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As always, we like to hear from you, our readers, and see what's on your mind going into the season. Our cadre of writers will take turns giving their thoughts on your queries below. Of course, you needn't wait for a Mail Call to interact with us... we man our Twitter account far more continuously than our employers or wives may like! So reach out anytime.

Let's dive in and see what questions and concerns you have for us going into yet another high expectation season:

Questions 1-3: 

 

StLouHoo: Three questions about the offensive line. Think it's a major concern for Hoo fans going into the new year? Anyone who follows our site knows I'd agree, hence why I've opted to write in depth about the unit a number of times over the last year. 

The line definitely improved last year. Two years ago, during the 6-7 2017 season, the line was arguably the ACC's worst, generating barely any ground game and nearly getting Kurt Benkert killed on occasion. Last year's line took a noticeable step forward, and while a lot of the improvement can be attributed to the arrival of a dual threat quarterback in Bryce Perkins who could take some pressure off the line by moving the pocket, the growth of the offensive line unit also earned some credit in the improved run game (yes, average was an improvement).

I'll answer Hootie first. There are two big differences between now and three years ago. First is Bryce Perkins (and arguably Brennan Armstrong behind him), in that a true dual threat QB completely changes how defenses can attack. Being forced to honor the potential for the QB to escape means having to call more conservative schemes, save a linebacker or safety who otherwise might be blitzing, plugging a running lane, or blanketing the receivers enabling the front 7 to get a coverage sack. Bryce takes a ton of pressure off of the line with his legs. Second is the fact that everyone on our depth chart has multiple years of experience under Tujague, in Anae's schemes, and in Griswold's strength and conditioning program. It's still a relatively young group, but there's a lot to be said for the fact that it's a homegrown unit now. Fit with scheme, and fit in the position group room, all that matters, and given that these guys were all recruited and developed explicitly to be fits in the spread, mobile schemes, means there's an added comfort level.

Short Line and Drew, I think your answers dovetail together, in that I think we're going to see what we've got right from the get-go vs a Pitt program that prides itself on its Front 7. Yes, Pitt is missing some key pieces from last year, with a number of graduations (DT's Dwayne Hendrix, Shane Roy, and James Folston; LBs Oluwaseun Idowu, Elijah Zeise, and Quintin Wirginis), and stud DE Rashad Weaver was lost for the year to injury this summer. But Pat Narduzzi has a solid pedigree in developing a pipleine, with junior DE Patrick Jones (7 TFLs, 3.5 sacks last year) and Jr LB Elias Reynolds (49 tackles, 3.5 TFLs) back with a number of former four star recruits looking to embrace their opportunity to shine. Pitt's front seven isn't the best we'll face this year (I'd rank ND, Miami, FSU, and VT all with better defensive fronts), but it's definitely a solid one. And if our OL has taken the steps forward that we hope it has, then we'll see them at least play Pitt even in the trenches, keeping Perkins clean and getting our RBs to the hole without contact. But if Pitt gives the OL problems, then realize there will be some tough weekends ahead as well when even better defenses come to town.

I only graded them a C+ in my writeup, so clearly I still have some things I need to see from them. There isn't a 5th year in the group, and only one 4th year (Reinkensmeyer) in the rotation. The unit is mostly 3rd years (Nelson, Glaser, Olawutimi, Fannin, and Swoboda), which really is just the baseline for expecting consistent play. I do like that the unit has been pretty set throughout summer camp. So ultimately I think we see better play than last year, but understanding there still will be some *ahem* growth moments as the youngsters develop the consistency they need. 

Karl Hess: StLou pretty much knocked it out the park. Offensive lines are about experience, continuity, familiarity with scheme, technique, and talent. Players enter into college with maybe talent and technique but the rest of the boxes are unchecked. 

