When Virginia plays its home opener Friday night against William & Mary, both sidelines will have a familiar feel.
While Bronco Mendenhall and his staff begin their fourth season in Scott Stadium, the visitors have started with new coaching staff for the first time in 38 years after Jimmye Laycock’s tenure from 1980 through 2018 ended last season. The Tribe turned to former UVA coach Mike London as his successor. London will bring his team to Charlottesville on Friday night for an 8 p.m. kickoff.
The connections don’t stop there, though. London’s first staff at William & Mary is full of former Virginia coaches and players. Seven other members of the Tribe’s staff have Hoo history in their background. Defensive Coordinator Vincent Brown worked as an assistant coach at UVA. Former Cavaliers players on London’s staff include Matt Johns, Josh Zidenberg, Gordon Sammis, Ras-I Dowling, Keenan Carter, and Darryl Blackstock.
The most recent name on that list is, of course, Johns. He played in the Virginia program from 2012 to 2016 at quarterback. He then returned to UVA last season as a graduate assistant coach for Mendenhall. London hired Johns to the W&M staff as the tight ends coach.
While Mendenhall hasn’t had much direct interaction with London, he did speak with him at the Dudley Award banquet last year. He was impressed with how London handled the hiring process with Johns.
“I never spoke with Mike after he left and before I came. When Mike became the head coach at William & Mary there was an award banquet where we had a chance to say hello and catch up a little bit,” Mendenhall said. “Then when Mike was hiring Matt Johns, who was a defensive graduate assistant for us a year ago, Mike was just really professional and first class in his communication with me and where Matt stood and what his process was going to be. Yeah, I was impressed. Those have really been the two communications we’ve had since.”
One other similarity between the teams might be found on defense. Both sides like to run multiple looks out of a base 3-4 alignment. Both look to disrupt the other team as much as possible with Havoc plays like sacks and turnovers. Both are willing to be aggressive.
“I really like what they’re doing not only offensively but defensively,” Mendenhall said of the in-state opponent. “Defensively we’re similar in terms of mindset.”
With that background in mind, let’s dive into the Keys & Picks for the week.
Kris’ Keys To Winning
1. Limit rushing totals.
Like Virginia, William & Mary opened its season with a win last week and big part of that success came on the ground. The Tribe piled up 255 rushing yards, the most for the program since a win against Norfolk State in 2016. The scheme appears to feature a lot of read option type looks (nine players got a carry in week one) so being disciplined with run fits and pursuit angles will be the defense’s key to slowing down much of the attack. Keep an eye on Owen Wright if there are handoffs as he had 63 yards and two scores last week.
Beyond that, the Hoos will need to have a handle on Hollis Mathis – the CAA Rookie of the Week – and show improvement from a periodic weakness at Pitt last week. Mathis rushed for 127 yards in the Tribe’s win and much of that came from scrambles after the pass looks deterioriated. Mathis, a freshman, appeared to take off quickly if he didn’t like the look from the pocket, which is typical of some first-time action at the college level. That means UVA will need to be better with its pass rushing lanes, something that broke down sometimes against the Panthers.
2. Limit mistakes.
As college football got started in earnest last weekend at the end of August, Virginia played one of the cleaner games around. Only eight teams nationally drew fewer flags than UVA’s 3 penalties. Only 21 teams matched the Hoos with 0 turnovers. Only two teams had a similar combination of those two categories. Kansas State bested Virginia’s effort with just 2 penalties and 0 turnovers, while Rice matched it with 3 and 0.
William & Mary’s defense is aggressive, which you’d expect from a Mike London team. The D created four turnovers with six sacks and 11 total tackles for loss in the win against Lafayette. In that sense, this is a battle of styles. If the Wahoos can duplicate last week’s level of mistake-free football, they’re going to make it hard for the Tribe to pull off an upset.
3. Limit hits.
A theme on the message boards this week has been the amount of hits Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins took in week one. UVA fans were concerned about the level of contact that Pittsburgh managed to create against Perkins at times. By Greg Waters’ count in his weekly Greg’s Grades article, Perkins took at least 6 passing play hits last week and he obviously got popped once on a run at the line of scrimmage. Ideally, Virginia’s offensive line can impose its will in this week’s matchup and help Perkins stay clean with this in-state game sandwiched between two ACC contests to open the year.
Sabre Editor Kris Wright
Virginia plays its first home game of the season on a short week thanks to a Friday night kickoff against William & Mary. The good news is that the reduced prep time shouldn’t be as much of an issue in a contest where the Cavaliers should be able to dominate the flow of the game. Simply put, UVA is more experienced with more depth and potential game changers than W&M. Plus, the Hoos are much farther along in year four with Bronco Mendenhall than the Tribe are in year one with Mike London.
With that said, this feels like a game that might feature a Tribe drive early to produce points while the Virginia defense adjusts to what the team described as a unique style of offense. So maybe it’s 3-0 in the first few minutes or tied 7-7 through the first two or three drives. After any sort of settle down time early, however, this one is going to be all Hoos. VIRGINIA 49, WILLIAM & MARY 6. Season to date: 1-0.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne
William & Mary brings an experienced defense and an offense that, schematically, will challenge the Virginia defense. Offensively, the key for UVA will be the offensive line. If the unit plays as well as they did the second half at Pitt, UVA could put up a lot of points. If not, William & Mary’s defense is good enough to keep them in the game … at least for a half or so.
I don’t think the Tribe have enough weapons on offense to truly hurt the Cavalier defense, so long as UVA plays fundamentally sound and keeps quarterback Hollis Mathis from breaking scramble plays. I could see Virginia having a small hangover from an intense season opener, but I think ultimately the Hoos win easily. VIRGINIA 38, WILLIAM & MARY 14. Season to date: 1-0.