UVA sports fans are nothing if not pessimistic about their football team’s chances in 2015, and they’re not alone. Writers and broadcasters who cover the ACC picked the Cavs dead last in the Coastal Division. Coach Mike London, in his sixth season, is a dead man walking, his seat nuclear hot.
As good as the athletics program is overall at Virginia, which won national championships in men’s soccer, men’s tennis and baseball in 2014-2015, football is merely a pastime until basketball season, and barely that when you consider the sea of empty seats that mark most football Saturdays in the fall in Charlottesville.
Last year in this space, on the eve of a season opener with a nationally-ranked UCLA team, I predicted that UVA would shock the world on its way to an eight-win season.
I was wrong on both counts, though not nearly as wrong as the fans and writers who had the ‘Hoos pegged for another two-win season that would end with London fired.
Virginia held the Bruins to one offensive touchdown and had several chances in the second half in what turned out to be a one-score, 28-20, loss.
UVA went on to a 5-7 record that could easily have been the eight-win campaign that I had foreseen, blowing late leads in losses to UNC and Virginia Tech, in addition to the frustration of that UCLA game, which turned on three second-quarter Bruin defensive touchdowns.
Which gets us to where we are today, on the eve of another season opener with UCLA, this one in the Rose Bowl on Saturday. The 13th-ranked Bruins are 19- to 20-point favorites, with one major question mark, at quarterback, where top recruit Josh Rosen, a true freshman, gets the keys to the offense.
Expect UVA defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to load the box on first and second down to take away the UCLA ground game and force Rosen into uncomfortable third-and-longs against an exotic mix of blitz and coverage packages.
On offense, don’t expect the new-look Virginia offense, led by Matt Johns, to cough up three touchdowns to the UCLA defense. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is returning UVA football to its offensive roots, running downhill behind a deep and experienced offensive line, putting Johns back under center, using tight ends and fullbacks to clear space, getting yards in the passing game off play-action.
Limit the mistakes, move the ball consistently, stop the other team, and you win football games, and that’s what Virginia will do on Saturday in Pasadena, on its way to an eight-win season.
Final: Virginia 20, UCLA 14.
– Preview by Chris Graham