We've covered extensively the total rebuild of the OL required when Bronco and 2J arrived. It's a multi year work in progress. But the key is progress. The progress from year 3 to 4 won't be as large as it was from year 2 to 3. The line took a pretty nice leap last season and the Perkins/Dual Threat QB factor is already baked in. But where I'm expecting to see the most improvement is from the younger lineman like Swoboda and the players that provide depth on the line. 

This season feels like the first time we'll start to see the fruits of the development work with an increase in the number of players that can contribute on the field. It lends hope to the notion that the OL will be a true strength in 2020.

 

Question 4: 

StLouHoo: First off, how nice to hear a reader so easily say they "believe that our offensive... line will be fine," certainly a pleasant change of pace! But just like the OL, we graded the WR/TE position group only a C+ going into this year, acknowledging there are still a lot of question marks in the absence of Oz and Butts. Luckily, there are a ton of quality options from which the 2019 rotation will be built, with a nice mix of incumbent veterans like Hasise Dubois, Joe Reed, Terrell Jana, and Tanner Cowley, with high upside youngsters in Tavares Kelly, Billy Kemp, Dontayvion Wicks, and Dorian Goddard. 

But your question was very specific. What chance do we have to replace Oz on an All-ACC team? Better than I would've thought a month ago, honestly. I'm cautiously buying stock in newcomer Terrell Chatman right now. He was a composite top 400 recruit out of high school, which is borderline four star, and is very close with Bryce Perkins. Chatman has a really nice combination of size and speed as well, and I'm hopeful he can be the kind of deep threat that takes the top off a defense, demanding a double team from the safety that really unpacks the middle of the field for the running game. If Perkins and Chatman can get into a rhythm together, he does stand an outside chance of making an All-ACC team at the end of the year, though maybe just honorable mention or 3rd team.

Karl Hess: I like our receivers as a group. But they're a unit where the sum of the parts is greater than any one individual's talent. That's my nice way of saying that I don't see an all league player this year until you hit the Honorable Mention section.

First, I think the Hoos are still going to be pretty ground based this year. And when the ball is thrown, the lack of one or two receivers head and shoulders above the crowd will have the balls spread around pretty evenly. That's a good thing in my opinion as I want to see more diversity on offense this year and more utilization of the roster.

Second, it's hard not to overlook the talent at the receiver position returning in the conference. Clemson and Syracuse both return talented receivers in high octane offenses. Look for the All-ACC teams to be filled with Tigers, Orange, and someone like Tamorrion Terry (35 catches, 744 yards, 8 TD as a freshman) from FSU as a sleeper pick.

 

Question 5: 

StLouHoo: I'm going to start the answer with Notre Dame, because in many respects that's a "house money" game. On the road against a Top 10 team in a non-conference contest, no one is going to punish UVA for a loss. But the Irish will be coming off a clash with Top 10 Georgia, so while I think the Irish probably still get the win, I'm expecting the game to at least be very interesting. But a lot of the hype for that game will come down to how UVA fares in its first two ACC games vs Pitt and Florida State. I think Pitt is our game to lose. We're the better team on paper, both sides of the ball. But it's on the road, and it's a season opener where rust and nerves and kinks are very real problems. We saw in this weekend's Miami-Florida game just how sloppy teams can be in the season opener, with no cupcakes prior to work out the jitters. So when I say it's our game to lose, that means to me we should win so long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot with dumb turnovers, penalties, or other negative plays. Florida State, I think is our game to win. They're the more talented team arguably, and that defense could give our offensive a lot of problems if they're dialed in. But Scott will be rocking and our defense will be fired up as well. I expect us to play the sharper game, we'll just need the offense to rise to the occasion and capitalize on the opportunity it gets. If the offense can score the ball, it's very likely we go to South Bend 4-0.

Karl Hess: I'll start with Notre Dame like StLou did. I covered the Irish in our schedule breakdown. I pegged UVA's chances for a win in Notre Dame Stadium as a 3 out of 10. They're likely the best team we'll play all season and it's on the road. I did indicate that the Hoos should be competitive in this game until the very end. But I think it's still a loss.

