Friday, January 11, 2013

too late review, too early preview, part 1: offense 2012-2013

Alright, I have had this post planned for this particular day for like two weeks, and I will be damned if I'm going to let the sorry events of the past 24 or so hours change that.  By which I mean Wake Forest and Jeff Banks.  I can sum these events up with something you already know: this is Virginia, and we can't have nice things at Virginia.

I will, however, elaborate just a touch on Banks, who is leaving after less than two weeks to take a similar job, only with more money, at Texas A&M.  Man, we must have really hit a home run with that hire for him to be that much in demand.  Banks is probably getting something like twice the salary he was going to get in Charlottesville; it would be only natural to assume the extra money A&M is making in the SEC is the reason they were able to pull Banks away, and that our place in the ACC makes us financially uncompetitive.

Not so.  The SEC is the hotter place to be for an assistant coach, yes.  Even if we had matched A&M's offer dollar for dollar, the SEC would still be the better place for a coach's career, and besides that, Banks is buddy-buddy with Kevin Sumlin.  His UVA Twitter account follows Sumlin's, Sumlin's old Houston account, and a Sumlin parody which actually owns the name @KevinSumlin.  Besides, UVA's athletic department has revenues of over 80 million dollars; it's not a question of whether they can shuffle around some money to find an extra couple hundred grand, it's a question of how much they want to.

So now it's back to square one to find a special teams coach, and if London just hands those reins back to Poindexter I'll kill him myself.  Probably they'll go hire one of their other finalists, but at any rate now there's now more work to do.  One train of thought would say that Banks did a damn sleazy thing to "the people here" in Charlottesville that he claimed to have fallen in love with.  Show up, do a couple days' work, parlay that into a new gig, take the hell off and leave the people who gave you a great opportunity in the lurch.  Another train of thought is that it's hard to pass up a chance to coach a better team in a better conference for twice the money and work for a pretty old friend.  Coaching, after all, is that kind of a profession.  Both are correct.  But really, the least Banks could do is return whatever paycheck UVA may have given him or "owes" him for the "work" he did.

As for the Wake Forest thing, all I can say is the selection committee is probably going to spend more time on UVA than all the rest of the teams under consideration combined, if this keeps up.

Right, now for the part I had intended for this all along.  One last look at the 2012 football season and the first one at 2013.  There's no such thing as an offseason.


This year....

For this post last year I wrote of 2012: "There's no reason to think there will be any kind of competition in camp this year."  At the time, of course, there was also no reason to think Phillip Sims would transfer to Charlottesville.  He did, and just when it looked like we might finally have a drama-free season under center, instead the drama kicked into overdrive.

Sims and Mike Rocco were the only two players to take a quarterback snap, as David Watford and the rest of the gang redshirted.  Neither played well.  Sometimes they did, but more often they played worse, and you could never tell which you were going to get out of either.  And yes, that's the scientific version.

After letting Rocco start the season and quarterback his way into a few losses, Mike London had Sims take over, and Sims's play went straight downhill until London decided on a full-on platoon.  Sims's arm strength and beautiful spirals looked great except for when they landed harmlessly 20 yards from anyone who could catch them.  Rocco's leadership and superior knowledge of the playbook were an asset until he led the ball straight into the hands of a defensive back.  Ultimately the season was living proof that when you have two quarterbacks, you really have none; the only plausible justification for the platoon was that whatever skill one had, the other did not.

Next year....

It's totally possible we'll see more of the same.  One really, really hopes that London will learn his lesson about QB platoons, or else let Bill Lazor and Tom O'Brien convince him to pick one guy and stick with him.  At any rate, spring and fall camp will be interesting; with Watford, Matt Johns, and Greyson Lambert all having used up their redshirt (not to mention Sims) it will be a full-blown, no-holds-barred competition in the camps.  Again.  Brendan Marshall and Corwin Cutler will not be factors in 2013, so it's a four-way race.  The favorites will be Sims and Lambert.  Both are strong-armed pocket passers, which is a good thing if you're like me and in the pick-one-dammit camp; the differences between the two will be easier to spot because they won't be obscured by different styles.  I'm not stupid enough to try and actually predict in January who'll take the snaps in September, though.


This year....

The biggest story was either Perry Jones's regression or the lack of use (yet no redshirt) for Clifton Richardson.  Jones actually was UVA's top receiver, but somehow morphed from the one-cut back he was in his junior year to an indecisive nibbler, and ran for barely half his 2011 rushing total.  Baffling.  Richardson, meanwhile, got basically garbage-time carries and ran for fewer yards than both Rocco and Khalek Shepherd.  If he was going to be so little-used there was really no reason for him to play at all.  Also baffling.

