, #72
2011 -- 18, #68
2010 -- 26, #30

Here's the year-by-year breakdown of recruiting class ranks for Bronco's tenure at BYU versus UVA's recruiting classes during that time (apologies for the wonky spacing, I can't get the ding-dang thing to format correctly!):

2016: UVA #50, BYU #56

2015: UVA #50, BYU #64

2014: UVA #32, BYU #66

2013: UVA #29, BYU #65

2012: UVA #25, BYU #72

2011: UVA #23, BYU #68

2010: UVA #64, BYU #30

2009: UVA #36, BYU #51 

2008: UVA #59, BYU #43 

2007: UVA #29, BYU #43 

2006: UVA #77, BYU #64

AVG: UVA #43.09, BYU #56.55

UVA recruiting classes were 23.8% better than BYU recruiting classes.

Of course, you're going to want to see THIS.

Seriously, click that link, and explore that graphic.

There's Virginia's orange and white v-sabres down in the red and BYU's white Y in the blue oval up in the gray.  Neither are near the border.  It's not close.  These two programs couldn't be more different.

Bronco has delivered #30(ish) results with #60(ish) talent, while UVA has enjoyed #80(ish) results with #40(ish) talent.  Bronco did more with less at BYU while Al Groh and Mike London did less with more at UVA.

Scoring the above as a +/-, Bronco is +30 while the Groh/London pu pu platter is -40.  That's a 70 point net difference.

My point is this: It might not matter if Bronco isn't a great recruiter.  He might be a good enough coach to get us where we need to go with plain, old fashioned Xs and Os, roster management, and player development.

{And speaking of player development...  Bronco has sent 66 players to the NFL since he took that job in 2005, with another four set to be drafted this weekend, while UVA has sent just 31 players to the professional ranks in the same span (with one or two slated to be drafted this year).  So that's 70 NFL players from the #56 talent pool as opposed to London/Groh's 33 players from the #43 talent pool.  Game, set, match, Bronco Mendenhall.}

Anyway, Bronco's recruiting at UVA can go one of three different ways...

1) Optimistic: If he continues UVA's #43.09 average recruiting class or *gasp* improves upon it, you can expect improved results over what he did at BYU.  23.8% improved on-field success rate due to a 23.8% improved talent base?  That seems to make sense, right?  If it happens, those 6.2 wins per season suddenly become 7.7 wins per season.  Think Hoofans would be happy with 7-5 or 8-4 as the "average" season under Bronco Mendenhall?

2) Realistic-to-Slightly-Pessimistic: Absent the inherent advantages he had with the "captive audience" LDS and Pacific Island recruits at BYU, but free from the specific burdens and challenges that BYU placed on recruiting, Bronco and his staff end up breaking about even, and continue to bring in the #56.55 type of classes they were landing in Utah.  6.2 wins per season for UVA.

3) Extremely Pessimistic: Bronco and his staff are fish out of water on the East Coast.  The LDS thing becomes a roadblock, they struggle to connect with the kids, and end up recruiting worse than they did at BYU.  UVA's talent level further dips, down to that of Syracuse, Wake Forest, and pre-Cutcliffe Duke (ACC affiliation does create a floor at around #80).  Assuming the worst-case scenario, recruiting class average of #80, that's a 29.3% talent dip from BYU, which would conceivably yield a 29.3% performance dip... 4.4 wins per season.  Bronco is fired in 4-6 years.

Bronco recruited talent to BYU under pretty extreme constraints in terms of a talent pool from which he could actually sign kids, given BYU's cultural specifics.  With an exponentially wider talent pool to recruit from, I don't see any reason why he can't - at worst - duplicate London's recruiting average, with a much better track record of program organization and player development.

You can choose to disagree if you want, but I am bullishly optimistic regarding Bronco's recruiting potential at UVA until proven otherwise.  I am buying into #HOOSRISING!

Meanwhile, now being a few months deep into the 2017 recruiting cycle... the responses from recruits after visiting, almost universally, is extremely positive.  The vibes are actually much more positive than during London's tenure.  In 2017 (in which Bronco has to combat an abbreviated recruiting timeline and downright nasty recent on-field results for Virginia Football), he figures to land a class in line or slightly better than the 2015 and 2016 classes -- both ranked #50.  My expectations for Bronco's recruiting:

2017: #45-50 ranked class

2018: #42 ranked class (or slightly better)

2019 and on: ~#35 ranked class (slightly below London's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th full classes, which were #23, #25, #29, and #32)

If he does in fact settle in at that #35 mark, then that represents a 38.1% increase in the talent level he had at BYU, which conceivably yields a 38.1% increase in on-field performance.  That's 8.6 wins per season at UVA.


Of course, a lot of those premises might be slightly funky or flawed, but I'm rolling with it for now.

I don't think optimism about Bronco's recruiting at UVA is unfounded, either. Remember, recruiting is a wholestaff effort. Let's break down the net change to the staff, strictly from an individual recruiting perspective...

Bronco Mendenhall < Mike London
Ruffin McNeill > Jon Tenuta
Dr. Robert Anae > Steve Fairchild
Nick Howell < Chip West
Kelly Poppinga > Larry Lewis
Mark Atuaia < Chris Beatty
Marques Hagans = Marques Hagans
Garett Tujague > Dave Borbely
Jason Beck > Mike Archer
Shane Hunter > Jappy Oliver

SUBJECTIVELY, six out of ten new staff members are better recruiters than the dudes they're replacing. It's a pretty massive upgrade in net wholestaff recruiting.

This is why I'm optimistic about recruiting. In Poppinga, Beck, Atuaia, Tujague, and Howell, we have five dynamic young recruiters. Biscuit is still on staff, Ruffin McNeill holds lots of pull in recruiting, and Shane Hunter is young and ready for the grind.

I think our new staff will be markedly BETTER at recruiting than our old staff was. Seems counter-intuitive when you trade a recruiting force like Mike London for a coach like Bronco Mendenhall who isn't known for his recruiting, and when you lose guys like Chris Beatty and Chip West... but we're also swapping a lot of crotchety coaching veterans who were mostly non-recruiters (Tenuta, Fairchild, Jappy Oliver, Archer) for a more dynamic, energetic staff. We're swapping out a staff that was a collection of parts who honestly did not like one another for a staff that was first assembled as a friendship and brotherhood. Our new staff genuinely likes each other, and recruits can feel it. What we're lacking in East Coast ties we'll make up with better, more focused, and more specific recruiting strategy and the raw, immeasurable energy younger men can bring to the recruiting trail.

Will it produce results in recruiting?  The 2017 class is a bit too early to judge, as relationships are just now being formed.  But 2018 and beyond is when we'll see just exactly how well this staff can recruit.