In the Pitt preview (still to be written) that will be published at the end of the week, I'm going to pick the Hoos to win. I like how we match up with the Panthers this year, especially this early into the season and with Pitt missing DE Rashad Weaver. 

That brings us to 1-1 with FSU as the swing game. The Noles have a lot to show me before I buy any of their stock. Year two should be better than year one under Willie Taggart, but year one was an unmitigated disaster. Florida State often looked like a team playing the sport for the first time. They'll bring a lot of talent to the table and running back Cam Akers will certainly test the UVA run defense. But an engaged crowd in a packed Scott Stadium can carry the Hoos across the finish line here. I expect they'll need the crowd to help win the game and I expect the crowd to deliver.

 

Question 6: 

StLouHoo: The season kicks off in a few days and so many key cable providers in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic have yet to make the switch. Virginia opens with three straight games on the ACC Network, and a lot of folks are going to have to go to a sports bar or find a friend with the right cord-cutting subscription to see some of those games. I had expected a lot of providers to cave this week, but maybe that was naive. The cheapest cord-cutting option in my brief research was Hulu Live at around $45 a month, which is a lot to pay on top of a cable subscription. Youtube TV is about $50 and PS Vue is at $55 a month as well, so that's the general ballpark. 

My solution has been to ditch the cable provider and go with one of the online subscriptions. Best not to gamble at this point. Hoops season is just 3 months away as well, and I have a ton of ACC sports to watch this year. If you're not sure how setting up a cord-cutting subscription looks, ask a neighbor or friend. If you've got a wifi-connected TV or an HDMI port, you can do it in a day.

Karl Hess: Listen to StLou. I'm no help here. I had FIOS who picked the network up well before the launch. And I had the sports package that already gave you every sports network that FIOS offers. Ever need to catch a cricket or pickle ball match though and I'm your guy.

 

Question 7: 

StLouHoo: I'm not convinced Kelly is quite there yet. I didn't see enough out of him last year in games to really get a feel for his upside, not anywhere near like Oz did as a freshman (21 catches for 216 yards, 33 rushes for 262 yards). I'm sure Anae would like Kelly to get there, but he needs to master the basics of the WR(H) formations first and establish a chemistry with Perkins before they can really get creative with him. And even then, that assumes someone like Billy Kemp doesn't similarly impress, or that the outside receivers like Dubois, Chatman, Reed, and Jana don't get the bulk of the targets.

Long story short, I think Kelly's breakout is probably still a year away.

Karl Hess: Pre snap motion is a big part of our offense. I don't see that changing any time soon. So whomever is in OZ's old role will likely be on the move.

For the sake of your question, let's assume that it is Kelly. Moving him around will be key for a couple reasons. First, having him moving at the snap will take advantage of his acceleration. Any little advantage helps at this level. More importantly, Kelly's size is much less of. a disadvantage when he's already in motion at the snap. Linebackers and defensive backs are going to have a hell of a time jamming a moving Kelly.

What we have to be mindful of on offense is not being predictable in how we use players. Motion is wasted if we run a jet sweep with Kelly, for example, every time he goes in motion when he's in the game. Or if we never let Peacock touch the ball when he's in the game. This goes back to my point about diversity on offense. It goes hand in hand with not being so predictable in how we attack defenses.

 

Question 8: 

StLouHoo: I've seen Vegas have our Over/Under at 7.5, so this is a great question. I think it's bold to predict either. Let's look at both. On the low end, it's a very safe bet to assume we'll win the non-P5 trio of W&M, ODU, and Liberty. On top of that, both Georgia Tech and Louisville are undergoing total ground-up rebuilds (GT from a system perspective, Louisville from a culture one) and Virginia will likely be a heavy favorite in both. I'm predicting those five games gets UVA to your minimum. So do we lose everything beyond that? Likely not, hard not to expect this deep and talented team to win at least one or two the rest of the way.

