Know Your Opponent: UCLA vs Virginia


 The Bruins play the Cavaliers at 1230pm Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl. The Game will be televised on Fox.Here comes your UCLA vs Virginia Preview!

The Bruins had to fight for every yard in a struggle last year against Virginia. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at this time, the UCLA football team was looking forward to the toughest road opener of the Jim Mora Era as they headed east for a 9 am kickoff against the Virginia Cavaliers. The Bruins walked into Scott Stadium at #7 in preseason polls and riding high with Brett Hundley at the helm. They left Scott Stadium victorious, but only after surviving a Cavalier comeback and needing 3 non-offensive touchdowns to win. That game set the tone for the early part of UCLA’s 2014 campaign, and after another shaky win against Memphis, UCLA dropped in the polls despite starting 2-0.

Fast forward to 2015, and the Bruins are set to face Virginia again, this time at the Rose Bowl. Hundley has moved on, but the Bruins are healthy and experienced at every other position (with the possible exception of nickle-back… ouch). The Cavaliers enter the game as a heavy underdog (-19.5 as of Wednesday), but UCLA will still have to contend with a familiar face that gave them trouble last September.

Virginia Trivia

Knowing your opponent means more than just the scheme they run. Here are some Virginia facts to help you get into the head-space of UCLA’s week 1 foe:

Armed with this knowledge, lets get into the game …

Virginia Football 2015

… the Bruin defense should be able to make a great opening statement in DC Tom Bradley’s first game…

Jul 21, 2015; Pinehurst, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Mike London speaks with the media during the ACC football kickoff at Pinehurst Resort. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Mike London is reportedly on the hot seat after posting a 23-38 record in his first five years at Virginia. As mentioned above, the Cavaliers have an extremely tough schedule to contend with. Many preseason outlets (including Athlon, ESPN and Phil Steele) are predicting a last place finish in the ACC Coastal for Virginia. Here are some season opening stats for the Wahoos:

  • Mike London is 4-1 in season openers (but the only quality opponent was the loss to UCLA last year)…
  • … and 1-4 in road openers (although the Cavaliers played USC extremely tough in a 14-17 loss in 2010).
  • Virginia has also dropped 10 straight road games (their last road win was at NC State in 2012).

The Virginia Offense – A New Hope

Last year against UCLA, Mike London inserted Matt Johns into the game for a struggling Greyson Lambert, and Johns came in to throw for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns in an almost comeback. Over the rest of the season, Virginia played both quarterbacks to varying degrees of success. In the spring, London upset some fans when he named Johns the starter relatively early and in effect chased off an experienced backup quarterback (Lambert transferred and unexpectedly won a SEC starting job in Georgia). However, Virginia fans hope that Johns can provide consistent quarterback play for the first time in over a decade.

The Cavalier offense has been dink and/or dunk in recent history. Big plays have been hard to come by, as Virginia ranked #114 in the country last year in 30+ yard play and had only 2 plays 50+ yards during the entire 2014 season. With Johns at the helm, the Cavaliers are hoping that bigger plays will be made in 2015.

The Cavs will need big plays from “Smoke” Mizzell this season. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports


The biggest problem for Johns may be finding play-makers to distribute the ball to. The Wahoos were counting on incoming transfer and former All-ACC Special Teams returner TJ Thorpe to catch passes, return kicks and provide explosiveness to the offense, but Thorpe broke his clavicle last month and is out indefinitely. Also, after losing their top two producing running backs from 2014, the Cavaliers are counting on formerly highly ranked recruit Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell to provide a spark in the running game as well as make plays on punt and kick returns. Canaan Severin returns as the teams most experienced wide receiver (Career: 48 receptions, 624 yards , 5 TD’s).

The Virginia offensive line is an experienced mix of juniors and seniors except for the unexpected emergence of redshirt-freshman Jake Fieler at right tackle. Watch his matchup against the Bruin defensive line and edge rushers carefully if he starts the game.

Advantage: Defense

With the dearth of explosiveness and experience for the Cavaliers, the Bruin defense should be able to make a great opening statement in new Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley’s first game. Its doubtful they will match last years 3 touchdown effort, but they will probably have a better second showing against Johns.

The Virginia Defense – Who Are These Guys?

…linebackers Kiser, Bradshaw & Hall have played five combined years, and together have a total of 44 tackles;last year Max Valles had 55 tackles and 9 sacks on his own…

With center

Jake Brendel

lost to injury in last years opener (which dominoed into freshman

Najee Toran

starting the game at guard), Virginia’s aggressive defense had its way with UCLA for much of the game. Unfortunately for the 2015 Cavaliers, much of that production has left the program. UVa has lost high producing starters from all three levels of the defense, and although they have talented replacements waiting to go, Wahoo Defensive Coordinator

Jon Tenuta

has a lot of unproven commodities to deploy on Saturday.


Quin Blanding will be looking to take down Josh Rosen this Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary loses All-American Anthony Harris, but the group is still experienced with 76 combined starts. Freshman All-American safety Quin Blanding may be the best player on the Virginia team and looks to improve even more coming into his 2nd year.


The linebacking corp is where the Wahoos will have to prove it. With former starters Max Valles, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero all moving on, Virginia will be starting a very inexperienced group. Micah Kiser (sophomore), Zach Bradshaw (junior) and Mark Hall (junior) have been in the program for five combined years, and together have made a total of 44 tackles over that span (Valles had 55 tackles and 9 sacks on his own in 2014). That doesn’t mean that these guys will play poorly, but (like UCLA’s Josh Rosen) it will likely take some time for the middle of the Cavalier defense to round into shape.

Advantage: Forward

With all the turnover on Virginia’s defense, there would seem to be a good opportunity to take advantage with some aggressively called offense. However, since the Bruins will be breaking in their own newbie at quarterback, UCLA will most likely deploy a fairly conservative game plan (which is probably the way it should be). This may be a game for Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone to push straight ahead with Paul Perkins and company until Virginia’s front seven proves they want to stop the run. After that the Bruins can throw sideline passes and bubble screens to their hearts content.

Set the Tone

The Bruins enter the game as almost a 20 point favorite, but I’d bet the final score will be a little closer than that. The Virginia players from last years team won’t be intimidated by the disparity in the poll rankings, and a true freshman quarterback, even one as talented as Rosen, will undoubtedly make his share of blunders in his first outing.

This man should have the ball in his hands the majority of times this Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

… there will be plenty of chances to score style points next weekend in Las Vegas…

The Bruins should be able to grind out a relatively low scoring victory easily enough with strong defense and a dedicated run game, so the main objective for this game should be to give Rosen some opportunities to get comfortable moving, throwing and distributing at this level without putting too much pressure on him to carry the offense. The Bruins don’t need to be splashy this Saturday; they only need to prove they can be solid and steady against a Power 5 opponent. There will be plenty of chances to score style points next weekend in Las Vegas.

Go Bruins

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