How has Mendenhall and his staff of mostly Westerners adjusted to a new recruiting landscape?

“The area hasn’t been the biggest recruiting challenge,” Mendenhall said last week. “Again, the academic standards at BYU that we recruited to, they were almost identical, really mirror images, very, very strong academic profile, and we wanted smart, tough and talented, which is exactly what we want here: really smart and really tough and really talented. So that part has required very little adjustment.

The biggest adjustment is the number of selections we have. There are so many more choices in this part of the country. And when you exclude a specific faith-based screening or filter, that really opens it up. So that part’s been quite different.

Directly from the horse's mouth.  Wait... directly from the BRONCO'S mouth.

Sounds pretty good, right?  Want a sip of this kool-aid?

Oh, and here's what the 2017 class looks like so far:

QB Lindell Stone / Woodberry Forest, VA / 6-2, 205 / consensus 3-star / #15 pro-style QB / #348 nationally / #15 in VA

CB/ATH Germane Crowell / Winston-Salem, NC / 6-3, 180 / consensus 3-star / #49 athlete / #584 nationally / #18 in NC

DL Tommy Christ / Sterling, VA / 6-5, 255 / consensus 3-star / #51 DT / #882 nationally / #23 in VA

RB Lamont Atkins / Burke, VA / 5-11, 200 / consensus 3-star / #18 all-purpose back / #1014 nationally / #25 in VA

S/ATH Joey Blount / Fairburn, GA / 6-2, 175 / consensus 3-star / #89 ATH / #1171 nationally / #114 in GA

OC Tyler Fannin / Hoschton, GA / 6-3, 290 / consensus 3-star / #12 center / #1239 nationally / #126 in GA

National Rank: #39

ACC Rank: #7

A few of my quick takeaways from the early recruiting effort:

  • We're recruiting the shit out of the o-line.  Fannin is already on board.  A mid-career transfer from UNC named Jared Cohen.  Three other recruits (Mekhi Becton, Bryson Speas, Pete Nestrowitz) said to be heavily favoring the Hoos.  Add it up, and it seems as if Bronco and 2J  (offensive line coach Garett Tujague) are looking to build / rebuild the OL, ASAP.
  • We're hitting the defensive line hard, too.
  • Bronco likes his defensive backs to be tall.
  • He has extended a lot of offers to safeties.  Like, a whole lot.
  • He does a lot of his own scouting and analysis.  We've got offers out to some lower-rated kids that our staff seems to be very bullish on.  In other words, don't be put off if you see that we beat out Navy or Temple for a recruit, and not necessarily a host of P5 programs.
  • He's casting a wide net.  Offers went out all over the country, and they went out quickly and decisively.  (See the map, above.)
  • Recruits like the "family atmosphere" at UVA, and they are often enamored with the speed and tenacity of our practices.
  • Bronco is weaponizing the UVA education, and selling recruits on the value of this degree.
  • Recruits LOVE - not like, but LOVE - this coaching staff.

Yeah, I'm not just optimistic about Bronco's recruiting.  I'm downright confident.

Moving on...


Let's talk a little bit more about the assistant coaches.

Here's a post from a BYU super-fan from a free message board I spent some time slumming around on...

Here's the scoop on a few of  your new assistant coaches:

- Robert Anae - Solid OC. The data doesn't lie. He scores points. We were one of the best red zone teams in America this year. BUT...he is notoriously cranky and hard on his players, particularly his QBs. He played on our 1984 National Championship team. His play calling can get conservative at times. He actually said the UVA game in the rain changed his mentality with play-calling. He threw the ball when he should have handed it off. Taysom threw a pick and you guys beat us. Also, he is SO focused on efficiency that he rarely/never tries trick plays or razzle dazzle. It is all about staying ahead of the chains and being efficient. He is bristly and generally dislikes fans and media.

- Jason Beck - QB Coach - He was our backup QB in 2005 - 2006. Good guy. He is the good cop to Anae's bad cop. Very good guy. Extremely competent and effective. Our concern was that Tanner Mangum would transfer and follow Beck. He's that good at connecting with the kids.

- Garett Tujague '2J' - OL - He was thought, by many, to be a a legit HC candidate when Bronco left. Very dynamic. Has drastically improved our OL. Legit guy. Looks like Frankenstein, but the guy can really coach. You're very lucky to have him.

- Mark Atuaia - RBs - Former BYU player. Great recruiter. We lost our two best RBs this season and he still managed to put something decent on the field. He's young, and he'll improve as he gains experience. I bet he's a knockdown recruiter for you guys out there on the East Coast. He just has a way of connecting with the kids, and an infectious energy.

- Nick Howell - DC - Bronco gave him play-calling duties last year. It didn't go well. Our fans aren't big Nick Howell fans, but he is a good recruiter. Good, young coach. Lots of upside. I think Bronco sees him as his protege.

- Kelly Poppinga - LB - Former NFL and BYU player. Extremely charismatic. GREAT recruiter. BYU's LB corps were usually top 20 in America. It is largely due to him.

My very quick take on each of the nine assistants, based on what I've read and the research I've conducted...

Ruffin McNeill - Assistant Head Coach / Defensive Line
As big of a pull as Bronco Mendenhall was, landing McNeill as the AHC was really Virginia's biggest coup during the coaching carousel at the end of the 2015 season.  Coach Ruff is the perfect yin to Bronco's yang; opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary.  Now Bronc is free to settle into his favored 'bad cop' role, because he knows he has this awesome dude to be the totally sweet 'good cop.'  That's an important role on this staff, by the way.  Bronco is an expert at tearing things down, and Ruff is an expert at building them up.  Both guys are teachers at their core, and I think there'll be some real synergy there.
It also doesn't hurt that Coach Ruff is a pretty god damn good coach, too.  Winning record in six seasons as the big whistle at ECU (6-7, 5-7, 8-5, 10-3, 8-5, 5-7; 42-34 overall; two wins over Virginia Tech).  Successful defensive coordinator under Mike Leach at Texas Tech.  Prior to joining that staff in 2000, he spent 15 years as a journeyman linebackers and defensive line coach (Clemson, ECU, UNLV, Fresno State), always in fairly high demand.  He's experienced and savvy, is good friends with Bronco and Dr. Robert Anae, and knows the East Coast and especially North Carolina following his time at ECU.  I'm not sure how long we'll be able to hang on to McNeill, because it's pretty certain that some G5/FCS-level schools will come calling with open head coaching jobs as soon as December 2016.

Oh, and Ruff is a plus-plus recruiter.