Kevin Parks, meanwhile, emerged as UVA's top back, albeit with not many more rushing yards than he had in 2011.  But he did show up as a much bigger threat in the passing game, and was an effective goal-line option when the line deigned to block for him.  Parks, in short, has demonstrated the capability to be a workhorse; UVA probably will not ever use him like one, but he could carry the load if he had to.

Zach Swanson stepped in as the starting "fullback" but never carried the ball; he did get eight receptions but was rather a disappointment in the blocking game.  Since Billy Skrobacz pretty much never got in the game after making a few waves in fall camp, UVA basically didn't have a fullback, since Swanson was more of an H-back anyway.

Next year....

There will be a new coach at the position and an embarrassment of riches on the field.  Jones will be gone, which will deprive us of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield but also remove the temptation for the coaching staff to try and use a near-midget as a short-yardage sledgehammer.  Parks will return, of course.  Richardson will return, hopefully with too much talent to be wasted like he was this year.  (He likely will need to work on his pass-blocking, though, or risk ending up like Torrey Mack, who was unplayable due to the fact that his presence on the field screamed run play.)  Khalek Shepherd flashed some talent at times, and Kye Morgan comes off a redshirt year.

There will be an odd man out somewhere, though; UVA's freshman class will include a super-elite talent in the form of Taquan Mizzell, who ain't redshirting.  Mizzell is an excellent pass-catcher to the point that he was asked to play slot receiver in the Army All-American game, and should more than make up for the loss of Jones in the receiving game.  And he might just have the best pure running skills in a UVA uniform since Thomas Jones.  If the offensive line improves and actually opens some holes, this is a group of running backs that will make life miserable for opposing defenses.  They'll go as far as the line will let them.


This year....

He was only fifth on the team in receptions and sixth in yardage, but clearly, the biggest revelation in the receiving corps was tight end Jake McGee.  He announced his presence in style against Penn State with a one-handed catch of a Rocco desperation heave - while being interfered with - on a drive that culminated in the game-winning touchdown.  McGee made a few other early-season spectacular catches as well and proved to be one of the most difficult covers on the team.

There were a few disappointments in this group.  Dominique Terrell wasn't very consistent and dropped too many passes, and he wasn't the only one guilty of the latter sin.  Tim Smith had another injury-hampered season, and McGee was the only true pass-catching threat among the tight ends.  But the good ultimately outweighed the bad.  When on, Terrell was a very valuable slot receiver.  When healthy, Smith was the dangerous medium-to-deep threat he was advertised to be.  Darius Jennings emerged as a sophomore to be UVA's best and most versatile receiving threat, and E.J. Scott did a very nice job too as a guy who could keep defenses honest.  There were problems here, but on balance the receivers were a clear asset.

Next year....

If those problems diminish with experience, things could go really well for these units.  The only losses to graduation will be tight ends Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman, who were respectable blockers but didn't make a dent in the passing game.  There are so many receivers that it would be hard to see this group not losing one or two more to regular attrition and transfers, but it's a very deep group and can take the hit.

I would expect Jennings to continue to develop into a potential all-ACC player.  Scott, Smith, and Terrell will keep doing their thing, though Terrell is the most likely of those three to be marginalized if he doesn't fix the drops issue.  McGee, if he can put on weight and still be a big athletic receiving target, has a chance to develop from a curiosity to a real terror.  You'd like to see room for contributions from guys like Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin, maybe Miles Gooch, but they'll probably be stuck on the fringes for another year unless something happens to one of the upper-echelon guys.  Part of it will depend on who wins the quarterback derby; the winner may favor certain receivers over others, it's just the nature of quarterbacks.


This year....

Uck.  The supposed strength of the line (the tackles) was a liability at times, and the supposed liability (the interior) was still a liability.  Let's start on the inside.  Cody Wallace was the chosen replacement for Anthony Mihota at center, but was replaced by Luke Bowanko in fall camp and bumped to guard.  Then he was bumped to the bench by Conner Davis, who was better but not by a lot.  Bowanko struggled with the transition, his shotgun snaps were noticably slow and floaty which threw off the timing of a lot of plays (though that improved as the season went on), and he had a tough time getting the snap off and immediately executing a blocking assignment.  A lot of the pressure on the quarterbacks came straight up the middle.  Sean Cascarano was OK at guard, but Matt Mihalik's snaps, when he came off the bench, were generally a waste of time.

Oday Aboushi was getting first-round talk as an NFL draft prospect, but murdered his draft stock this season and probably will not go earlier than the middle of the second round, or maybe the third.  He was still good - he did earn a place on the all-ACC first team, after all - but not as good as the preseason hype.  He racked up too many holding penalties.  On the other side, Morgan Moses was abused all season by speed rushers taking advantage of his poor side-to-side footwork.  He simply could not shuffle to his right quickly enough.  The basic sum of it was that Aboushi was a very solid pass blocker and usually took his holding penalties in the run game, where Moses was still a devastating run blocker who got killed in pass protection.

