Tag Archives: Henry Coley

He’s Back! Get Ready for Mike London in 2015…

Strap yourselves in Virginia fans, Mike London is going to be running the Cavalier program in 2015. Some fans will give a reserved cheer, others will throw their hands up in disgust and exclaim they will never enter Scott Stadium again until a coaching change is made. By the way, this is a decades-old threat from Virginia fans who frequently lay down the gauntlet, but rarely follow through. The rant goes something like this: “If (fill in the blank – Sonny Randall, Dick Bestwick, Al Groh, Mike London) is coaching this team next year, I’m not going to another game until he’s gone, maybe ever again!” Okay! See you next year! Don’t forget to send in your VAF donation early so you get the most points for your parking spot.

Mike London is coming back and here is why:

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

While improving over the 2013 edition of Virginia football is an horrifically low bar to clear, the 2014 team is not a bad team by any measure. They are not a good team yet, but they are a much better team than 2013 and I would argue much better than 2012 as well.

For starters, the defense is good to very good. First team All-ACC running backs James Conner and Duke Johnson average 146 and 130 yards rushing per game. Against Virginia, they had 83 and 88 yards respectively. The Virginia defense is ranked 26th nationally in total defense. It has sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times (18th nationally) and generated 26 turnovers (12th nationally). Virginia played the toughest schedule in the ACC and the defense kept the Cavaliers in every game, Georgia Tech excepted. Led by the All-ACC play of senior linebacker Henry Coley, Virginia is a defense that teams don’t want to play. Jon Tenuta has shown himself to be a top-shelf coordinator and has put a very solid unit on the field.

There is no question that offense has been more of a struggle for Virginia this season and frankly is the reason why Virginia football is 5-6 after 11 games and hence, why many Virginia fans are clamoring for a coaching change. However, despite the problems on offense, there have been several bright spots as well. The Virginia offensive line was predicted by all prognosticators to be the weak link in the Virginia program. A makeshift group with no clear leaders, many predicted that Virginia’s young quarterbacks would spend the 2014 season running for their lives. In a delicious twist of irony, the Virginia offensive line has been the brightest of bright spots for the Virginia program. The Virginia OL has given up a scant 12 sacks through 11 games, and delivered multiple games yielding zero sacks including this past week’s win against Miami. The Virginia running game has improved throughout the year. In the second half of Saturday’s win, the Virginia offensive line imposed its will on Miami, running on all but 5 plays, moving the ball consistently. The Virginia wide receiving corps has been more than capable in 2014 and shows great promise moving forward. The Virginia quarterbacks have delivered 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. While this is not the ratio Virginia fans hoped for in 2014, it is a marked improvement over 2013. There are clearly areas for improvement on offense. Tight end play has been deficient and interceptions have been too frequent and unusually ill-timed. Play calling has been questionable, with the screen pass being the most predictable, over-used, and under-performing play in the Virginia arsenal. Steve Fairchild bears much of the responsibility for the struggles on offense. The running-back-by-committee seems to take Kevin Parks out of his rhythm and the lack of commitment to the vertical passing game has made the Virginia offense predictable and therefore easier to defend.

Despite the noted shortcomings, this team is not far from turning the corner. A wholesale cleansing of the coaching staff would likely set Virginia back instead of keeping forward momentum. The reality is, Virginia is one badly botched screen pass against UNC from delivering enough on-field success to keep a restless and impatient fan base in check. Looking at the schedule before the season began, most fans would have been reasonably pleased with a 6-6 season. Given the early success of the program, the fan base got greedy, and now 5-7 or even 6-6 is reason to go through the cost and disruption of a coaching change. It’s not happening.

There is another big reason Mike London is coming back, field performance aside. The donor community and the administration don’t want him gone yet. Mike London brings a lot to the University of Virginia and its stakeholders. The Virginia program, from all indications to the public, is a solid group of admirable young men. Graduation rates are up and disciplinary problems are down. When Virginia administrators, donors, and fans read about the garbage going on at Florida State and UNC, everyone looks thankfully to Mike London as a leader who shares the ideals that are important to UVa community.

On balance, it was a bad week for the University. Given the publicity of the Rolling Stone article and the pressure that will bring for Virginia to take a leadership position in driving structural change to better protect its students, the last thing UVa needs right now is to fire its head football coach, which smacks of “business as usual” and focusing on the wrong things. All eyes are on Virginia right now, and the clear focus needs to be on addressing sexual assault problems, not mollifying impatient football fans. Mike London will be back in 2015. I have seen enough improvement in the program to be glad about it. If UVa is going to make headlines with changes in its leadership, it needs to be centered on addressing the problems on grounds that threaten the well-being of its students, not quibbling over whether 6 wins is good enough to keep the coaching staff in place.