Dr. Robert Anae - Offensive Coordinator / Inside Receivers
We'll talk about his 'Go Fast, Go Hard' spread-to-run offense in a few minutes.  Meanwhile, Anae is the one coach on our new staff with whom I'm in wait-and-see mode.  I liked his offenses at BYU... but I didn't love them.  He's certainly a massive upgrade over Fairchild, and it's possible that a higher caliber athlete can make his system intrinsically more potent.  I am cautiously optimistic.

Recruiting non-factor.

Nick Howell - Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
It seems to me that Howell is directly under Mendenhall's wing; like this is the guy Bronco hand-picked to be his protégé.  I dig that.  Bronco will run the defense, and Howell is a DC in title only, but I do think he has the chance to grow and develop and earn more responsibility as time passes.  In the meantime, he'll be building and running the secondary, and represents a pure Xs and Os upgrade over Chip West.  It will be interesting to see how the safeties and cornerbacks develop under Howell, given that he's spread a bit more thin than the personnel on our previous coaching staffs.

Plus recruiter.

Kelly Poppinga - Special Teams Coordinator/Outside Linebackers
Being the outside linebackers coach makes him responsible for just two starters in the base defense, so that leads me to believe that he'll be extremely involved with the special teams.  From what I understand, Poppinga is seen as rising star in the coaching community.

Plus recruiter.

Mark Atuaia - Running Backs
Atuaia clearly leads Virginia Football's newfound social media presence, and that's an incredibly good thing.  This is the guy who makes UVA football seem fun, and that's an important role on a staff so focused on hard work and grit and grind and et cetera.

Atuaia is a plus-plus recruiter.

Jason Beck - Quarterbacks
Just look at Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum.  Beck has the 'magic touch.'  He's a QB whisperer, the likes of which Virginia hasn't had since... well... ever.

Plus recruiter.

Marques Hagans - Wide Receivers
We know what we have in Biscuit: a bright up-and-comer who bleeds orange and blue, and who knows his way around recruiting the 757 (the talent-rich Tidewater region of Virginia).  I like that he'll be focused on coaching the outside (or "wide") receivers.  I've also heard that he's helping out with the kick and punt returners.

Plus-plus recruiter.

Shane Hunter - Inside Linebackers
He's the big unknown on the staff.  Bronco believes in him, and that's good enough for me... for now.  Watch Micah Kiser closely to see if Hunter can keep a good thing going.  Watch Jahvoni Simmons to see if Hunter can take a promising talent and develop him into a player.  Watch Zach Bradshaw to see if Hunter can handle a reclamation project.  Watch the recruited walk-ons to see if Hunter can coax ability out of less-talented prospects.

Unknown recruiting presence.

Garett Tujague - Offensive Line
If there's one [non-Ruff] assistant coach I'm most excited about, it's Tujague (pronounced "two-JAY", and hence the shorthand version, '2J').  This guy is the real deal.  He builds lines.  Period, point blank.  He builds lines.  He's also adept at finding diamond-in-the-rough types on the recruiting trail.  Given that many/most OL talent is late-blooming, this is a good skill for our o-line coach to possess; if we're able to pounce on a recruit before Alabama and Florida State does, that's one of the keys for us being able to land him against those juggernauts.

Fun quote from 2J, via THIS ARTICLE:
"That’s kind of my motto. We go take five gold coins, throw them in a room and the first five guys that come out with a gold coin, that’s who you go with — and you hope one of them’s a center."
Oh, and if you want a really good read about 2J's early work with our o-line, click HERE.

2J is a plus recruiter.

Add it up, and it's a staff that is easy to get excited about.

But perhaps best of all, these guys know each other, they trust each other, they love each other, and they know how to work well together.  Rebuilding Virginia Football is true collaborative effort for this coaching staff, not just a paycheck.  I mean, they packed up their families and moved cross country in order to stay together!

(To me, the best parallel is Brian O'Connor working with Karl Kuhn and Kevin McMullan to deliver Virginia Baseball from the brink of destruction to the national championship.)


What system(s) will we be running?

Oh man, this going to be ragged; a stream-of-consciousness rambling.  Brace yourselves.

Taking a look at the defense Bronco ran at BYU...

It's fair to say that BYU's specific talent pool is poorly evaluated by the services since many of them come from the Pacific Islands and all of them have wildly different developmental paths than the average student athlete. That said, as a general rule, BYU isn't loading up on the most highly sought after talents in the country. So how do you make the most of these rosters?

Prior to his time at BYU, Mendenhall ran an aggressive 3-3-5 defense with man coverage and a nasty pressure package under Rocky Long at New Mexico.  He became the defensive coordinator at BYU in 2003, and had to adapt to the realities of the BYU roster.  To be frank, you don't find a ton of sub-4.6 cover corners in the "married 24 year old Caucasian or Islander" demographic that comprises the better part of the BYU talent pool.  Therefore, the Cougars played a lot of zone with deep, protected safeties and DBs, and relied on stout fronts to force 3rd down when they could then be free to bring exotic pressures.  Disciplined safeties combined with stout Islander fronts tended to produce units that were difficult to run against, which in turn helped Mendenhall protect his DBs.
It worked pretty well and Bronco's BYU defenses ranked outside of the top 40 only three times and inside of the top 20 five times.

What will Bronco's 3-4 defense look like at UVA?

Well, for one, Bronco will have access to faster athletes, which means better man-cover cornerbacks and better center-fielder type safeties than he had at BYU.  That means more man coverage, allowing for more exotic blitzing out of the linebackers.  Which means a major focus on the linebackers.

Hey, if we're going to talk about linebackers, LET'S TALK ABOUT LINEBACKERS!

A lot of times, a blitz-happy 3-4 ends up functioning a lot like a 5-2 defense, especially if your outside linebackers are strictly edge rush guys who lack the dynamism to drop into coverage.  That's what we saw in the second half of the Al Groh regime, which is what led Hoofans to begin hating the 3-4... because it kinda sucked.  So Bronco's big task is to do something different with those OLBs.  It's very, very early in his UVA career, but so far he's going apeshit bananas recruiting safeties and being very selective with the offers going out to linebackers.  What this tells me is that he's expecting to bring in a ton of safeties, and let mother nature (and Frank Wintrich) bulk some of them up into outside linebackers.  (Al Groh, on the other hand, tended to bring in small defensive ends and stuck them at OLB, which produces a slower overall defense, which makes a 3-4 look like a 5-2.)

Bronco is installing that interesting 3-4 base / 3-3-5 / 5-2 flex defense (sometimes it'll look like the 8-3), there is no doubt about that.  It essentially boils down to this: three down linemen, two "prototypical" inside linebackers, a centerfielder-type free safety, two corners - a bigger/athletic 'boundary' guy and a smaller/faster 'field' guy... and three positions that allow for a liberal rotation between stand-up pass rushers and big safeties.

