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Previewing the Virginia Cavaliers defense

How Bronco Mendenhall’s defense will line up

NCAA Football: Richmond at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

As bad as the offense was for the Cavaliers in their opener, their defense was worst. Giving up 37 points at home to an FCS opponent was definitely not the way that Bronco Mendenhall intended to start his tenure at Virginia. To his credit though, this is a very young group with two freshmen starting and a plethora of others on the two deep depth chart.

The group plays a 3-4 base defense with the linebackers probably being the best part. Middle linebacker Micah Kiser is the player to watch on this group. Look for the defense to try and respond after last week’s poor performance against the Spiders.

The leader:

Nick Howell is yet another member of the Virginia staff who followed coach Mendenhall from BYU. Howell served as the defensive coordinator from 2013-2015 at BYU. Along with Mendenhall, Howell transformed the Cougars into one of the best defenses in the nation. The best year came in 2013 when BYU finished the season ranked number three in the country in total defense despite having the 12th most plays against them.


With so many new faces on the Virginia defense, yet again we might have the best look at this team coming in the first week. There’s no question that the youth was on display starting the season in the very poor performance against the Richmond Spiders. Against the Spiders, Virginia gave up 524 total yards. Of this, 337 came through the air and 187 came on the ground. Richmond did run the ball 41 times however, so all things considered their performance on the ground wasn’t all that bad.

One thing that the Cavaliers have to be positive about is the three fumbles they forced against the Spiders. Although they did not recover any of these fumbles, they at least showed that they have an instinct to poke the ball loose. Obviously last week we saw the downfall of turnovers, and can hope that the Ducks don’t do the same this week.

Three players to watch:

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. A real solid game in Kiser’s first of the season as he piled up 14 total tackles to lead the team. More impressively he also had a sack for a loss of eight and two forced fumbles.

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. In his first game this year he had seven total tackles, with three unassisted.

Zach Bradshaw, #51, senior linebacker, 6’3” 230 lbs.

Not always the most consistent on the field as over the year’s he has missed time to do injuries and targeting suspensions. But, this will be one of the guys that Mendenhall leans on to lead his defense. Last year he had 53 tackles and will look to up that this season. In his first game against Richmond he had a solid performance with 9 total tackles and two tackles for loss.

Depth chart takeaways:

· Eight total freshmen crack the two deep depth chart

· Most experience comes at middle linebacker

· Two starting sophomores at corner provide the Ducks an opportunity to attack