Next year....

With any luck, adding TOB to the staff will be a boon for the offensive line.  Aboushi will have to be replaced, and as much as I might have been down on him, he'll leave some big shoes to fill.  Kelby Johnson probably gets the first crack at his left tackle job, but Jay Whitmire will push him.  Moses will stick at right tackle.

The only graduation losses, though, are Aboushi and Mihalik, so there will be some good continuity.  I suspect the center position will be up for some competition between Bowanko and Ross Burbank, the latter of whom has been groomed for the position for about a year and a half now.  Cascarano and Davis are excellent candidates for improvement.  The guards will be more critical than the tackles; there's less depth and therefore less margin for error.  Two tackles - Michael Mooney and Sean Karl - are coming off redshirt seasons, but only one guard is (that'd be Ryan Doull.)  Something tells me those positions aren't set in stone; London and Scott Wachenheim have shown a penchant for flexibility on the line and some of the depth might be moved around where it's needed.  Burbank, for example, might get some work at guard if Bowanko hangs on to the center job.

Ultimately, this group will be the limiting reagent in the offensive chemistry equation.  Plenty of talent exists at the skill positions, and we'll assume against all hope that not only will London settle on a quarterback, that quarterback will actually play pretty well.  But Phillip Sims was awful under pressure and everyone else but Watford is a totally unknown quantity, so the line must improve its protection.  And the offense's red-zone struggles were in direct proportion to the line's inability to block in short-yardage situations.  You can't score in the red zone if you can't run the ball in the red zone, and we couldn't.  Fix the line and we fix the offense.


Next week: the defense, assuming Jon Tenuta doesn't get offered a zillion bucks to go coach at Auburn or something.


Deane said...

After watching the Wake game it seems silly to entertain the thought that UVA is a tournament team. As much as I want them to be, they're not one of the top 30 teams in the nation. They looked like the 5 stooges against Wake. If they do that against Duke they'll lose by at least 30 points. I'd like to think it was an aberration, but on the heals of the ODU loss, maybe it wasn't. It's not really a surprise with the majority of the team being freshmen and sophomores. And then when the upperclassmen play like freshmen there's no hope. It will be very interesting to see how they rebound against Clemson.

Brendan said...

Let's face it, we've already gone through a few yes/no flip-flops on whether this is a tournament team or not. Hey, they beat Wisconsin on the road and Tennessee! Tourney for sure. Whoops, lost to ODU. NIT it is. Look, they beat UNC! I smell 12-6 in the ACC. Oops, lost to Wake. Back to the NIT. And we'll probably have a couple more flip-flops before the season is over. Barring a surprise winning or losing streak, whether this team makes the tourney or not will depend just as much on the rest of the bubble as our own resume. Keep in mind that before the Wake loss, Lunardi had this team as a 10-seed with some cushion between them and the bubble, so all is not lost at all.

Anonymous said...

Matt Mihalik's snaps, when he came off the bench, were generally a waste of time? What are you talking about? Matt Mihalik was the starting center in the Pre-Season, and he was replaced after having ONE bad snap in a scrimmage. All of the other center candidates also had at least one bad snap. Mihalik was moved to guard and never played center during the regular center. Perhaps you need to go back and review the game films because you are obviously mistaking Mihalik for somebody else.

Brendan said...

"Snaps" means number of plays participated in. You think I went through the whole season not knowing who the center was?

Anonymous said...


I always enjoy your blogs, but I wanted to comment on something. Being from Cleveland Ohio, I have followed the Mihalik kids career since he first arrived at UVA. I know he was recruited by the brother of Jason Garret of the Cowboys, and he was the first player to commit to UVA amongst his incoming freshman class.

Having grown up and went to high school in Cleveland, I can tell you that Mihalik was highly recruited from the Cleveland area where he was selected as the Co-Offensive Player of the Year in his conference - which is not easy to do as an offensive lineman! My brother said he was also a pretty good baseball player.

My question is exactly what do you have against the Mihalik Kid? I have taped ALL of the UVA games from 2006 to present for my father who lives outside of Cincinnati, and over the past 5 seasons, I have alwsys felt the Mihalik kid was one of the most under utilized players on the entire offensive line. I mean no disrespect to you, but what do you mean when you say Mihalik's snaps were "a waste of time."? Based on what? Did you not watch the rest of our Offensive Line during the 2012 season? I can show you 100's of examples where the play of our STARTING offensive line was a complete waste of time. This includes countless plays involving players like Moses who just stood around and watched defensive killing our quarterbacks and running backs. So, to single out the Mihalik kid gives the appearance that you have something against him as a player, because I don't ever recall you calling out the other "star" offensive lineman for their many failings throughout the season!

