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‘Cavs Forge Ahead Behind Defense

By Jim Johnson
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After the win over Duke, Virginia is now 4-1, and with games at North Carolina, versus Boston College, and at Pittsburgh on the horizon, 7-1 is not only something that could happen, but frankly should happen.

After the win over Duke, Virginia is now 4-1, and with games at North Carolina, versus Boston College, and at Pittsburgh on the horizon, 7-1 is not only something that could happen, but frankly should happen.

For that, Bronco Mendenhall has his defense to thank.

Entering the contest, the Cavaliers had shown itself to be top-notch, across the board, on that side of the ball.

While solid in all facets of the defense, Virginia' bread had really been buttered against the run; something Duke would obviously test.

Prior to the contest, Virginia's run defense allowed success rate (50% of necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd, 100% on 3rd and 4th) of 35.1%, and IsoPPP (a measure of explosiveness that tracks equivalent points per 'successful' play) of .75, were both ranked 26th in the nation.

Stopping opposing runners at or behind the line of scrimmage 20.3% of the time (62nd), and giving up 3rd and 4th down conversions, on runs with two yards or fewer, on just 54.5% of tries (29th), were also above the national average.

It was a total team effort, too, as eight different players had compiled at least three run stuffs.

Eli Hanback established himself as the spearhead of the defensive line, with 2.5 tackles for loss, four stuffs, and an 11.1% allowed success rate. One on side of him, Andrew Brown had continued his steady production with three tackles for loss and an incredible 0% allowed success rate on six tackles, prior to the Duke game. Opposite Brown, Juwan Moye had pitched in with three stuffs of his own with a 14.3% allowed success rate.

Behind the big guys up front, though, the linebacking corps was what put Virginia's defense into elite company.

Going into this week, the group's 7.1% havoc rate (tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles per play) was seventh in the FBS.

Of course, Micah Kiser is the face of this unit. The senior welcomed Duke to Charlottesville with five tackles for loss and a 38.6% allowed success rate on his 30.5 tackles. Jordan Mack was making his presence felt, as well, with five run stuffs, and Chris Peace, Malcolm Cook, and Chris Moore had combined for six stuffs, between the three.

As expected, the heat seeking missile that is Quin Blanding, as well as fellow safety Juan Thornhill, has contributed in their own right, with five stuffs between them.

Incredibly, given their safeties' aggressiveness, the Cavs were not giving up many big plays through the air. Their 1.17 pass defense IsoPPP was in the top 20, nationally. There were some concerns about the pass defense efficiency, but given the overall success, that's something teams can live with.

Duke, with a reliable returning starter at quarterback in Daniel Jones, playmaking receivers like T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd, a dynamic pair of backs, Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown, behind a well above average run blocking offensive line, was set to present Mendenhall's defense with its greatest challenge, to date.

The Blue Devils entered the game with a 50.6% rushing success rate, which was in the top 20, a 33.7% passing success rate, and 42.2% overall offensive success rate, which was a few shades above the national average.

Against Virginia, David Cutcliffe's offense posted success rates of 31.3% on the ground, 23.8% through the air, and 27%, as a whole.

Led by Micah Kiser and Jordan Mack, as well Quin Blanding, who had a 58-yard pick six, Virginia absolutely stifled everything Duke wanted to do offensively.

Jones finished 14/42 with a couple of picks. Brittain Brown, and Shaun Wilson combined for 82 rushing yards. Lloyd and Rahming were targeted a total of 17 times and only caught three of them.


Virginia has one of the best defensive duos the sport has to offer, in Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser, and one of its most complete defenses, now, as well.

There is some work to be done on the other side of the ball, before UVA can expect to contend in the ACC Coastal, but, ahead of a brutal stretch to finish the season, the Cavaliers have three winnable games to get their affairs in order.

7-1 is more than a possibility, rather a borderline likelihood, and, who knows, with a defense that can keep them in just about any game, nothing is impossible.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP