NCF Nation: Kevin Parks

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Virginia running back Taquan Mizzell became a rookie all over again this winter when, at one of his first indoor track meets, the freshman realized he didn’t know how to set up his own starting blocks. Baffled, he looked around for some help.

Mizzell, nicknamed “Smoke” for his raw speed, was still learning how to run.

[+] EnlargeTaquan Mizzell and Larry Lewis
Jim Daves UVa Media RelationsTaquan Mizzell (left) has been learning the finer points of playing running back this spring.
The past year has been a dramatic learning curve for Mizzell, who came to Virginia shouldering the lofty expectations that accompany every highly touted recruit. With the ability to catch the ball and return kicks in high school, Mizzell quickly drew comparisons to versatile Miami running back Duke Johnson -- a parallel Mizzell not only embraced but used as a goal.

One of Virginia’s fastest recruits, though, was forced to slow down. He had to learn the playbook. He had to adjust to life as a college student. He had to compete against veterans. And he had to overcome the first injury to ever sideline him.

Now, finally healthy again and more knowledgeable in the playbook, Mizzell is primed and eager to show why he was widely considered one of the nation's top running backs in the 2013 recruiting class. For Mizzell, his desire to be the best isn’t about bravado, recruiting rankings or hype. (His coaches gush about his genuine modesty.) Instead, the former four-star, ESPN 300 prospect is simply trying to reach his ceiling -- which is why it was all the more devastating when his rookie season was derailed by an ankle injury. It was a hurdle he had to clear both mentally and physically, but also one that has helped him mature into a more complete player.

And a faster one, too.

“I can’t even ... it’s so exciting,” he said, searching for the right words to describe his return. “Sometimes you might not want to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning for practice, but every morning I wake up, I’m so anxious to get on the field. As soon as I felt myself -- even after the season -- the moment I felt myself back 100 percent, I was ready to go. That’s why I started running track. I’m trying to get myself better right now. I don’t want to wait until August or September to get better. I want to get better right now. So I started running track, and now my opportunity to get back on the field, I’m going to take advantage of it and play to the best of my ability.”

This offseason, Mizzell, who never ran track in high school, has competed in the 60-meter dash during indoor track and the 100-meter dash in outdoor track. He’s also taking reps with the first and second teams at spring football practices and has been used in the return game. He’s in good company, as Virginia returns senior starter Kevin Parks and senior Khalek Shepherd, the Cavaliers’ two leading rushers from a year ago. Parks ran for 1,031 yards last year and started all 12 games, while Shepherd had 304 yards.

There doesn’t seem to be any concern within the program, though, about a shortage of snaps for Mizzell. Coach Mike London said the staff has made sure to evaluate Mizzell with the first-team offense in an effort to get him as many touches as possible.

“It’s about the maturation process,” London said. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger, his knowledge of the offense both in running the ball and pass protection and running routes, all of those things have really materialized. He’s back there catching punts now. He caught some kickoffs last year. There are some things we do in the backfield exclusively for him, but he’s also a running back. He’s learned the gamut from A-Z about how to be a complete player.”

He's bigger, he's stronger, his knowledge of the offense both in running the ball and pass protection and running routes all of those things have really materialized. ... He's learned the gamut from A-Z about how to be a complete player.

-- Virginia coach Mike London on Taquan Mizzell
Virginia fans are eager to see the total package.

On his first carry in the second game of last season against Oregon, Mizzell was taken down by two defenders and said he immediately felt the pain in his ankle when he tried to stand on it. He missed two games and never started a game but still finished with 695 all-purpose yards.

“I think he came in with a lot of high expectations,” running backs coach and special teams coordinator Larry Lewis said. “It probably didn’t go like he wanted to, but what he learned in that year has helped him to be the player he is right now, which right now I see what everybody’s expectations are. He’s healthy and knows what’s going on and has that experience from last year. It’s not like he’s a rookie player right now. It’s like he’s a veteran player stepping out on the field. You see a remarkable difference right now.”

Credit UVa track coach Bryan Fetzer with some of the change.

