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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Cavaliers’ new attitude gets first challenge
CHARLOTTESVILLE—All offseason, the University of Virginia football team’s offensive players talked about a new, physical style of play.
They said first-year offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild has implemented a run-first strategy that will take pressure off sophomore starting quarterback David Watford and break down opposing defenses.
Those beliefs will be put to the test today when Brigham Young visits the Cavaliers in the season opener for both teams. Virginia will kick off its season at 3:30 p.m. at Scott Stadium against a defense that was ranked No. 3 in the nation last season and features senior All-America outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
“I feel like our mindset is totally different from last year,” Virginia junior running back Kevin Parks said earlier this week. “We want to be physical. We want to wear teams down on offense. So hopefully those things are going to work this season.”
The Cavaliers will find out right away against the Cougars’ 3–4 defense. BYU was No. 2 in the nation against the run last season (86.9 yards allowed per game). The Cougars surrendered just 14.0 points per contest en route to an 8–5 record and Poinsettia Bowl victory over San Diego State.
BYU has just four returning starters on defense, but Van Noy said the unit always expects to be dominant under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“Here at BYU, the defense is held to a high standard,” Van Noy said. “We know that going into every season. I don’t think it’s necessarily pressure. I think we like that and we want that. That’s kind of the attitude we take going against offenses—that we’re the best in the country and we’re out to prove it.”
It starts with Van Noy, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound Reno, Nev., native who recorded 13 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in 2012. He’s on the watch list for several postseason awards, and certainly has the attention of the Virginia coaching staff.
Cavaliers’ senior guard Luke Bowanko said coaches have asked true freshman linebacker Max Valles to emulate Van Noy in practice.
Virginia head coach Mike London said Van Noy is “one of the best players in the country” and the Cavaliers may have to run away from him to limit his ability to “wreck plays.”
“You have to know where he is at all times because I’m sure they’re going to feature him in a lot of things,” London said. “We just have to be aware of where he is. I don’t know if you can duplicate him through practice, but I think it’s more of an awareness.”
The Cavaliers’ defense will have to be aware, too. Today’s game marks the début of first-year Cavaliers defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and his complex blitzing schemes.
Virginia knows BYU features an up-tempo offense, but coordinator Robert Anae has evolved since his last tenure at BYU from 2005–10. He spent the past two years as offensive coordinator at Arizona under Rich Rodriguez, so the Cavaliers don’t know what to expect.
“I think you have to probably look at a little bit of both [the Arizona and previous BYU system],” London said. “Particularly where there’s been a coaching change there’s always the thought, ‘Are they going to do what they did where they came from, or are they going to hold true to the personnel and the style that they played last year?’ You wouldn’t be surprised to see a little mixture of both.”
Regardless of the style of play, the Cavaliers expect a heavy dose of sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill appeared in six games in 2012 as a freshman and started two before he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Utah State. The setback didn’t hinder his confidence.
“We’re getting ready to go play and beat a good football team,” Hill said.
Hill’s arsenal of weapons includes senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) who recorded 100 receptions for 1,248 yards in 2012.
Hill said he’s expecting the Cavaliers to bring pressure from all directions. He said he’s looking forward to facing an aggressive defense “especially with the guys that we have on the outside, our receivers.
“You put them one on one with anyone in the country and I trust those guys,” Hill said. “They are going to win. I put my money on them.”
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