To run this type of system, we need a two-deep that consists of:
-- 2 true defensive tackles; nose tackle types
-- 4 "5-technique" defensive ends
-- 4 "prototype" linebackers, for the two inside linebacker spots
-- 4 outside linebackers (can/should be stand up pass rush types)
-- 4 WLB/SS hybrids, this position is the 'KAT' in Bronco's D
-- 2 free safeties, standard run-and-cover centerfielder types
-- 3 man-cover cornerbacks for the 'field' corner position and nickel defense
-- 3 "big" cornerbacks for the 'boundary' corner position and nickel defense

I'm looking for Bronco to build the next Kyle Van Noy at UVA.

Specifically at linebacker, here's what we've got...
-- A bonafide player in Micah Kiser. I'd be shocked if he's not a starter who plays a bulk of the snaps in one of the traditional inside LB roles.
-- Quin Blanding. I think he fits perfectly in the LB/SS hybrid role.  Blanding is going to give Virginia Football another 9 months before he turns pro, and I certainly don't want to see Bronco pay Blanding's NFL career a disservice, nor do I think Bronco is interested in doing that.  For that reason, I think Blanding stays in mostly a safety type of role, but more in the box where he can rack up tackles and blitz a little bit.
-- Kelvin Rainey, another perfect fit as a LB/SS hybrid.  Kelvin Rainey at linebacker against GT and Duke in 2015 was a bit of a revelation.  It certainly inspired my own line of thinking that Rainey is a very good player, as long he's allowed to play the "missile" linebacker role and focus on penetrating and making plays.  He might be the best player on the team when it comes to one-gap responsibility, and that's saying something when you have Andrew Brown and Micah Kiser on the roster.

-- A third hybrid in Malcolm Cook.
-- A talented RS freshman in Jahvoni Simmons, who could be a candidate to play alongside Kiser in a traditional LB role.
-- C.J. Stalker, Dominic Sheppard, and Eric Gallon, other contenders for playing time at LB.  Stalker seems to have a slight leg up on this three-man scrum, but I think we'll see all three in 2016.
-- Stand-up pass rushers in Mark Hall, Gladimir Paul, and Cory Jones.  Any/all of them could be contenders for the defensive end positions if they add some serious weight.
-- Another pass rusher who will probably need to transition to OLB in Naji Abdullah (he's way too light to play on the line in a three-man front, though that's where he's been practicing this spring).
-- Zach Bradshaw... wherever he fits.  It seems like he's settling in at one of the inside linebacker spots.
-- True frosh Stephen Moye, who looks like a stand-up pass rusher to me.
-- True frosh Landan Word, a traditional LB, likely slated for the inside.
-- True frosh Robert Snyder. No idea where he fits.
-- True frosh Christian Brooks, built like a stand-up pass rusher.
-- Chris Peace.  I like him a lot.  I think he has to either transition [back] to OLB or bulk up for the 5-tech defensive end.  He's just not a great fit in this system, unfortunately.  But the good news is that he's still very young and has plenty of time to find a role, and has had a good spring.

My best guess is that Kiser, Blanding, and Rainey are on the field together a lot, joined most often by... Bradshaw, Simmons, and/or Stalker?  Who knows?

One thing I like about the 3-4 at the college level is that it allows you to go a bit lighter on the number of defensive linemen on your roster.  This is a good thing, because standout DL is probably the most difficult talent profile to find and recruit.  That being said, the 3-4 doesn't work if you don't have a monster nose tackle... so the pressure is on for the staff to find one of those guys at least every other year.  A tall task.

Here's what we needed for the 4-3 (from Pro Football Focus)...
1-Technique (4-3 NT) – Pat Williams
The 1-technique does much the same as the 0-technique, except he is shaded over the inside shoulder of one of the guards, and is rarely expected to control two gaps. He is, however, expected to command a double team from the center and guard, which frees up other linemen to be one on one with their blockers. Pat Williams has been the prototype for this position for years. Williams was an immovable force in the middle for the Vikings and required two players to try and shift him from the point of attack, leaving Kevin Williams single-blocked by a guard, and allowing linebackers to run free to the ball and make stops close to the line of scrimmage. A good 1-technique DT can dramatically improve an entire run defense, because he makes several players’ jobs much easier.
Alternative prototypes: Haloti Ngata, Antonio Dixon, Colin Cole
3-Technique (4-3 Pass Rush Tackle) – Tommy Kelly
Probably the most well known of the defensive techniques, the 3-technique lines up shaded to the guard’s outside shoulder, ready to shoot the B-gap on his side of the formation. Various line shifts and defensive schemes have been developed with the express purpose of getting the 3-technique the most beneficial situation possible, which is why guys like Warren Sapp, John Randle, Keith Millard and now Ndamukong Suh have been able to rack-up sack numbers. The 4-3 Under front, discussed in our article on Hybrid defenses, was designed to isolate the weak side guard 1-on-1 with the 3-technique (or under) tackle. This player’s job is to penetrate the line of scrimmage through his B-gap and disrupt plays in the backfield, whether pass or run. Unlike the first two tackle positions, the 3-technique relies far more on speed and agility than brute strength. Oakland’s Tommy Kelly is arguably the NFL’s prototype for the position. At 6’6 and 300lbs he is quick, nimble and has the kind of burst off the ball that can make it tough for a blocker to recover position.
Alternative prototypes: Kevin Williams, Shaun Rogers, Kyle Williams
7 & 6-Techniques (4-3 DLE) – Ray Edwards
The 7-technique is often used by 4-3 teams on the left side of the defense as the run-stuffing, power end. He lines up in the gap between the RT and the TE (if there is one on that side of the formation) and is just as often playing the 6-technique depending on how the offense lines up. He’s usually responsible for setting the edge in the run game, but is also expected to be able to beat the RT for pressure in the passing game, or force his way inside the TE to do the same. Because they’re often forced to fight through a double team or at least a chip from the TE, and they face the ‘power’ right tackle, the 6 or 7-technique DE is usually a more powerful player than the speed rushing DRE, and almost always a better run defender.
Ray Edwards is the prototype for this type of player. Edwards is a strong run defender who has enough pass rushing skills to be able to beat his man with speed or power. There are better run defenders as 4-3 DEs in the NFL, but they just don’t happen to play the 6 or 7-technique much. Other players you could make a case for being the prototype here would be Trent Cole and Terrell Suggs. Both players play on the right side of their formations, but they often line up just outside of the tackle and rely on strength and leverage to be exceptional run defenders.
Alternative prototypes: Terrell Suggs, Trent Cole, Juqua Parker
9-Technique (4-3 DRE) – Dwight Freeney
The 9-technique is the speed rushing defensive end, and aside from a few defenses in the NFL, is often used more in obvious pass-rushing situations than as an every down alignment, such is the size of the gap left between the DRE and anybody else inside him. The 9-technique lines up well outside the offensive tackle, and outside even the tight end if there is one on that side of the formation. If there isn’t a tight end there, the alignment can look almost comical with the defensive end maintaining width to be able to attack the passer. Dwight Freeney is the NFL’s prototype player from this technique. Freeney has the speed to beat anybody around the edge and the low center of gravity to be able to dip his shoulder and turn the corner on much taller offensive tackles. The width that he aligns at often forces the tackle to panic and over commit to the edge rush, allowing Freeney to spin back inside to a gaping hole.
Alternative prototypes: Jason Babin, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Chris Clemons

