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The Cavaliers will have to find a way to crack a stingy defense and slow down a hurry-up offense.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall points during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Hawaii last September in Provo, Utah.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Little has been made of the fact that Mike London is undefeated in opening games after three seasons as Virginia football coach.
Maybe that’s because London’s openers have come against Richmond (twice) and William and Mary, FBS teams that have beaten the Cavaliers on rare occasions but without the same resources.
A Virginia victory today would attract considerably more attention.
The Cavaliers begin their 2013 campaign at 3:30 p.m. against visiting Brigham Young, a program that has made eight straight bowl appearances.
Virginia, on the other hand, is coming off its second 4-8 season in three years and an offseason staff shake-up that has resulted in new coordinators for the offense, defense and special teams.
“I guess you could say we can make a statement in terms of how much progress has been made,” London said at midweek. “It’s a challenge that we look forward to trying to meet.”
Brigham Young has won six straight opening games, all under its eight-year head coach, Bronco Mendenhall.
The Cougars had experienced three straight losing seasons prior to Mendenhall’s arrival before the 2005 season. After going 6-6 in his coaching debut, BYU won either 10 or 11 games in each of the next four years.
Mendenhall is a proponent of the 3-4 defense favored by former Virginia head coach Al Groh, who once traveled to Utah and met with Mendenhall to talk about coaching philosophy.
Virginia offensive guard Luke Bowanko, one of a smattering of fifth-year players who was around for the end of the Groh era, said preparations for this week’s game brought back memories from intrasquad scrimmages in 2009.
A little bit of familiarity might be handy against a Cougars defense led by Kyle Van Noy, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior linebacker who had 22 tackles for loss last season, including 13 sacks.
Brigham Young ranked third in the country in both fewest yards allowed per game (266.61) and fewest points allowed per game (14.0). Nobody held opponents to a lower third-down conversion rate (26.5 percent).
“Here at BYU, the defense is held to a high standard,” Van Noy said this week. “I think we like that and want that. That’s kind of the attitude we take going against offenses — that we’re the best in the country and we’re out to prove it.”
Mendenhall said he had watched little film of Virginia from 2012 because of the changes that normally occur with new coordinators. However, he has more than fleeting knowledge of Cavaliers offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild.
Fairchild was the head coach at Colorado State from 2008-2011 and annually played fellow Western Athletic Conference member BYU until the Cougars went independent before the 2011 season.
Colorado State failed to beat BYU in three tries with Fairchild as head coach, but a 45-42 loss to Mendenhall and Co. in 2008 represented the most points the Cougars allowed that season.
This is Mendenhall’s 10th season at BYU, counting two seasons as defensive coordinator under Gary Crowton in 2003-2004, but he has a relatively new staff.
The Cougars offensive coordinator is Robert Anae, who was with Rich Rodriguez at Arizona in 2012 and previously had worked under Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
Former BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman resigned rather than take a demotion to quarterbacks coach after the 2012 season. Four other offensive assistants were not retained.
Virginia expects to get a lot of no-huddle looks from the Cougars and Anae, whose scheme has been described as a “go-fast-go-hard” attack.
The best comparison for Virginia would be the Louisiana Tech team that came into Scott Stadium last year and defeated the Cavaliers 44-38.
Louisiana Tech didn’t so much fool Virginia as the Cavaliers self-destructed on an afternoon when they outgained the visitors 625-385.
Virginia will face another hurry-up offense when preseason No. 3 Oregon comes to Charlottesville on Sept. 7.
London said the Cavaliers sped up their offense in preseason work against the defense.
“Actually, we did a lot of it,” he said. “You never can duplicate the speed of the game in terms of the amount of reps you can get in, but you try to put yourself in the position of your calls being simple, your adjustments being very simple and playing in the simplest of ways.”
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