Team: Virginia Cavaliers
W-L: 4-8 (2-6)
Top Offensive Performer: Oday Aboushi, OT
Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB
Coming off a breakout 2011 season, and another big recruiting class, Mike London’s Virginia team was poised to take the leap in 2012; or so many thought. Rather than progression, what the Hoos saw this past fall was a severe regression. Not only was the team’s win total cut in half when compared to the year before, but a squad that appeared built on continuity was suddenly in a tumultuous state. The Cavaliers’ secondary — as young as expected, took nearly two months to truly get their acts together. The running game, a formidable two-back system, was suddenly as unproductive as they come. And most glaring was the quarterback issue which would shape every narrative for Virginia, from August, all the way through the final, excruciating loss.
One would assume the thought process when bringing in Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was that he’d sit this season before taking the reigns in 2013. With returning starter Michael Rocco at the helm, that route seemed to make the most sense — until Sims was granted a waiver allowing him to suit up this season. With a quarterback controversy brewing, Rocco held onto the job, but never quite stopped looking over his shoulder, and the results were mostly hazardous. Thought the UVA passing game would finish a very respectable 37th in the FBS (in terms of yardage), it sorely lacked for efficiency or success. Rocco and Sims combined for 15 interceptions on the season (93rd in the country) and both passers’ accuracy turned out a staggered curve of inconsistency. For each game Rocco would have like the 41-40 upset of Miami (in which he threw for four scores), he’d have another like the 27-7 loss to TCU (126 passing yards, 2 INTs). And with so much riding on quarterback play, the ground game suffered as well. Regularly faced with dire straits, or simply two quarterbacks splitting snaps for the same job, their strong run game was suddenly pass-first. UVA was 98th in the country in both overall carries (417) and yards per game (128.5), and this with two highly skilled backs in Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. While no one would call them a high-flying group in 2011 (23.8 points per game), 2012 was absolutely dreadful from a scoring standpoint (22.8 points per game) — especially without a strong defense to bail them out.
In terms of passing yards allowed per-game, the Hoos finished with fairly high marks; 31st overall in the country. But when you dig a little further, it’s easy to see where all the trouble lied. The 23 passing touchdowns the secondary let up was ranked 77th in the country, and the group also managed to allow 15 plays of 30 or more yards, along with 10 of 40 or more. Of course, much of this can be attributed to their relative youth, and I’ll admit, there was plenty of improvement over time. Three of Virginia’s final four opponents were held to under 200 yards passing, though there still wasn’t much of an uptick on the paltry interception total (four on the season). Where the group did excel a bit more was in terms of run-stopping, however. On the year, Virginia ranked 45th in rushing yards allowed per game, utilizing a solid defensive line and a run-stopping scheme led by run-stopping linebackers Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds. Exacting a persistent assault on opposing halfbacks week-in and week-out, the pair were among the most feared linebackers in the conference — while also being among the most unheralded. Over the team’s final three games, the two combined for 73 tackles despite facing strong rushing efforts from backs like Miami’s Duke Johnson and North Carolina‘s Giovani Bernard. With both heading off to the pros next year though, the middle of the field can’t necessarily be counted on as a strength going forward for this team.
A lot of folks believe in the Mike London regime down in Charlottesville, but after without real success over time, it all just becomes talk. London’s delivered one eight-win season, bookend-ed by two 4-8 campaigns. At this point, given the level of success he’s seen on the recruiting front, 2013 becomes a key year for him and this program. In 2012, while dealing with some youth issues in some areas, the Hoos were still very largely a team built to rely on the various veterans in place at linebacker, running back and quarterback. When that weight became too much, everything gave out and that’s how we ended up at four wins. They’ll face more youth issues next year, but hopefully with a slightly more settled quarterback situation, those parts can fall into place. If they don’t, there are some major questions as to how much longer London will be sticking around.