Many Virginia fans likely thought November 28, 2015 would be the last time they would see Mike London coach at Scott Stadium. The London-coached Hoos led Virginia Tech 13-6 in the fourth quarter and was about to salvage another lost season with a losing-streak-ending victory. That was before the Hokies scored 17 points to defeat Virginia for the 12th straight time. 24 hours later...
Mike London has been fired at Virginia— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 29, 2015
A lot has changed since then. (No… not the Tech thing). While Bronco Mendenhall was rebuilding Virginia’s program over the last few years, London was reviving his career as a defensive coach at Maryland and at the helm of FCS program Howard. London now finds himself leading the William and Mary Tribe, coaching across the field in Charlottesville for the first time. You know he’s hungry for revenge, and last week he had his team looking much better than they did at most points last season.
The bottom line is that revenge probably won’t come with the strength of W&M’s roster, but we’ve seen Mendenhall struggle with an FCS foe before, so it’s worth exploring how he can prepare his team to take care of business on Friday night.
Virginia vs. William and Mary
When: Friday, 8 p.m., Scott Stadium
Line: UVA -35.5
Last Time: Virginia 28, W&M 10 (2017)
For the second year in a row, Virginia will go with the orange tops and white bottoms in its home opener.
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) September 5, 2019
Still can't decide if I like these or the all-blues better under the lights. Let's see which ones win more games this year.
What to Know About the Tribe
Two quarterbacks share reps
After the Tribe flipped between two quarterbacks in long-tenured head coach Jimmye Laycock’s final season in 2018, London selected two different players to compete for snaps early on this season. Both are new to the program and played well in the team’s 30-17 season opening win against Lafeyette using their unique skillsets.
Senior Kilton Anderson is the more experienced player…and probably one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country. His path to W&M is pretty crazy:
2014/15: Redshirted at Fresno State, started five games the following year
2016: Transferred to New Mexico Military Institute while recovering from an injury
2017/18: Transferred to Coastal Carolina, starting three games in 2017 and six in 2018, picked up an MBA on the way
2019: Transfers to W&M
Him and Bryce Perkins could tell some stories together. The Naples, Florida native is a true pocket passer with a pretty strong arm, and per his highlight tapes he loves to use it, stretching the middle of the fields and the sidelines often.
He only threw eight passes against Lafayette in the season-opening win, but averaged 25 yards per completion.
Virginia will likely see more of true freshman Hollis Mathis under center. Mathis did most of his damage against Lafayette as a runner, posting 127 yards on the ground on only 16 carries. That's good for the most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback in W&M history, and it happened in the first time a true freshman has ever started the Tribe's season opener. Most importantly, he was the main cog in helping the Tribe put up 255 rushing yards against the Lancers, after the team averaged just 55.3 yards on the ground per game last year. Hollis is very elusive when he gets into space and showed as much last weekend, burning the Lancers on scrambles when he could get out of the pocket.
London used both quarterbacks interchangeably throughout their first game, and that trend should continue on Friday.
The Tribe also came back with defense last week
Like Virginia’s victory at Pittsburgh, W&M’s first victory of the season also came in the form of a comeback, as the team faced a 10-6 deficit at halftime. Though a 24-point offensive explosion in the third quarter surely helped, the defense made plays to keep momentum the entire game.
Most of those plays were made up front, with the Tribe registering six sacks and five QB hits. For context, the Tribe had 11 sacks during the entire 2018 season. Defensive lineman Carl Fowler and Bill Murray combined for three of those sacks and will be key for Virginia to strategize against in what will likely be a run-heavy attack.
London starts seven seniors on defense, including two All-CAA defensive backs in Isaiah Laster and Corey Parker. Murray and linebacker Nate Atkins are team captains, so there is a wealth of existing experience and leadership across the entire unit to help London in his first year.
Keys to Victory
Let Taulapapa shine
We saw just how promising sophomore running back Wayne Taulapapa could be for the Virginia offense at Pittsburgh in his 10 productive carries. He showed he’s a bouncy runner that can shed tackles in the trenches and move the chains – just the presence Virginia needed with Jordan Ellis’ departure.
This week should be all about testing Taulapapa in volume. Mendenhall will want to get the ground game moving all night to keep the offense in rhythm, and the Hawaiian proved he should be the guy to get that responsibility. Coach also likes letting running backs comfortable with a plenty of carries against lesser opponents, seeing as Ellis ran wild for 146 yards in the team’s FCS game against Richmond last season.
An ulterior motive to running Taulapapa is to get Perkins going in the run game. Perkins' 44 rushing yards last week was only the third time in ACC play he hasn’t topped 60 rushing yards since he got to Charlottesville. This was probably partially due to the conservative gameplan Mendenhall drew up for Pitt, but he’ll want to get Perkins going in the run game with FSU looming next week. Giving Taulapapa carries up the middle could open up zone-read opportunities for Perkins to keep the ball and run for big gains on the outside.
Take away Mathis as a runner
For all the strides the Virginia defense has made under Mendenhall, they sometimes just really drop the ball on containing the quarterback. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett looked well on his way to becoming the next pro-style QB to somehow burn the Hoos in the run game before the coordinators adjusted and plugged up his running lanes in the second half.
Though he may be on a worse team, Hollis Mathis is a much better runner than Pickett. He could give the Hoos fits even if he’s given pressure, which is why finishing sacks will be very important in neutralizing him. The team had seven quarterback hurries but only four sacks against Pitt, with Pickett occasionally able to evade and scramble for a positive gain. That could prove to be much more costly this week.
Linebacker Jordan Mack likely won’t see every snap on Friday as he recovers from a concussion-like injury, so other defensive backs will have to step up and direct the defense to contain. Sophomore Noah Taylor may be in for more playing time after his punt block ln special teams last weekend and can provide a good spark to the pass rush with his quickness off the edge.
If the front seven can't get it done, Mendenhall can once again look to his secondary for help in the blitz. Joey Blount and Bryce Hall combined for three sacks against Pitt and pressured Pickett into bad throws nearly every time they blitzed. It's a good safety blanket to have (no pun intended), but Mendenhall would probably prefer to let his front lines show what pressure they can create as a first option.
Don’t get caught looking forward
I’m not going to say this is a trap game, because on paper it’s really not. But the circumstances are unique. London and his team are coming in with huge chips on their shoulder and the swagger of a program that has upset Virginia before (see: 2009). Meanwhile, the Hoos have arguably their biggest home game this half decade against Florida State next weekend. And, after all, the two teams just above Virginia in AP Poll voting – Nebraska and Iowa State – nearly lost at home to very inferior opponents last weekend.
Just as was avoided at Pitt, there’s no reason to overthink this game. Virginia will win on Friday if they control the lock and limit turnovers. But unlike last weekend, this isn’t a matchup the team should just want to ‘survive.’ The Hoos should still bring a rivalry-like mentality into a matchup with an in-state foe and prior coach, and keep their foot on the gas while playing smart and loose in front of their home crowd for the first time. Looking the part of a top-25 team is a big part of building the confidence to play like one, and handling an FCS foe goes a long way in both goals.
Final Thoughts and Prediciton
This isn’t your typical FCS vs. FBS tilt, with both coaches coming into the matchup forever tied as predecessor and replacement. Mike London and his team will be flying around on Friday with a revenge mentality and the goal of an upset. However, this also isn’t your typical Virginia team from the last decade, who always seemed to have close calls in these games. Carrying their smooth, efficient play over from Pittsburgh, while adding in some firworks and new wrinkles, will be more than enough to send the Tribe back to Williamsburg without an upset.
Virginia 42, W&M 10