And here's what we need for the 3-4...
0-Technique (3-4 NT) – Vince Wilfork
The 0-technique plays head-up over the center, and is responsible for defending both A-gaps (between the guards and the center). His job is to control the center, often draw a double team from a guard, and still be able to prevent the run from going right up the gut. That’s why traditional 3-4 NTs are monsters. Wilfork is listed at 325lbs, but he looks a lot bigger than that, and it’s his sheer size and strength that allows him to anchor inside and control multiple, smaller, blockers at the point of attack.
With various one-gap 3-4 systems around these days, you find players that play the 0 technique position, but instead of playing both A gaps, they’ll shoot one and rely on linebackers behind them to plug the other. These players rely on speed and athleticism off the ball rather than size and bulk. The Cowboys under Wade Phillips were fond of this type of defense and Jay Ratliff was particularly adept at disrupting plays in the backfield from his NT spot.
Alternative prototypes: Aubrayo Franklin, Paul Soliai, Sione Pouha
5-Technique (3-4 DE) – Ty Warren
Much like the 0-technique, the traditional 5-technique is a two-gap player, lining up directly over the offensive tackle, he is responsible for the B and C gaps on his side of the formation. He has to be able to stack tall offensive tackles and shed blocks to make the stop in either of his gaps. Nose tackles rely largely on their mass to control blockers and gaps, but defensive ends from the 5-technique have to be able to handle offensive tackles, who have grown into man mountains over the past decades. This is why part of the scouting profile for these players isn’t just size, but ‘length’ (height and arm length combined).
Though he has seen his game time curtailed over the past few seasons through injury and the ever increasing use of sub-packages in nickel and dime situations, the prototype NFL 5-technique player remains former Patriot Ty Warren. Warren is quite possibly the NFL’s best run stuffer from the 3-4 DE spot and he has the prototypical length (6’5) and size (300+lbs) that teams look for.
You might ask why I’m not listing Justin Smith, a player we regard as clearly the best 3-4 end in football, in this spot. The answer is because Smith often doesn’t play the traditional 5-technique in the 49ers’ defense, and does much of his damage inside as a DT in their sub packages (in more of a 3-technique role), and often knifes into gaps while shaded slightly to either side of the tackle (in more a 4 or 6-technique). He is certainly well capable of playing the 5, and would be a perfectly reasonable example, but if coaches were drawing up a player for the traditional 2-gap 5-technique role, he would look like Ty Warren.
Alternative prototypes: Stephen Bowen, Kendall Langford, Shaun Smith

Again, 0-tech nose tackles are really, really hard to find.

The good news is that it looks like we've got one in Donte Wilkins (6-1, 290 last season) and decent-enough backups in James Trucilla (6-1, 270) and Andre Miles-Redmond (6-4, 280). The really good news is that we also have one coming in as part of the 2016 class, Trysten Hill (6-3, 313). This is why I think Hill was such an important recruit for Bronco, and why getting him was such a priority for Bronco, late in the 2016 recruiting cycle.

5-tech defensive ends are a weird recruiting profile for college football. Andrew Brown (6-4, 280) probably isn't a perfect fit, but he's got so much natural ability, you gotta get him on the field somewhere. Eli Hanback (6-4, 280) seems to have the natural skillset for the position, so that's a great fit... plus, he has four seasons left to play, so we can really cultivate some experience there. I think Mark Hall (6-2, 245) has found his ceiling as a backup 5-tech. The same is probably true for Steven Wright (6-4, 235), but there's still a chance for him to emerge after Brown exhausts his eligibility. The good news is that we have at least a few bodies at this spot that Bronco thinks will work.

I think our main issue is the 5-tech pipeline, and finding fits for all of the [very, very many] positionless pass rushers Tenuta brought in...
-- Chris Peace (6-1, 240) is at OLB, and seems to be making a nice dent there, despite the lack of an ideal "fit" at the position.
-- Naji Abdullah (6-5, 215) is at DE, and has the length, but has to add serious weight and strength. He might never surface as a player for us under Bronco.
-- Gladimir Paul (6-2, 210) has to fit at outside linebacker.  He's had a nice spring, so maybe he's in the mix already.
-- Cory Jones (6-5, 215) is in the same boat as Abdullah, but maybe Jones can fit at OLB?  It sounds like that's where he's been practicing.
-- Incoming frosh Juwon Moye (6-4, 230) is probably an OLB, but could grow up into a 5-tech.
-- Incoming frosh Christian Brooks (6-5, 220) is in a similar situation as Abdullah and Jones.
-- Incoming frosh Osiris Crutchfield (6-5, 235) is a guy I'm fairly bullish on, thinking the switch to the 3-man front might actually aid in his development and help him get on the field sooner.

Anyway, to summarize the defense, kind of...

-- 3-4 base, ability to flex out to 3-3-5.
-- A big nose tackle.  Eat up blocks on the inside.
-- Two big, tall 5-tech defensive ends.  Eat up blocks and set the edge.
-- Two pass-rushy, blitzy outside linebackers.  These are our primary edge threats.  Obviously.
-- Two tackling machines at inside linebacker.  Bonus points if they are adept at the interior blitz.
-- A KAT safety, which is like a strong safety / weakside linebacker hybrid.  75% SS, 25% WLB.  He'll be in coverage some, but in the box a lot.
-- A free safety who plays centerfield and must be adept in coverage.
-- A taller, more athletic kind of guy for the 'boundary cornerback' role, playing the narrow side of the field, winning jump balls, that kind of thing.
-- A smaller, faster guy for the 'field cornerback' role, playing the wide side of the field.  This is where a traditional "shutdown corner" fits on our new defense.

