Kris Wright of TheSabre.com stopped by to preview the Oregon at Virginia matchup from a Cavalier perspective.
1. DSH: Head coach Mike London overhauled his staff in the offseason. Please talk about the changes, and the new energy they've brought to the program.
TheSabre.com: The changes were sweeping with five coaches moving on from the program. That left Coach London with holes to fill at both coordinator positions, which eventually led to changes at all three coordinator positions with some responsibilities shuffling with the new hires. He brought in long-time head coach and former UVa offensive coordinator Tom O'Brien as the associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach. London also hired Steve Fairchild to run the offense and Jon Tenuta to run the defense. Fairchild is running a pro-based multiple formation offensive system similar to what the Cavaliers were using, while Tenuta's 4-3 defense is much more aggressive than the previous incarnation. Add in Larry Lewis as the running backs coach and special teams coordinator to complete the overhaul.
O'Brien's experience in the ACC at Boston College and NC State is a major positive for Virginia. And really experience is the key word with almost all of the new hires - the exception being receivers coach Marques Hagans, who moved up to full-time coach from a graduate assistant spot. Fans liked the moves because it pairs proven FBS level teachers with the strong recruiters still on the coaching staff. The Cavaliers could be on the way up the ACC ladder if the development curve for the younger players continues to progress.
2. DSH: Superb effort in Week One holding BYU's no-huddle spread offense to 16 points, 3.9 yards per play and 13-40 passing. Are the Wahoos that good, or is it a down year for Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars?
TheSabre.com: It is probably too early to tell on either side of that coin, but for one week the Wahoos looked that good. BYU successfully ran the offense at a high tempo - 93 plays for the game - but did not sustain drives. You mentioned the yards per play stat and only one player, running back Jamaal Williams, really managed any consistent production. He finished with 144 yards on 33 carries (4.4 yards per carry). Of course, the Cougars' top receiver Cody Hoffman didn't play due to a hamstring injury so that impacted the statistics too I'm sure.
Overall, however, UVa's defense set the tone. The Cavaliers bottled up the spread option runs without too much blitzing in the gaps, while the secondary took care of BYU's receiving threats. The top 6 defensive backs from last year's team are all back for Virginia and that secondary is considered one of the strengths for this year. It wouldn't surprise me to see UVa periodically crash the box against Oregon with both safeties to battle the read option runs, while leaving its cornerbacks in isolated coverage. That could be one key match-up area to watch this week.
3. DSH: Virginia won with special teams plays and defense last week. What does the offense have to do to get untracked against the Ducks?
TheSabre.com: BYU spent a lot of the day dropping 8 players into coverage and first-time starting quarterback David Watford looked hesitant against that tactic. There were openings to attack, but with a close game and a driving rain, he seemed to lean toward the conservative end on his decision-making and checked down to his safety valve receivers regularly.
I expect a different look and feel to Watford's game this week simply because he's facing a very different style of defense. Oregon has a different plan than BYU. The Cougars ranked third in total defense by allowing just 288 yards per game in 2012, but based on Saturday's approach they stuff the run and then try to keep the receivers in front of them until a blitz-favorable down-and-distance arises. As a result, BYU created just 22 turnovers last season. The Ducks, on the other hand, come after the opposing offense with a lot of pressure and a lot of blitzes from a variety of formations and directions. As a result, Oregon gave up more yards than BYU in 2012 (374 yards per game) but created a lot more turnovers - 40!
That blitzing, high-pressure style should lead Watford to being more aggressive this week and I think he'll throw for more yards than in the opener. He sees a similar style defense every day in practice and he spent most of August's training camp dealing with a lot of pressure and blitzes. With that said, the key will be the turnover category. He threw a bad interception while being sacked against BYU so if the Ducks can create similar mistakes, the added passing yards won't matter much.
4. DSH: What do you see as the key matchups in the game?
TheSabre.com: I think Virginia's tight ends could be a factor as that seems to be one strategy that the Ducks' defense is vulnerable against. Jake McGee scored 5 touchdowns for the Hoos last year and can pressure safeties and linebackers in coverage. Of course, the offensive line needs to hold its blocks long enough to allow the tight ends to run the crossing and seam patterns that could give the defense trouble. I also think UVa's offensive line against the front seven is a key piece because moving the chains with the running game is one way to try to slow down the Oregon offense.
As for individual match-ups, I think Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota vs. Virginia defensive tackles Brent Urban and David Dean will be interesting when the Ducks go their tackle read concept. As Oregon fans know, the offense doesn't always just release a backside defensive end in its version of the spread option. Sometimes, the Ducks let the inside tackles go unblocked instead. It will be important for Urban and Dean to execute their responsibilities or Mariota could make them pay.
As I mentioned earlier, I think Oregon's receivers could see some man-to-man coverage against UVa's corner backs. That means guys like Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, and Chance Allen being defended by Demetrious Nicholson, DreQuan Hoskey, and Maurice Canady.
5. DSH: What are Cavs fans impression of Oregon, the offense, and the style?
TheSabre.com: For the most part, I'd say there is nothing but respect coming out of the Virginia fan base. Most fans love to watch fast athletes and offense so what's not to like about Oregon? Our site even had a little fun with the Ducks' style by putting a rotating helmet image on our home page! It's certainly possible that Hoos everywhere will like Oregon a little less after this weekend if the score gets lopsided, though.
DSH: Bonus question: How do you see the game playing out?
TheSabre.com: I think it remains relatively close - 10 points or less - for the first 20 minutes and then becomes an Oregon track meet. 48-24 Ducks.
Photo credit: Running back Kevin Parks bounced off three tacklers for the winning touchdown against BYU last week (John McDonnell/The Washington Post).
There was room for a couple of follow-up questions, but not too shabby for an email-style interview. He had some great answers to some pretty serious questions and seems to be well educated regarding the Ducks. It will be a good game to watch, and I see it being closer than he does.
@Duckbill That is an interesting stat, especially when you add that Marcus Mariota was under 50% at halftime. Virginia's secondary is very solid. Had 39 tackles as a group last Saturday.
@zduckfan Interesting. Kris was very gracious and I appreciated him suggesting the collaboration.
I haven't made up my mind about the score or the tempo of the game.
@Dale Newton @zduckfan Have you considered doing this weekly with a fan blog from each of the Oregon opponents? It was highly entertaining and informative, and I believe it added quite a bit of depth to your site.
With that said, I hate it when people suggest more work for me, so I'll offer to help you out if you need it, maybe do some of the research or whatever.
@Duckbill @Dale Newton Mariota is a solid intermediate passer. The reporter's scouting report is just dead wrong. MM broke open the Fiesta Bowl game against Kansas State with three deft intermediate throws to Colt Lyerla, two in the drive just before halftime.
@Duckbill @Dale Newton Excellent points Duckbill. To that I would add that one thing Stanford did well last year beyond stuffing the box was lateral pursuit of Ducks RBs. They had and still have fast LBs who were ready to run sideways all day. Not sure the Hoos will have that ability, especially as the game wears on. And if they try, Ducks run up the gut or other pass options. If the Ducks mix it up well, inside/outside, long/short, I see a gassed Hoos' D.