Virginia Football Notes: John Rudzinski Prepares For New Challenges In ACC

John Rudzinski comes in as the new Virginia defensive coordinator after a long stint at Air Force. ~ Photo courtesy of Jim Daves/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

16-103. 5-121. 9-123. 18-88. These numbers aren’t some sort of combination code. It’s simply the difference in national rankings between Air Force and Virginia last season on defense. The Falcons owned the first number in scoring defense, total defense, run defense, and pass defense, while the Hoos owned the second.

Simply put, UVA fans want to know how to get a more of column B back in Charlottesville.

Enter new defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. He’s the mind behind Air Force’s steady defense the last three seasons. The Falcons mostly ranked inside of the top 20 in all of those major categories the last three years with Rudzinski in charge. Tony Elliott pulled him away from a long career at Air Force (he spent all but three years since 2002 there in some capacity) to try to build an effective defense at Virginia.

The key there, of course, will be whether he can translate what worked at the Academy to the ACC. The Falcons feasted mostly on their Mountain West opponents in those three years. They did defeat Louisville last season 31-28 in the First Responder Bowl, but that’s the only ACC opponent and one of only three Power 5 opponents to be found in the three-year run. AFA did go 3-0 in those games, but there’s still a learning curve that comes from facing new opposition.

The defense will be tested by a conference with a lot of offensive firepower and multiple experienced quarterbacks. Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, North Carolina, UVA, and Miami all ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense last season, while Clemson, Wake, UNC, and Miami were in the top 26 in 2020. The Heels and Hurricanes are obviously on the Coastal schedule, while Louisville’s Malik Cunningham is back to lead his team as the division crossover opponent. Cunningham posted 207 passing yards with a touchdown and 63 rushing yards with a touchdown in the bowl loss to Air Force.

Rudzinski is embracing the challenge of preparing for ACC opponents.

“You go through each of those opponents as a staff, but also I think it’s important for me to go back in the offseason and look at some of these different coordinators throughout the ACC to get an idea of what worked well and what didn’t work well,” Rudzinski said. “How can we take some of those lessons so we don’t have to learn them ourselves? That’s the unique challenge and one of the fun parts.”

More On Potential Look Of Virginia Defense

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers struggled on defense in 2021. Much has been written that in the last 12 months. With a new coaching staff now in place, the shift since the spring has focused on Rudzinski and his versatile scheme. It’s a base 3-4, but really flips into multiple concepts with a ‘Bandit’ player in a defensive end-linebacker hybrid role and frequently used sub package that features five defensive backs.

While it’s not the exact same scheme, that last part could create a familiar feel for Virginia fans this season. That’s because a Bandit ‘backer and the use of three safeties is something the Hoos faced in the middle part of the last decade with Coastal Division opponent Duke. From 2010-2017, Jim Knowles piloted a Blue Devil defense that featured similar elements.

Knowles since spent 2018-2021 at Oklahoma State and he’s lined up to be Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator this season. Like the Hoos are expected to do, ...