Home UVA Football Preview: Does the seat finally get too hot for Mike London?

UVA Football Preview: Does the seat finally get too hot for Mike London?


mike-london-ndUVA athletics director Craig Littlepage said after the ‘Hoos went 2-10 in 2013 that he needed to see improvement from the football program in 2014. Well, there was improvement. Virginia started 4-2, and even in losing five of six to finish out the season, it wasn’t like the Cavs weren’t in games.

UVA played defending national champ Florida State into the fourth quarter in Tallahassee, had defending Coastal Division champion Duke on the ropes on the road, should have closed out North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

And yet, when the smoke cleared, the final record was on the wrong side of .500 yet again. The 5-7 finish marked the sixth losing season in seven years for the UVA football program, and seventh in nine years.

It’s hard to believe this now, but this recent run of mediocrity came after a stretch that saw Virginia post 18 winning seasons in 19 years, most of that success coming under legendary coach George Welsh, with a short run of success under his successor, Al Groh, largely employing recruits from the Welsh regime.

It’s long since past the faint of the whistle from the Welsh era. Groh was let go in 2009 after a 3-9 campaign that was the third losing season in his last four years, and his successor, Mike London, is entering his sixth season at the helm, with just one winning season, an 8-5 mark way back in 2011, to show for his tenure.

Littlepage has signaled yet again that he needs to see improvement from the program in 2015 as London prepares to begin Season #3 on the proverbial hot seat. It’s hard to imagine London finishing out the final year of his contract in 2016 without getting the Cavs into a bowl game, the bad news there being that it’s even harder to imagine London getting the Cavs into a bowl game, given that brutal schedule that he will have to navigate through.

The opener is at UCLA. Then fly back across the country for a home game with Notre Dame. After what could be a trap game with FCS William and Mary, you get Boise State at home, then it’s into ACC play, which includes games at North Carolina, at Miami, at Louisville, Georgia Tech, Duke and Virginia Tech at home.

It’s the kind of schedule that could have the team play good football from Week 1 to Week 12 and still be lucky to win four games.

The ‘Hoos will open 2015 with yet another new starting quarterback, Matt Johns, who supplanted the 2014 opening-day starter, Greyson Lambert, in the spring. Lambert transferred out (landing at Georgia), meaning the offense is John’s to run, good or ill.

Seeing action in all 12 UVA games in 2014, including three starts, Johns completed 54.9 percent of his passes (89-of-162) for 1,109 yards (6.85 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, outplaying Lambert, who completed 59.0 percent of his passes (154-of-261) for 1,632 yards (6.25 yards per attempt) with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The backup, ostensibly, is Arizona transfer Connor Brewer, who will be eligible immediately after committing to Virginia following the announcement from Lambert that he was leaving for Georgia.

The running attack, which ranked near the bottom of FBS (99th nationally) in 2014, loses two-year starting tailback Kevin Parks. Taquan Mizzell has the chance in his junior season to finally display the speed that earned him the nickname “Smoke” in high school, after two years of serving as a third-down back and slot receiver.

The backbone of the team in 2014 was on defense, but that’s the side of the ball heading into 2015 that suffered the most in terms of losses, with Max Valles and Eli Harold having left early for the NFL Draft, joining Henry Colley as departures from a stout front seven.

Preseason All-America safety Quin Blanding is back to anchor the secondary, with expected bigger contributions from fellow top Class of 2014 recruit Andrew Brown at defensive tackle and fifth-year senior cornerback Tre Nicholson helping make up a little for losses up front.

But the defense will be a work in progress early on, against that tough early schedule, with the offense needing to pick up the slack, and it’s been a long time since a UVA offense has done anything but create slack.

Odds are that 2015 will be London’s last in Charlottesville. Another losing season seems to be in the cards.

The only good news for Virginia fans this fall is that every Saturday that passes is another week closer to the start of basketball season.

– Story by Chris Graham



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