UVa – Halfway Point or Not?

The leaves are starting to turn in Charlottesville. Basketball practice has started and tailgate attire has changed from shorts to sweaters. It must be the midpoint of the Virginia football season, but don’t go saying that around Virginia middle linebacker Henry Coley. After 6 consecutive games, week 7 of the Virginia schedule provided a welcome week off, giving the staff extra time to prepare for a big road game at Duke and providing rest for players nursing injuries. An off week is also a good time to take a look back at the performance of the program to date. Sitting at 4-2 overall and 2-0 in ACC play, Virginia is one of the early surprises of 2014. Virginia captain Henry Coley was asked about his thoughts on the Virginia performance at the halfway point of the season. Coley replied that as far as he was concerned, Virginia hadn’t reached the halfway point of the season, implying in a not-so-subtle way that Virginia is planning to play for the ACC championship as well as a bowl game making next week’s matchup the midpoint of the season. As much as I love Coley’s play at linebacker, I love his attitude and leadership skills even more.
UVa Fans
Whether Virginia sits at the halfway point of the season or the 42.8% point of the season as Coley suggests, it’s a good time to take look at some of the surprises 6 games into 2014:
The Offensive Line: The most pleasant surprise of 2014 thus far has been the strong play of the offensive line. While the quarterback position generated the lion’s share of preseason angst among the Virginia faithful, the offensive line was simply written off by most as the weak link the Cavalier’s football chain. Six games into the season the offensive line has won over most of their doubters and run over most of their opposing defenders. The Cavaliers-in-the-trenches are giving up less than 1 sack per game and have steadily improved their run blocking throughout the season including consecutive 225+ yard games in wins over Kent State and Pitt. Virginia has used a 9-man rotation on the line ensuring fresh legs throughout games and building critical playable depth as the ‘Hoos head into the teeth of their ACC schedule. Ross Burbank has made great strides anchoring the center of the Cavalier line earning ACC offensive lineman of the week honors after the victory over Pitt. As they should be, critics are scarce as Virginia is averaging 177 yards rushing and giving their young quarterbacks time to throw.
Good Turns Great: I knew Max Valles was good. I had no idea he was this good. Valles has been a wrecking machine in the first six games of the season using his uncommon combination of size and quickness to terrorize opposing offenses. Valles has 25 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 pass breakups, and 1 very impressive pick-6. Defensive bookends Eli Harold and Max Valles create pass protection nightmares for opposing coordinators and share much of the responsibility for Virginia’s league-leading 22 forced turnovers. True freshman Quin Blanding certainly deserves similar accolades. I assumed a 5-star, top ten national recruit would be good, but I never thought he would be this good this early in his career. I don’t make this prediction lightly, but if Blanding continues to improve he will be the best safety in Virginia football history. Watch out Anthony Poindexter.
Quarterback Play: The biggest surprise of 2014 has not been the quality of the quarterback play 6 games into the season, it has been the effectiveness of the unexpected rotation between Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns. Neither Lambert nor Johns are on All-ACC trajectories, however they have provided exactly what Virginia fans hoped to see from their QB – solid play that moves the offense and makes opponents respect the passing game. What Virginia fans did not expect was solid quarterback play delivered by splitting time between both Lambert and Johns. While Virginia needs to settle in on a clear starter in Lambert the rest of the way, it is very comforting for Wahoo fans knowing that Virginia can bring in Johns from the bullpen without a drop in quarterback production. Two years ago Virginia’s quarterback rotation was a disaster. This season, planned or not, it has been a godsend.
Wide Receiver Play: Similar to the “Max Valles surprise”, I expected the Virginia wide receiver corps to improve from 2013, but I did not expect Canaan Severin and Miles Gooch to be this good. Gooch and Severin have been dominating at times using their strength and size to make tough catches in traffic at critical times in the game. Big and athletic with more than adequate speed, Severin and Gooch make tough yards after the catch and have been equally effective in their blocking assignments. These guys are good, very good. On the downside of the Virginia receiving game, I have been surprised and disappointed at how little the tight ends have factored into the offense. Long gone are the days of Heath Miller and Tom Santi who were centerpieces of the Virginia offense. Virginia needs to make opposing defenses respect the threat of their tight ends heading into the second half of the season. The tight ends can help this cause immeasurably by doing a better job hanging on to balls thrown their way.
One thing that is not a surprise 6 games into the season is the play of Henry Coley. The reality is that Coley had a fantastic season last year, but when your team goes 2-10 no one outside of your fan base notices or cares. This season opponents need to pay close attention to Henry Coley who has 42 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. Virginia fans have not seen this level of linebacker play since the days of UVa greats Jamie Sharper and James Farrior. Coley is playing like an All-American and maybe more importantly, leading like a general. If there was a team MVP at the 42.8% mark of the season, it would be Henry Coley, without question.
According to the published schedule, Virginia has reached the halfway point of the season. If Henry Coley and the Cavalier defense keep playing like they have during their first 6 games and if the offense continues to improve, Coley may be right about the real midpoint of the Cavalier season.