My guess for the 2016 starting defense:
NT) Donte Wilkins
RDE) Andrew Brown
LDE) Eli Hanback
LILB) Micah Kiser
RILB) Zach Bradshaw
LOLB) C.J. Stalker
ROLB) ??? Chris Peace / Malcolm Cook / Gladimir Paul
KAT) Quin Blanding
FS) ??? Kelvin Rainey / Wil Wahee
BCB) Tim Harris
FCB) Juan Thornhill


Did any of that make sense?  (Sorry this is so disjointed and whatnot -- writing this over the course of several days, weeks, months made it hard to put it all together... and I'm lazy, and a shitty writer to boot.)

Herk-jerky, stops and starts, moving to the offense...

Trying to use the past to inform the present and future, I took a long look at BYU.  The big question was how these coaches tried to make the most of the BYU talent pool on offense. For years, Bronco tried to run a pro-style attack similar to what LaVell Edwards used while making BYU famous in the '70s and '80s and launching future pro QBs like Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Steve Sarkisian, and Ty Detmer.

That worked pretty well in the '00s, but then Bronco brought back departed OC Robert Anae to install an up-tempo spread picked up from Rich Rod during a stint Anae did in Arizona.  When QB Taysom Hill was healthy, it worked pretty well.

The spread is all about getting explosive players in space where they can win individual match-ups... but there aren't a ton of explosive skill players in the BYU talent pool.  The spread can also work by facilitating a precision passing attack, but the Cougars consistently lacked the QB to execute that kind of plan.

So what you ended up with was a well-conceived offensive system that was designed to get playmakers the ball in a position where they could make plays... but the offense was simply prone to sputtering due to a lack of consistent playmaking threats on the roster.

Anae tried everything -- power running, west coast passing, no-huddle shotgun spread -- and eventually seemed to tentatively settle on a spread-to-run system.

He called his mish-mash offense "Go Fast, Go Hard."  A weird moniker, I know.  But it kinda works.

The premise behind the GFGH offense is that you run as many plays as possible, trying to confuse the defense with multiple formations and complex reads. GHGH requires an incredibly talented quarterback at the base, one who can both throw and run well enough to keep defenses guessing and keep them honest.

Now, at Virginia, it remains to be seen what Anae is going to try to do.  Nor do I think any of us will know for sure until at least 3-4 years from now, once we've seen some real recruiting patterns and some Xs and Os played out on the field.  That said, I offer some tasty nuggets to chew on...

-- Anae was a student of Mike Leach's Air Raid at Texas Tech.
-- He also learned the Rich Rodriguez zone read while at Arizona.
-- Recruits have said that the zone read is [a big?] part of the Virginia offensive identity into which they are trying to recruit.
-- The zone read, by the way, is a type of double option.  The read option is a relatively simple play during which the offensive line zone blocks in one direction, ignoring defensive personnel, while the quarterback makes a single read (usually of the backside defensive end or linebacker) and decides whether to keep the ball (if the backside defender crashes down) or to hand off to the back (if the defender indicates that he will cover the quarterback).
-- Therefore, we want QBs who can run.  Bronco himself has said that we're looking for a "Thor-terback" at UVA.

Mendenhall spoke broadly of what he wants in a quarterback, saying that the term dual-threat implies smaller, faster players — he wants quarterbacks who can run, but also take a hit.

When you think about Taysom Hill, he’ll hurt you if you try and tackle him,” Mendenhall said. “He’s more Tim Tebow-ish. Those guys are more of what I prefer. So we looked at the existing players at that position, and realized that UVA wasn’t really stocked with that type of player. We prefer to have a running threat, if possible.

If it was a superhero, our quarterback would look like Thor, really. That kind of guy. So if you’re asking what do we want? We want a Thor-terback.

Mendenhall then laughed, and joked that he “probably shouldn’t have said that.

He was serious about the importance of the position, though, deeming quarterback and center two of the most important players for any coach to find.

Basically anyone that touches the football,” he said. “Points drive wins, and it’s hard to score points if you don’t have someone with the ball that can take it across the white line.

-- Unfortunately, Matt Johns is not a Thor-terback.  Neither is Connor Brewer.  So I doubt we'll see much zone read for a while.  Anae will adjust to what he has (or in this case, what he doesn't have.)
-- Sticking with the Thor theme, it sounds like we want 'thunder & lightning' type of backfield.  Bigger backs who can grind between the tackles, real workhorse, bellcow types (thunder) complemented by smaller, faster, more explosive, more dynamic guys (lightning).  Nothing groundbreaking here.
-- The coaching staff loves what they have in Smoke Mizzell and Olamide Zaccheaus.  My best guess is that these two guys will touch the ball a lot in 2016, with an emphasis put on getting them the ball in space... somehow... someway.  So cutback runs, pitches, sweeps, screens, shovels, flares, slants, wheel routes, jailbreaks, slip screens, etc.

-- It's interesting to me that this staff is so separatist when it comes to inside receivers (tight ends and slot guys) vs. outside receivers.
-- This spring, it sounds like Doni Dowling, Andre Levrone, and Warren Craft are really sparkling.
-- Meanwhile, I've heard snippets of good things about David Eldridge and Keeon Johnson.
-- MEANWHILE, Bronco seems worried about depth at the wide receiver position, especially on the outside, and excited about what a few of the incoming [2016 recruiting class] freshman could add to the mix.  That leads me to believe that we'll be running a lot of 3- and 4-wide, and that most of the five guys I named above are viewed as "inside" receivers.  Therefore, look  for our 2016 offense to feature comebacks, slants, button hooks, square ins, squares outs, quick outs, banana routes, smoke screens, bubble screens, etc.
-- Bronco and 2J love Jackson Matteo.
-- They also seems to really like Eric Smith, and think he can be an All-ACC caliber player.
-- I'm guessing that [UNC transfer] Jared Cohen is coming here with the goal of being a starter.
-- I've also heard good things about Jake Fieler and Jack McDonald on the line.  So that's my guess on the starting o-line, left to right: Smith / Cohen / Matteo / McDonald / Fieler.
-- It really seems like we're going ixnay on the tight end position.  Not sure what'll happen with Evan Butts.
-- I think the 2016 offense looks like a run-heavy, misdirection sort of affair, with a liberal helping of short passing thrown into the mix.  We'll take shots downfield, but that won't be a staple of the offense.

That's about all I've got.  I wouldn't even dare venture a starting lineup on O.

Ah, fuck it.

My guess for the 2016 starting offense:
QB) Matt Johns
RB) Smoke Mizzell
WR) Andre Levrone
WR) Doni Dowling
WR) Keeon Johnson
WR/TE) ??? David Eldridge / Evan Butts / Warren Craft / incoming frosh
LT) Eric Smith
G) Jack McDonald
C) Jackson Matteo
G) Jared Cohen
RT) Jake Fieler


Now I'll try to answer some [anonymous] questions from the audience.

