99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia kicks off football season in fewer than 60 days.
Chris Peace gets after it in pursuit against Duke. ~ Mike Ingalls

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has rumbled through more than 40 articles so far this offseason, while covering topics from the red zone to interceptions to kickoff times. The series has spotlighted players too with entries on Jordan Mack, Joe Spaziani, Olamide Zaccheaus, Juan Thornhill, and others.

Yet among all the topics and all the highlighted players, there’s been nary a mention of Chris Peace. There’s a similar phenomenon occurring on TheSabre.com football message board too. In recent weeks, despite a lot of chatter about the upcoming season, the senior linebacker hasn’t gotten much ink.

In fact, if you search on “Peace” within the football message board, you’ll find his name in a subject line just four times since June 10. That’s more than a month’s worth of posts. Two of those posts came on July 6 and July 7 when it was announced that Peace would help represent UVA at next week’s ACC Football Kickoff and one of the two wouldn’t have guessed he would be one of two choices to be at that event.

Before that, the only two posts with Peace in the subject line the past month came on June 28 and June 29. One of those started as a response to note that Peace was forgotten among a list of linebackers in the previous post. The other, to poster foxtrott’s credit, came as a reply to the thread starting message that asked which player might “surprise” fans with his play this season.

One other post on June 6 noted Peace in the subject line, but before that you have to go back to May 8 to find his name in the subject line of a Zmanhoo_1 post. that suggested he could be an NFL player coming from this year’s roster. While other posts have included Peace within the body of the message among other topics, that’s it for subject lines. Six mentions in the opening sentence of posts from May 1 through July 11.

I guess what I’m getting at is that we’re all overlooking Peace a bit aren’t we? The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series tries to remedy that.

No. 55 – Peace Talk

Let’s start with why Peace is slipping our minds this offseason. First, he missed spring practice with a hamstring injury and considering how little information flowed during the spring in general, that means his name wasn’t really brought up much in the media either. That’s two springs in a row where a hamstring limited his work by the way.

Second, when you have two different linebackers crack 100 tackles the previous season – Micah Kiser and Jordan Mack – it’s hard to carve out attention among your position group. Third, he’s a known quantity so as neither an intriguing youngster nor a potential position switch guy like Malcolm Cook (who might move from the outside to the inside this season if a spring experiment with it sticks), discussions tend to drift away from his direction.

So, perhaps, it’s at least a little bit understandable why Peace doesn’t get much chatter this summer. Then you look at what he did last season that got overshadowed by the two 100-tackle guys and you see there’s a need more Peace talk.

First, Peace started all 13 games in 2017 to push his career total to 26 starts, including every contest of the Bronco Mendenhall era. He finished No. 5 in the ACC with 7.5 sacks, which led all linebackers. That helped him record 10.5 tackles for loss, which tied Andrew Brown for the team lead. Brown, of course, is now in the NFL with Bengals.

Peace ended up with a career-best 68 tackles, making him No. 4 on the list behind Kiser, Mack, and Quin Blanding. He came up big in some of the season’s key wins to get the team to bowl eligibility with six stops against UConn, seven at Boise State, six more against Duke, six again at UNC, and seven in the postseason-clinching victory against Georgia Tech. He had a solo sack on fourth down with 1:07 to go to seal the W against the Tar Heels.

Overall, his efforts earned him All-ACC Honorable Mention accolades.

Mendenhall tasked Peace with more duties in his second season too. Instead of just specializing as a pass rusher – which looking at his sack totals is something he’s obviously good at – he dropped into coverage more often too, which created opportunities for Mack and Kiser to be involve in blitzes. Plus, he showed more consistency against the run and with holding the edge in run defense in his second season with Mendenhall’s scheme.

The rising senior linebacker certainly earned the coaches’ respect. Mendenhall one time called him a “fanatical” worker, for example, and last season said he was probably the team’s best practice player.

As Virginia enters the 2018 season in search of back-to-back bowl bids for the first time since 2004 and 2005, Peace remains a critical piece of the puzzle. There will be a lot of pressure on the linebackers this season to help the defensive line in front of them to mature. The Cavaliers enter the season with an unclear depth chart on the D-Line and many players devoid of experience in college games. That probably means Peace is going to have to produce as a sack threat again too because a Brown-like pocket threat may not emerge initially.

The linebackers also have to replace the production of Kiser, now in the NFL with the Rams. Mack can only pick up so many extra stops after surpassing the 100-tackle barrier himself last season. Peace could add more to his total as a result. He increased his year-to-year production by 15 tackles last fall.

Beyond all of the talk about an All-ACC season and improving statistics, however, is another thing that Peace brings to the table. It’s why he’s headed to the ACC Football Kickoff next week. Leadership. That starts with the consistent hard work that shows up in practice and led Mendenhall to call Peace “completely trustworthy, reliable” last season. It extends to how he impacts his teammates too, though.

In fact, when UVA stormed out of the gates at 4-1 last season, the players began to publicly mention what they called a “new standard” for what’s expected with the Virginia football program. That line was credited to Peace, who the coaches had asked to speak at a team meeting in August. He said he drew the inspiration for the phrase from Kiser.

Since then, the “new standard” tag has grown into more than a private in-house mantra. It became a season-long theme that emerged in the locker room as the Hoos snapped a six-year bowl-free streak. Then it grew into the public identity for the entire program. It’s in hashtags on social media and the calling card right now for everything to recruiting to ticket sales. In other words, Peace has put a giant thumbprint on the program’s growth right now from a leadership standpoint.

The “99 Thoughts” series wanted to get some Peace talk started with all of that in the prologue to his senior season.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Can’t believe he’s already a senior. He’s been a productive player for two years already, and looking forward to watching him again this year. Critical piece for the defense, indeed.

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