Surprising Virginia is Flexing Defensive Muscle

The University of Virginia’s football program–and its coach–were declared dead-on-arrival before the first second ticked off the clock in the first game.  Given Virginia’s schedule, Coach Mike London faced an almost impossible task in saving his job.  The thinking was that UVA needed to win six games and go to a bowl or win five games and demonstrate meaningful progress to keep Athletic Director Craig Littlepage from having to fire a coach who has seemingly done everything right except win games.  Those parameters probably haven’t changed but I don’t think I am overstating things when I say that this team has so far shown the type of meaningful progress that could buy London another year if the six-win goal is not met. Virginia is flexing some muscles that no one thought it had.
Virginia has faced two-ranked opponents already this year and will face a third this weekend when it hits the road for the first time in 2014 to square off against BYU in Provo.  Last week’s upset win over Louisville was a must win game and the Cavs delivered.  Now the team sits at 2-1,  the same record it had last season season before suffering a reactor core meltdown and finishing 2-10.  If last week was a “must-win”, then this week is a “show me” game.  That’s what the fans are thinking and saying.
Virginia managed to pull in just 34,000 fans for last week’s game partly due to bad weather and an early start time but mainly because fans aren’t convinced. Yet. Here’s a sample of the collective thinking of UVA’s fan base so far this season.
Preseason: UVA will finish last in the Coastal Division. We need to fire Mike London and and start over. Again.
Week 1:  Well, that was interesting but UVA is still UVA.  We found a historic way to beat ourselves, giving up 3 defensive TDs for the first time in program history.  Our defense is pretty good but here we go with another QB rotation.
Week 2: So what? I don’t care how good they are, Richmond is still an FCS school.
Week 3: Alright, alright, alright.  That was pretty good. Maybe this team is better than expected. Let’s see how they handle a road game against a ranked opponent, though.
C’mon UVA, show us what you got.
So, what are we going to see this weekend?  Oddsmakers say that Virginia is a 16-point underdog presently.  Last weekend Virginia started as a 10-point home underdog against Louisville but by kickoff the line was down to 4.5.  I expect similar action this week. Sixteen points seems exceedingly generous.  Virginia knows what BYU looks like, having played them last year.  BYU, which looked impressive in dismantling Texas 41-7 a few weeks ago, looked a little less so in gunning down Houston 33-25 last weekend. Home field advantage counts for something and this is Virginia’s first 2014 road game, so there’s that.  However Virginia’s defense has played three impressive games in a row and last weekend, for the first time, QB Greyson Lambert looked comfortable leading the offense.   Virginia’s defense leads the nation in takeaways with 13 and it is obvious after three games that defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has the personnel to run the attacking defense that he is famous for.  Eli Harold and Mike Moore own the edge, David Dean and Mike Moore clog the middle, Henry Coley, Daquan Romero, and Max Valles clean up at linebacker and UVA’s secondary is one of the finest in the nation.
The Virginia locker room was very emotional after the Louisville win.  It was a huge win for a team that no one outside of the coaches and players believed in before the season started.  Team captain and vocal leader Henry “Bad Cop” Coley called a Sunday meeting after the Louisville win to make sure that the players stay grounded and focused on the bigger goal.  Virginia has put to bed some unfortunate statistics this season in scoring its first win over an FBS opponent in more than a year, winning a league game for the first time in more than 600 days, and beating a ranked team for the first time since November 2012, but Coley wanted to remind the team that these are things that winning programs do regularly and that such wins should not be cause for excessive celebration.  Not when so much more seems possible for this team. With every win the pressure ramps up for Virginia to do more.  Win more games and the stadium fills up.  Win more games and the coach they love keeps his job.  Win more games and the already-impressive recruiting of the past few years most likely gets even better. Win more games and prove everyone else wrong.
The Cavaliers can’t afford to take even one play off this season.  Too much is riding on the results. Virginia is at the crossroad this weekend.  The team has had the same 2-1 record for three years in a row now.  However, this year doesn’t feel anything like 2012 or 2013, when the early winning record did little to convince fans that the program was on the right path.  This year feels different.  This year is starting to feel like Duke’s 10-win 2013 season. I can’t predict ten wins given Virginia’s remaining schedule, but I can predict the type of meaningful progress that will prove to everyone but the most-ardent Mike London critics that he and his experienced staff know what they are doing.   If the team gets the win in Provo this weekend Virginia will have the look and feel of the nation’s 2014 surprise team.
“I feel like we are learning how to win again,” said Coley.