My only question as a casual fan: What is a realistic expectation of the program in the first few years?  Bronco was a big hire for UVA, but that could mean unrealistic expectations from fans. Set us straight, please!

Well, I think I have reasonable expectations, and my expectations are simple: a bowl game appearance in each of the first three seasons.  Maybe those bowl games come at the conclusion of 6-6 seasons, or at the conclusion of 9-3 seasons (what I'd consider to be the ceiling for these first three years of Broncoball).  Either way, it's the postseason.

Yes, you have to be patient while this thing is being built, but this man has not gone to 11 bowl games in 11 seasons as a head coach for nothin'.  I don't look for his streak to end here.

What would you consider a successful season this season, in terms of wins?

Seven wins across 13 games.

Is a bowl game in 2016 a realistic expectation?

Absolutely, yes.  That is MY realistic expectation.

I have a good friend, a BYU football alum, who played a season with the Bills. When the announcement went out, he texted me and said: "You're going to love Bronco - I can't wait to see what he does now that he's at a U where he isn't as influenced by the LDS church." My question to you - what do you think looks different for Bronco being at Virginia and in the ACC, and what small things should I be looking for as a fan to latch onto for the next 4 years while I wait for it to germinate?

Great question, and a tough one to answer succinctly.  So I'll do what I do, and offer you bulleted list of things to look for during Bronco's first four years at UVA that should get you excited:
  • Recruiting classes ranked #40 nationally or better.  This represents modest but meaningful success, given this staff's ability to spin hay into gold (see also: 70 NFL players in 11 seasons).
  • A defense consistently ranked inside or near the nation's top 25 in yards allowed.
  • Wins.  More wins than you've seen in a while.
  • Road wins.  (Did you know UVA hasn't won a road game since 2012?)
  • Player development.  I think you'll be able to see a player and think to yourself, man, he's a lot better than he was last season.  That will be a regular occurrence.
  • Toughness.  It might seem to border on 'dirty' from time to time.  Embrace that.  We won't be bullies, but we won't be soft, either.  Hoofans are used to seeing soft and sloppy.  It's a violent sport, and Bronco intends for us to be the aggressor, not the victim.
  • As such, expect to see penalties of aggression.  Personal fouls, late hits, that kind of thing.
  • On the flipside, no more stupid braindead penalties.  No more false starts.  Too many men on the field.  Pre-snap penalties of all sorts.  Etc.  All of that will be cleaned up.
  • To summarize the penalties thing: you'll see fewer pre-snap penalties but more post-snap penalties, ha ha.
  • Less size and bulk, more quickness and endurance in the physical development arena.
  • Fewer 5th year seniors.  Bronco likes a more active roster churn, and awards a 5th season only to those who have earned it.  (So change the way you think about redshirts!)
  • Attention to detail.  That's the biggest thing, right?  We'll finally, mercifully, play smart football.  No more guns pointed at our own feet.

What ceiling do you foresee the program having now? Can we reasonably expect the same level of success Bronco had at BYU (or even better)?

It's all about recruiting, right?  If he has a higher caliber of athlete with which to work, then Virginia could be better than anything he was able to build at BYU.  Here's the blurb from above:

If he continues UVA's #43.09 average recruiting class or *gasp* improves upon it, you can expect improved results over what he did at BYU.  23.8% improved on-field success rate due to a 23.8% improved talent base?  That seems to make sense, right?  If it happens, those 6.2 wins per season suddenly become 7.7 wins per season.  Think Hoofans would be happy with 7-5 or 8-4 as the "average" season under Bronco Mendenhall?

To answer your question... my gut says we have a 10- or 11-win kind of ceiling under Mendenhall, and to get there, some stars will need to align.  But I'm not excited about ceilings right now, instead I'm excited about floors.  As in, a floor of 6-6 and a bowl game.  That's the new worst case scenario.  A bowl game, every season, without fail.

How will our current personnel limit what the coaching staff wants to do? Much has been made of shortages on the offensive line, for example. How will this change their plans and how long will it take to get things straight?

3-4 years to fully correct the malfeasance on the lines, but the patchwork repairs made with duct tape and bubblegum should function fine in the interim.  Meanwhile, finding the legendary Thor-terback is the key to everything else.

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback: Can this staff fix this glaring weakness in our program? How? What will they do differently?

THIS, I don't have an answer to.  Development can only take you so far.  But at least we're openly looking to recruit scramblers now, so that's a start.  Finding Thor-terbacks is a tough, tough thing to do.

My question: Am I going to finally see some deep passes for friggin touchdowns???

Hell yes you are!  But have patience --- it might not happen that often in 2016, with a piecemeal o-line and average QB play.  We'll be a running / dink & dunk passing team team in the short term.

One more: How does he use the tight end position? Are we going to see more Heath Miller-esque action? I love a receiving tight end more than I love a receiving receiver.

I'm with you!  I love the concept of the Magic-3 offense!  Unfortunately, I have to break the bad news to you:  From everything I can gather, Bronco and Anae don't have a lot of love for the tight end position.  It seems to be marginalized in their offense.

How long until I can expect this offense to be fun to watch again? Who will be the quarterback when that time comes?

Going out on a limb, I think the offense will be competent, with Smoke, Oz, and Doni Dowling providing some big, explosive plays in 2016.  The level of top-to-bottom organization in this program will be as different as night and day, and offensive execution will be the primary beneficiary.  Things will look much better on offense, even if the overall production isn't immediately improved.

Do you see Smoke having his best season yet this upcoming season?

His 2015 totals of 1,392 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns will be tough to top.  I do think he'll ballpark duplicate those numbers, but Zaccheaus and a spread-the-field receiving corps could eat into his production.

Can Bronco compete with the other coaches in the region (at places like Tech, Maryland, UNC/Duke/NCST, Georgia Tech, etc) in terms of recruiting the best players out of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions? I'm talking 4 and 5 stars here. No reason not to get these guys. (Getting good grades is hip nowadays. Seriously. And obviously I understand that competition for 5 star players is fierce, what with the Sabans and Meyers of the world, but we're a fantastic fucking university, so it shouldn't be that far out of our reach...)

I am not expecting 5-star guys to come to UVA until we start winning.  So now, no.  Later?  Maybe.  Philosophically, Bronco seems to be more about bringing in lumps of clay with the right intangibles, and shaping the players he needs for his systems.  It's a Tony Bennett type of approach, really.

