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The intelligence report: UVA edition

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NCAA Football: Virginia at Clemson Greenville News-USA TODAY NETWORK

Let us begin to get a feel for the Virginia football Cavaliers, a team that thankfully is not coached by Tony Bennett. Here’s some intel on the Hoos from Paul Wiley of Streaking The Lawn.

Key Departures

  • QB Bryce Perkins
  • WR Hasise Dubois
  • WR/KR Joe Reed
  • LB Jordan Mack

Key Returnees:

  • OLB Charles Snowden
  • QB Brennan Armstrong
  • RB Wayne Taulapapa
  • WR Terrell Jana
  • The entire OL
  • OLB Noah Taylor

Key Additions

  • RB Shane Simpson
  • WR Ra’Shaun Henry
  • QB Keytaon Thompson
  • DB D’Angelo Amos
  • TE Tony Poljan
  • DL Adeeb Atariwa

Give us a brief overview of the 2020 UVA football team.

Coming off a Coastal Division title and an Orange Bowl appearance, the 2020 Hoos may be in a position for a step-back year, or at least one that is slower than the meteoric rise in the program’s performance under coach Bronco Mendenhall. The schedule does Virginia no favors, with games against juggernaut Clemson, traditional powers Miami and FSU, and rival Virginia Tech all coming on the road.

The best case scenario for Virginia is an offense with young but unproven talent gelling and stepping in to fill the shoes of last year’s major producers—behind an offensive line that finally has both numbers and experience—while a deep and veteran defense wreaks havoc behind the opponent’s line of scrimmage. Worst case would be the offensive line not taking a step forward and the inexperienced playmakers being not ready for primetime, making the Hoos overly reliant on big plays from the defense to compensate for an offense that can’t create—or capitalize on—its own chances.

Who are the key players to know on UVA’s offense?

Brennan Armstrong assumes the reins of the Cavalier offense after the departure of do-everything dual-threat Bryce Perkins. Mobile in his own right and strong-armed, Armstrong held off transfer Keytaon Thompson (Mississippi State) to win the starting job. Thompson’s presence behind Armstrong should loosen the playcalling of Robert Anae, who has been hesitant to expose his starting quarterback to too much punishment without a capable replacement waiting in the wings.

UVA’s offensive line returns almost everyone from a unit that saw massive improvement in 2019. Center Olu Oluwatimi is about the only one who is cemented at a single position, with versatility being the calling card of the rest of the unit. Look for Penn State transfer Alex Gellerstedt to return from a preseason injury that kept him off the field for all of last year.

Who are the key players to know on defense and special teams?

The Virginia defense starts with its linebackers, and especially Charles Snowden. With a 6-foot-7 frame, Snowden’s length and athleticism have made him one of the top pass-rush threats in the conference and garnered him plenty of NFL attention. On the other side is Noah Taylor, built from the same model as Snowden. If those two get clicking, it will be a long day for an edge blocker—and for a quarterback.

Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson helm the back end of the defense, with JMU transfer D’Angelo Amos also impressing in camp.

Brian Delaney has been UVA’s most consistent kicker in years and gives Virginia a chance to put points on the board even from long range.

What is UVA’s biggest strength?

Defense, defense, defense. Snowden and Taylor create fear, but Zane Zandier creates production, finishing 9th in the ACC in tackles per game in 2019. Thanks to injuries in previous seasons, the defensive backs all have meaningful playing experience and can play multiple positions—a huge gift for the inventive minds of Mendenhall and defensive coordinator Nick Howell.

What is UVA’s biggest weakness?

Offensive playmakers. Perkins was UVA’s most consistent rusher in 2019, and the expected running back replacements have been waylaid for one reason or another: Mike Hollins opted out, PK Kier transferred, and Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker has to sit out after his waiver was denied by the NCAA. Perkins’ favorite targets—Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed—are gone, leaving only Terrell Jana as a proven receiver. FCS transfers will have to shoulder the load this year, from Towson transfer RB Shane Simpson to St. Francis transfer WR Ra’Shaun Henry.

Who is UVA’s MVP?

For proven production, and his role as the face and voice of the program, it’s Charles Snowden.