Making one of the bigger splashes of the offseason carousel were the Virginia Cavaliers who swooped up the successful Bronco Mendenhall from BYU. After a streak of four straight losing seasons, the Cavaliers were in desperate need of a change in fortune. Of course, Oregon did have a hand in contributing to one of those losing seasons with a 59-10 victory in Virginia during the 2013 season led by three De’Anthony Thomas rushing touchdowns.
2015 Record- 4-8 overall, 3-6 in league
2015 Points Per Game: 25.8
2015 Points Per Game Allowed: 32.2
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall, 1st year
Offensive Coordinator: Robert Anae, 1st year
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell, 1sst year
Bronco Mendenhall completed the complete overhaul of the Virginia staff by bringing along with him many staff members. Of note, both of his coordinators are with him from BYU so of course expect to see many similar looks to that of BYU in years past. This likely means a dual threat quarterback similar to Taysom Hill was for the Cougars.
Under Mendenhall, the Cavaliers will be switching to an up-tempo pace, so we should see quite a few possessions in Eugene. Center Jackson Matteo said the goal of the offense is “to be on the ball every 20 seconds”. That being said, the offense still doesn’t have a quarterback to lead the way. Right now the competition is three way between the incumbent starter Matt Johns, along with last season’s backup Connor Brewer and transfer from East Carolina Kurt Benkert.
Defensively, the group will be looking to replace six starters. Similar to Oregon the team will be transitioning in defense, although they will be going from a 4-3 to a 3-4. However, they have two stars in the group to help ease the transition. Junior linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding were both All-ACC first team members last season. A solid recruiting class for Mendenhall, led by a plethora of three stars. A few names to keep an eye on would be the trio of wide receivers; Joseph Reed, Hasise Dubois and Aidan Howard as well as running back Tre Harbison. Defensively Mendenhall brought in depth in both end and outside linebacker and defensive back position. Wouldn’t be surprising to see a few of these new names step up early for playing time.
Micah Kiser, #53, junior middle linebacker, 6’ 2”, 240 lbs.
The best player on this Virginia squad might just be the middle linebacker Micah Kiser. Last year, the 117 tackles he had were good enough to be first in the ACC and 17th in the nation. These numbers last year placed him well enough to be named on the All-ACC first team.
Quin Blanding, #3, junior safety, 6’ 2”, 205 lbs.
Combined with Kiser, the other star junior, Quin Blanding, make up the strongest portion of this Virginia defense. Last year, Blanding was scattered across all sorts of post-season awards list, most notably making the All-ACC first team as well as the USA Today second team. This year he is on the watch list for the Bednarik, Nagurski, and Thorpe awards lists and many pre-season all-conference and all-American teams. Last year he had 115 total tackles, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception.
Taquan Mizzell, #4, senior running back, 5' 10", 195 lbs.
The senior running back will be one of the key pieces for the new look Virginia offense. Last year he put up 671 yards on 163 attempts, which was good for just four touchdowns. He’s also a big threat recieveing, last year getting 75 catches for 721 yards and 4 touchdowns. Against fellow Pac-12 opponent UCLA last year he put up 145 receiving and rushing combined yards with one touchdown.
Olamide Zaccheaus, #33, sophomore wide receiver, 5' 8", 185 lbs.
After using two of the top receivers last year, the Cavaliers will rely on the retuning sophomore and many freshmen to lead to way. Zaccheaus saw the field more as the season went on, with his best performance coming against Duke with 3 catches and 89 yards. Also a running threat, as to end the year against Virginia Tech he had ten carries.
What to watch:
Who will be the quarterback? Once again the Ducks face a team with a quarterback yet to be named. It’s not like Matt Johns had an awful year last year. However, it certainly wasn’t great as the 17 interceptions added up quickly to the 20 touchdowns. In the early going there seems to be no sort of tipping of the hand in terms of which guy Mendenhall will go with. One potential thought would be that the new up-tempo offense could play a role in who they go with. Kurt Benkert, the transfer from Eastern Carolina played a similar up-tempo offense there and could be the best fit for the role. Definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see them use two quarterbacks.