Based on your responses from yesterday evening, I went back and watched the first two games of the 2012 season. When Mihalik plays on both extra points, field goals and during the games, he played as well, or better than some of the other starting interior offensive lineman. In fact, this morning I went back and found the first two games of Mihalik's redshirt freshman year, when Mihalik was the 2nd String back-up to our All Conference right tackle Barker under Al Groh. During the first two games of that season which I just fast forwarded through, Mihalik played absolutely great as the back-up to Barker. In fact, ESPN even highlighted the redshirt freshman Mihalik after he pancaked the All Ammerica Defense End from TSU on an extra point! I remember that play because it was shown on the news in Cleveland.

I just went back and learned that after Barker graduated from UVA, Mihalik became the starting right Tackle for UVA under Coach Al Groh on the depth chart. It looks like during the early pre-season after the arrival of Coach London, the Mihalik kid was immediately removed from the starting lineup prior to the first pre-season game down in Hampton Roads. To my knowledge, he has played a backup role ever since

As a former Cleveland resident, I am proud of the five years that Mihalik gave to UVA. Based on your commentary, I have a feeling that you may be confusing Mihalik with somebody else along the offensive line. For the record, Mihalik wore #71 while at UVA.

With Mihalik's size (I believe he's around 6'7" 310 lbs), I won't be surprised to see him playing professional football in the U.S. or Canada.

I heard a couple of weeks ago from a high school friend back in Cleveland that some NFL teams have contacted Mihalik's high school coach and made some inquiries about him. I am very curious to know if anybody knows if Mihalik is currently preparing for Pro Day, and if he is, which positions he will be playing for the NFL scouts?

I really think that Mihalik has the potential to be a very good football player if given a chance, and I hope to see the former Cleveland area player at the next level!

On a side note, I believe Coach London has made some nice coaching changes, and I am excited about the incoming recruits for next year. I just wish UVA recruited more from Cleveland!

Mike Davidson
Waynesboro, Virgnia

Anonymous said...


Too funny! My boyfriend has always felt the same way about #71! The guy is HUGE, and my boyfriend says he "has good feet" whatever that means. I guess he runs well. I remember fairly recently when Mike London praised #71 on a t.v. show for being very aggressive when they showed a replay of him being called for holding or unnecessary roughness on a play. London said he liked the way he played.

But, to say that #71's snaps were a "waste of time" is an insult to him as a player, and it doesn't reflect the opinions of many people like me who have watched him play over the past 4+ years.

Just the opinion of a rabid UVA fan!!!!!

Julia Simons

Brendan said...

You guys are welcome to your opinions on Mihalik and everyone else. I have nothing "against" him, just as I have nothing against any UVA player who sticks around for four or five years and doesn't make an ass of himself. (By which I mean people like Jared Green or J'Courtney Williams.)

There is not the slightest chance in the world, however, that I have confused anyone with anyone. I know who the players are and what their numbers are. That is not remotely a consideration. It's a little insulting, actually.

I've been hard on Moses and Aboushi all season. I had criticisms for them in this very post. If you like I can give you the link to other posts wherein I've been critical specifically of Moses, Aboushi, Cascarano, Bowanko, as well as the offensive line as a unit without the need to name names.

That having been said, Mihalik was just not that good. There's a reason a fifth-year senior was backing up third-year players. Cascarano and Davis were OK at their best, and knocked backwards at their worst, and Mihalik was no improvement. I'll be thrilled if he catches on in Canada or something, just as I'm happy to see any former UVA player playing somewhere. You guys are welcome to your opinions (and don't get me wrong: I really do appreciate the long and passionate responses) but that's mine.

Adam said...

Did we just stumble into a Mihalik family reunion? Or maybe a Facebook fan club? I'm thinking someone googled "Matt Mihalik" and wasn't crazy about what they found.

Anonymous said...

LOL to Adam! I don't know Matt very well as we were classmates in a Psych class for one semester. I heard he is a hard worker, he was never in trouble, and always did everything the coaches asked him to do. They guy gave 4 or 5 years to UVA, and he is kind of guy I would love to see make it in the NFL or some other football league because he seems like a very down to earth person. Cindy said he is also a great drummer!


Anonymous said...

I'd have to support Brendan on this one. He said the snaps Mihalik got were a waste time. He didn't say he was a bad football player. I agree it was a waste because he was a 5th year senior and we needed to gain experience with the younger guys. It wasn't like we were competing for the NCAA championship, or the ACC championship for that matter. Mihalik is a good player and I wish him well. But, Brendan did not say he was a bad football player.