Four Questions For Virginia Football Defense In 2022

Virginia
John Rudzinski will try to rebuild the Virginia defense. ~ Photo By Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

Last season, the Virginia football team had one of the worst defenses in the country. Time and time again, despite numerous tremendous efforts by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, the defense came up short and allowed teams to beat the Cavaliers in devastating fashion.

In the end, UVA ranked 121st in yards allowed per game, 118th in defensive efficiency, 122nd in value drive rate, and 127th in average line yards (all out of 130 teams). In the bottom line category – points allowed – the Hoos also struggled as they tied for 103rd while allowing 31.8 points per game.

However, while this paints a grim picture for the 2022 season, this year marks the beginning of a new era for Virginia football, particularly with regard to the defense. With this new era, comes hope. Let’s take a look at four of the Cavalier’s biggest defensive storylines for the upcoming season. (Some questions for the offense appeared earlier.)

How Will The Rudzinski Era Begin?

One of first-year coach Tony Elliott’s first moves at Virginia was bringing on Defensive Coordinator John Rudzinski to replace the former DC Nick Howell. Rudzinski came to Virginia following a noteworthy 14-season tenure at Air Force where, most recently, he helped lead the team to a 10-3 overall record and a victory over Louisville (31-28) in the First Responders Bowl. Rudzinski’s best defense at the academy, though, was the 2020 team, which finished the season ranked third nationally in scoring defense (15.0 avg), fifth in passing yards allowed (166.8), and fourth in red zone defense (.692). Though, by his own account, he is still familiarizing himself with Virginia and the team’s personnel, he is the perfect candidate to try to turn the Cavalier defense around.

While both Rudzinski and Howell use a similar base 3-4 scheme for their defense, they each approach the formation differently. Rudzinski focuses on using linebackers and hybrid players to cover the field and play in space, allowing the defense to compete against faster offensive opponents. Faced with conference foes like Louisville, Miami, and Clemson, who all love to play up-tempo football, this change brings hope for the season to come.

The big question is how the scheme will translate in year one. Rudzinski’s defenses at Air Force rarely faced Power 5 competition during his coordinator years so will ACC competition take advantage in ways that will require adjustments? Plus, the Falcons produced a defense ranked toward the middle of the FBS pack in his first DC year back in 2018 before they climbed the ladder to become a top 20 unit in many key categories.

It will be interesting, and hopefully exciting, to watch how Rudzinski is able to adjust to, and hopefully find success in, his role at Virginia.

How Will The Virginia Defensive Line Come Together?

The defensive line could pose a serious question for Virginia this season. Last year, the defense allowed 466 yards per game, 225 of which came on the ground. This season, the situation is compounded by the losses of veteran defensive linemen Mandy Alonso, who started the last 20 games for Virginia, and Adeeb Atariwa, who logged 106 total career tackles. In total, Virginia only returns 14 total career starts on the DL: Jahmeer Carter with 10, Ben Smiley with 3, and Olasunkonmi Agunloye with 1.

This does not mean, however, that the situation is without hope.

After the Blue-White scrimmage this spring, Elliott said he was very happy with how the defensive line performed and that he is optimistic about what the group can do this season. And, he should be.

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