UVA defense: London blows D up, starts over from scratch
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UVA defense: London blows D up, starts over from scratch

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UVaHelmet_1You don’t want to look at where the UVA defense ranks among its ACC peers. That’s called a spoiler alert, because it ain’t pretty.

OK, here we go. Dead last in scoring defense (38.2 points per game). Dead last in pass yards allowed (285.5 yards per game). Dead last in pass efficiency defense (159.5).

The highlight is being 11th in rush defense (at a still-alarming 159.8 yards per game, up from the 120.7 rush yards per game the UVA defense allowed in 2014).

Blow it up, and start over, right? In a sense, that’s what coach Mike London is doing.

“Limiting now the calls, the things that we do. I think one of the reasons why Jon (Tenuta) is on the field now, is to say, Listen, we’ll have a few calls here and let’s just play fast. Let’s just play hard. Don’t try to outscheme anybody,” said London, who told reporters on Monday that Tenuta, his defensive coordinator, will move from the press box to the sideline for this week’s ACC opener at Pitt.

Having Tenuta on the field is aimed at addressing a key deficiency for the Virginia D through the season’s first four games.

“The communication has to be sharper. It’s got to be better. Can’t be miscommunication. It has to be better – understanding whether it’s verbiage or hand signaling or whatever it is. So we’ll do a better job of doing that. We devoted some practices this past open week to shore up some things that will help us become a better football team, and the communication part of it was always key,” London said.

There is a load of talent on the defensive side of the ball for Virginia, but the experience factor is vastly different from 2014, when veteran free safety Anthony Harris was calling the signals in the defensive backfield, and a cast of fellow veterans including Daquan Romero, Eli Harold and Max Valles could tap into their knowledge of Tenuta’s complex schemes.

Sophomore Quin Blanding is now the quarterback of the defense back there at free safety, and he’s clearly struggling to grow into the leadership role. After averaging 10.1 tackles per game as a freshman in 2014, Blanding is averaging 7.3 tackles per game in 2015.

Blanding has also failed to break up or intercept a pass through four games in 2015, after breaking up six passes and recording three interceptions in 2014.

The lack of pressure has been an issue up and down the board. The Cavs have yet to force a turnover in 2015, after forcing 29 opponent turnovers in 2014.

“Obviously you want turnovers,” London said. “As I mentioned before, we probably scored on defense a couple times last year at this point. The ball has been around us – we haven’t gotten it. We have to keep reiterating the fact that being in the plus category of turnovers dramatically helps your chance of winning football games, and we must continue to keep working on those things.”

A point of emphasis during the bye week has been to simplify things on the defensive side.

“We actually have to tackle better. That’s one of the things of defensive football. You look and you look across the board here at teams that tackle better, that fill the gaps and that you have in the gaps and things like that. Those things are critically important,” London said.

Breaking things down for this young group could be key to improving on what was a dreadful first four weeks for the Virginia defense.

“The team in terms of what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with, the roles have changed for us. Defensively, we have to continue to make sure that we make it simple enough that our players understand. There are a lot of things for us to continue to be positive about and grow on and improve in, and obviously communication on the back end, but particularly in the secondary is important. But also taking guys that are healthy now and have a chance to help us – having them play is important,” London said.

– Story by Chris Graham

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