Are we ever gonna beat Tech? I mean really, this is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING RIDICULOUS!!!!  Is this the year we finally beat VT?

Yep.  November 26, 2016: Virginia 19, VT 17.

Will Bronco bring our Miami pwnage back online?

Nope.  That was pretty fluky, and Miami is going to be much better with Mark Richt at the helm.  We'll beat them sometimes, but we won't own them like we have.

Matchups: Based on what you know about the schemes that Coach Mendenhall will/would like to employ do you see any advantages or disadvantages against particular conference teams? By this I mean, are there particular defensive schemes employed by conference teams that will cause havoc for our planned offense and vice-versa? What about recruiting challenges to match these schemes?

I like how Bronco's 3-4 matches up against Georgia Tech's triple option offense (he beat the Yellow Jackets twice while he was at BYU).  Other than that, I don't see anything specific.  However, I'd stack Bronco's (and Ruff's) defensive acumen against any other coaches in the conference.  It's possible if not probable that we'll consistently be among the best defensive teams in the ACC.

How do you see the coaching staff melding and staying together? I’m curious about whether you think Ruffin McNeill will stick around or seek another head job, for example (of course he’d like to be a head coach but how soon). Difficult to predict, but that’s why you’re the big bad blog author, and I just ask the dumb questions.

It sounds like Ruff wants to stay at UVA for a long time!  But that's probably just me being optimistic.  I do think Ruff will give us at least a few seasons, and maybe many more than that.  The fit seems to be pretty perfect.

Is Bronco in charge of the out-of-conference scheduling?  What can we look forward to in that department?

Yes, Bronco is in charge of the OOC schedules.  It looks like he wants to make a OOC rivalry with ODU, which I think is smart.  This is just an educated guess, but it seems like Bronco wants 1 FCS, 1 Group of 5, 1 average / below-average Power 5, and 1 "strong" opponent every season, out of conference.  That's in line with most coaches and the way they like to schedule.

By the way, you can check out our future schedules, HERE.

Is the LDS / Mormon thing going to be a problem?

Nope.  Not at all.  (But don't feel bad, I was worried about it, too.)

What has been your opinion on how Mendenhall has run the team so far this spring (making them earn seemingly little things like the right to practice or wear the UVA logo)?

It's interesting, and it seems to be working.  The buy-in level is very high.  But we won't know for sure if it worked until we see the product on the field in the fall.

If you got the chance to choose Richt over Mendenhall (all other things like salary being equal), would you and why?

Mendenhall.  Younger, more dynamic and engaging personality, proved he can win at an non-traditional football power, fewer off-field distractions, and less weird God Squad stuff.

Is there anything that makes you concerned about Mendenhall's ability to right this ship?

Nope.  I'm all in, and chugging the kool-aid.

What makes you most excited about having Bronco as a coach for UVA?

Simply put, Bronco Mendenhall is a master at management theory, and he knows how to elevate a lower talent level into something much greater than the sum of its parts.  He will win at UVA, I just know it.

And with that, I will put this post to bed.

Thanks for reading, and GO HOOS.


  1. W O W. I second that comment. Big K - One of the reasons I love (cry) VA football is so that I can care about what you write in this blog and this was worth waiting for. The Recruiting / Production chart is unreal. That's a great stat to hang on to man. Thank you so much for your efforts in helping us unravel our corner of the world!

  2. AHHH! Ok now I am excited for this season. Such a great post. Thanks Kendall!

  3. Incredible. Great job. Are you on UVa payroll?

  4. Great job, worth the wait. Thanks.

  5. Great analysis and really enjoyable read. Thanks!

  6. BYU fan here. Bronco hates the media. his interactions with the players and coaches is completely different than with the media, boosters, etc. hope he gets a bunch of wins for you guys.

    1. Thanks buddy! Pulling hard for BYU now, and forevermore.

  7. I'm not sure the math on recruiting:wins adds up. BYU had a significant talent advantage over most of its opponents, but most P5 schools had a talent advantage over BYU at the time. I don't mean that good or bad; it's just reality as a high end midmajor program. UVA's talent level relative to our opponents is a fundamentally different situation than BYU. I don't think it's anywhere near the kind of linear recruiting/wins analysis you have there.

    A few thoughts on the defense:

    In the 335, Bronco used two "Katbacks," which I tend to think about as just an "in the box" type SS. At BYU, Bronco switched to the 34 because he found it easier to recruit 34 OLBs than Katbacks. I expect the opposite will be true at UVA, but we'll see.

    It's not clear what he wants to do. We're calling it the 34, but Malcolm Cook is (or at least seems to be) in the lead at one "OLB" position. I put OLB in quotes because Cook was listed at 205# last year. Call him a 34 OLB if you want, but whether he's really a 34 OLB or a 335 'in the box' SS depends on what he's asked to do. If he's still safety-sized, it's hard to imagine Bronco asking him to play a normal 34 OLB role... even if we call our defense the 34. Of course, this might just be my way of resolving my own confusion. I look at your lineup and see Malcolm Cook and Chris Peace battling for one spot, but there's just no way they'd be asked to do the same thing... right???

    I'm also not sure you have Blanding right. IMO, you play Blanding where you played Urlacher. That's 'cougarback' (basically FS), not 'katback.'

    Along the DL, I didn't watch BYU closely enough to say this definitively, but I think this is a one-gap system. The 0-tech and 5-tech alignments are used to disguise which single gap a player is attacking. I don't think it's terribly difficult to recruit one-gap DLs (incluidng NTs). If it's a one-gap system, do not be surprised if 43-sized DEs can be effective without ideal 34 DE size. That said, we do need to bring a lot of DL size into the program.

    On offense:

    You should differentiate among "inside receivers" and "outside receivers." They are different units with different position coaches. Anae coaches inside receivers; Biscuit coaches outside. I'm sure there will be overlap in time, but we're just installing the offense, and undoubtedly doing our best to keep it simple. I don't know enough to say that you necessarily need two inside receivers and two outside receivers in your base 4-WR set, though obviously it's intuitive that'd be true.

    Anyway, OZ will be a starter at inside receiver. The other receivers to get good press are Dowling, Levrone and Craft. I think all three are outside receivers, but I don't know that for sure, having not attended a practice.

    I'd leave QB "TBD" for now. When the staff took a second QB last recruiting cycle, I figured it was because they did not love the tape on the returning players. Spring reports are that Johns and Brewer are even, and not because either is playing well. And now we're looking to take a QB transfer from ECU (has graduated with 2 years of eligibility left). My guess is that, if the ECU kid comes here, he'll earn the starting nod.

  8. An absolutely incredible article, perhaps the single most comprehensive and best that I've ever read on a sports program.