Talking about getting to 10 wins, though, and the question is does that include postseason? If it does (because we count last year as an 8-win season, right?), then that really means a 9-3 regular season with a bowl win, which I think is doable. Winning at Notre Dame is going to be a tough sell. Can we win? Sure. But they're Top 10 for a reason and it's on the road in South Bend. I'm counting that as a loss today. So how many losses do we take against tough ACC foes like FSU, Miami, Pitt, and VT? Going 6-2 in the ACC, which is likely required for our 10-win hypothetical, is bold, but frankly it's doable. Am I willing to bet on it? Probably not yet, because it's a long season and I think so much depends on health given our youth and the lack of depth at key position groups. But while a 5-7 season would frankly surprise me, a 10-3/10-4 (depending on whether we get to the ACCCG to lose to Clemson) season wouldn't. This team is perfectly capable of going 6-2 in the league with the right breaks and bounces.

Karl Hess: Expectations are high this season. And for good reason. I'm pretty sure that I had us at 10 wins in our bold predictions for this preview.

But it was a bold prediction for a reason. The Hoos have hit that mark once in program history. The 1989 squad is UVA's only ten game winner. History dictates that I say that 5 wins is more likely. 

But this is the 30th anniversary of that team...

 

Question 9: 

StLouHoo: I know this isn't a question, and maybe I shoudl've skipped it. But I think it's good to address a still-skeptical segment of the fan base, one who feels very burned by unrealized hopes in the Groh and London eras, especially with the VT streak still ongoing. Having hoops to fall back on makes this even easier, the old "we're a basketball school" deflect. But as someone who came about as a Hoo fan when UVA fans expected and received excellence in both revenue programs (the Welsh era coupled with the peak Holland/Jones years), deep down I'm still looking to be able to love both teams with equal passion. Virginia football may or may not turn the corner this year, may or may not end the streak, but regardless Bronco and his staff is building an excellent roster full of quality student athletes, and there's every reason to believe they're doing here no worse than they did in Provo, turning UVA into an annual winner. For those not yet on the bandwagon, I understand your pain, but don't worry, there will still be room for you as well whenever you're ready.

Karl Hess: The kids in this program embody the ideals of what we expect in student athletes at UVA to a T. It's time to embrace them, to back them, and to give them you attention during the season. Ultimately, it's your choice in how spend your time. But there are a lot of good players on this team and even more great personal interest stories (follow Jeff White to learn more).

 

Question 10: 

StLouHoo: Virginia actually had the ACC's lowest red zone conversion rate last year at 74% (meaning either a touchdown or a field goal). Even worse, we were last in touchdown percentage in the red zone at only 52%. The average was 10 percent higher, so that's a lot of points we were leaving on the board. Our TD conversion percentage dropped to an abysmal 37% in ACC play.

It's certainly an area Virginia is going to need to improve at this season if it wants to realize its lofty goals. I expect we'll start by using bigger WR sets, hopefully with better utilization of the TE, to move the ball. I like the idea of putting guys like Dubois, Jana, Chatman, and Cowley on the field together and letting Perkins find the mismatch; another year in the system should see Perkins better able to go through multiple progressions to pick the best target. Second, of course, is better run blocking from the OL letting us use the running game efffectively to balance out the passing game and Perkins' creativity. Whether the OL can manage this is another question. I'm expecting the improvements along the OL to manifest itself in better pass protection and perhaps in run-blocking for off-tackle play calls, where their athleticism can be put to good use. But this isn't necessarily a power-blocking unit, that's not how it's designed and part of the reason RJ Proctor felt he'd be a better fit elsewhere. So while I'm happy to be proven wrong, this is actually one area I'm still concerned about going into the season.

Karl Hess: I concur with all of this from StLou. 

I'm going to harp on being more diverse on offense and less predictable in how we utilize our personnel too. Some of the personnel losses from last season will probably force our hand here. I'm thankful for it.

 

 

 

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