Cupcakes For Most in ACC Coastal

When you serve cupcakes for desert, you generally get a lot of fluff and sugar. When the 5 of the 7 teams in the ACC Coastal begin their seasons with FCS schools, there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises. The first week of the season in the ACC Coastal didn’t raise many questions, but it did begin the conversation towards answering a couple. What did we learn in week #1? We certainly learned that ACC Coastal teams can dominate the FCS.
The Pitt Panthers absolutely drilled a Delaware program that has been down the last couple of years. Pitt dominated on both sides of the ball and led 42-0 at halftime. Pitt or any other team in the ACC coastal should have a big day playing Delaware, but this was off the charts. Pitt held Delaware held under 100 total yards on offense and gained over 500 yards against the Blue Hens’ defense. Is this a function of a resurgent Pitt program or a subpar Delaware team that mailed it in when the roof caved in? 61-0 is a big win no matter who you play. We likely won’t know if Pitt is a force in the Coastal until they host Iowa in week 4.
Virginia Tech struggled early in a tune up for their trip to Columbus next week. Little is expected from William & Mary in the CAA this year, but they gave the Hokies a good fight for a half. The Hokies look like they found a quarterback in Michael Brewer who had a very solid, workman-like outing. Freshmen Shai McKenzie and Isaiah Ford looked flashy in their debuts, but I suspect the Buckeyes will be a better gauge of Brewer’s effectiveness and the freshmen will see a defense much bigger, faster, and stronger than the Tribe. If there was a surprise in this game it’s that the Virginia Tech lead was only 17-6 at halftime, but a highly touted VT defense delivered as expected keeping the Tribe out of the endzone in what may be the on-going story for the coming Hokie season.
Duke hammered a badly overmatched Elon team in what was one of the bigger mismatches on paper that yielded the expected results on the field.
The biggest surprise of the cupcake games was likely Georgia Tech vs. Wofford. The Jackets never ran away from what should have been a terribly overmatched Wofford team. In a bigger surprise the Jackets threw for 2 touchdowns. However, it’s not time to declare that Georgia Tech is going “West Coast.” Maybe GT just used the Wofford game to practice a diversified attack for 2014.
North Carolina probably played the toughest of the FCS games against a scrappy Liberty team. As is the case with many FBS vs. FCS games, Liberty was competitive for a half before succumbing to a more talented UNC team. Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood were exciting players before the Liberty game and they did nothing to quell the high expectations for 2014. A capable Liberty offense was surprisingly able to score 29 points against a UNC defense that will need to improve if the Tar Heels are going to live up to their pre-season expectations.
The Coastal teams that did not dine on cupcakes this past weekend were Virginia and Miami. Both teams may wish they played FCS teams to open their seasons with wins, but they didn’t and both stand at 0-1 after one week of play. While Miami played a solid but rebuilding Louisville team, Virginia opened with the #7 ranked ULCA Bruins.
Miami demonstrated that Al Golden still has a lot of work ahead to bring college football glory back to south Florida. Miami hasn’t played in the championship since they joined the ACC. If the Miami defense does not improve dramatically and quickly, 2014 won’t break the championship drought. Miami also showed that winning with a true freshman QB is a tall order. While clearly very talented, Brad Kaaya frequently looked overwhelmed and posted modest results as the ‘Canes fell hard to a better Louisville team.
Virginia UCLA
Virginia provided the most intriguing results of the weekend and may have begun the answer to the burning question of whether or not Mike London can win enough games to return in 2015. While Virginia fell to UCLA 28-20, the Cavaliers outplayed the Bruins for the better part of the game. Frankly, this was a game that Virginia played well enough to win and score a national upset. The Virginia defense led by ACC linebacker of the week Henry Coley held Brett Hundley in check as the potent Bruin offense scored but one touchdown all day. Virginia held UCLA to 7 for18 on 3rd down conversions and 0 for2 on fourth down. One game does not a dominant defense make, but the UCLA game began the conversation about how good the UVa defense can be. If Cavalier the defense continues to play this well, they can keep Virginia in every game on the schedule with the exception of  an away game with Florida State. The offense on the other hand surrendered 21 points and lost the game for the Cavaliers. As bad as that sounds, all was not lost for the UVa offense. The Cavaliers outgained the Bruins in both rushing and passing by small margins and an overhauled offensive line did not yield a sack to a fast and experienced UCLA defense. A flukey scoop and score and bad break on tipped pass were Virginia’s undoing in this game. Is Virginia going to challenge for the coastal crown in 2014? We don’t know. Until the Cavaliers learn to convert well played games into wins, smart money says they will not. However smart money might not bet on the Cavs to finish last either.