Through track, Mizzell has learned how to create power through his legs and properly accelerate, zeroing in on biomechanics and techniques that can make the difference of a fraction of a second -- or a first down.

“I tried to make it so he can relate it towards football,” said Fetzer, who has four other football players on his roster this spring. “I was a football-track athlete in college myself, so I understand the reason. He’s not coming out to be a track star. He’s coming out to improve his game for football and hopefully have some fun and get faster.

“We’ve talked about the process of it, that his first year he’s not going to see this incredible improvement. It’s going to take a little bit of time. It’s going to take him learning how to do things before he really sees the results.”

Just like it did in football.

ACC predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
Hard to believe that only two weeks remain in the regular season. Andrea is clinging to a one-game lead on Heather in the overall predictions standings at 71-20, after they each went 4-2 last week. Neither saw Maryland coming into Blacksburg, Va., and upsetting Virginia Tech. Bet we were not alone there.

On to the picks!

OLD DOMINION (8-3) at NORTH CAROLINA (5-5), noon, ESPN3. #ODUvsUNC. The Tar Heels are going for their fifth straight win and bowl eligibility against a team that is 0-2 against ACC competition already this year. Old Dominion has put up some points this season, but the Tar Heels' D has been vastly improved in this recent winning streak and will be able to shut the Monarchs down. With another punt return for score, Ryan Switzer would tie the ACC single-season record.

AA picks: North Carolina 40, Old Dominion 17

HD's pick: North Carolina 44, Old Dominion 24

DUKE (8-2, 4-2) at WAKE FOREST (4-6, 2-5), noon, ESPN2. #DUKEvsWF. Before winning last season, Duke had lost 12 straight games to the Deacs. But the Blue Devils today are the superior program, with better athletes all the way around. They have successfully used two quarterbacks all season, and their defense is filled with young talent and playmakers at linebacker. Duke is 3-0 on the road and should pick up another win against an offensively challenged Deacs team still trying to find some answers with Michael Campanaro out.

AA picks: Duke 35, Wake Forest 20

HD's pick: Duke 24, Wake Forest 21

CITADEL (5-6) at No. 7 CLEMSON (9-1), noon, ESPN3. #CITvsCLEM. It's senior day at Clemson, giving the Tigers the opportunity to honor Tajh Boyd and his fellow seniors. The question is just how much Boyd will play after bruising his collarbone last week, especially with a big game looming next week against South Carolina. Coach Dabo Swinney says he prefers to have an FCS opponent in this slot, giving the Tigers ample time to prepare for their in-state nemesis.

AA picks: Clemson 56, The Citadel 3

HD's pick: Clemson 45, The Citadel 10

VIRGINIA (2-8, 0-6) at MIAMI (7-3, 3-3), noon, ESPNU. #UVAvsMIA. Miami's issues against UVa are common knowledge, so this game sets up to be closer than what some might anticipate. Plus, the Hurricanes have lost three straight after a 7-0 start and have seen their defense drop off considerably. Virginia does not scream offensive juggernaut, but neither did Virginia Tech and the Hokies racked up 42 points in a win two weeks ago. The Hoos have a solid back in Kevin Parks, No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and a good tight end in Jake McGee, who will make some plays, but ultimately, Stephen Morris and the Miami offense will make a few more plays to win.

AA picks: Miami 28, Virginia 27

HD's pick: Miami 34, Virginia 24

EAST CAROLINA (8-2) at NC STATE (3-7), ESPN3. #ECUvsNCST. The Pirates took down North Carolina earlier this year, nearly beat Virginia Tech, and go into this game as the favorites. NC State has looked like a ragged bunch, losing six straight in its worst season since 2006. There is no doubt East Carolina has the much better quarterback, as Shane Carden has turned in an outstanding season. But NC State is going to find a way to dig deep and come out with a win thanks to a few big plays from its pass game.

AA picks: NC State 28, East Carolina 24

HD's pick: East Carolina 41, NC State 14: ECU is No. 10 in the country in scoring offense at 41.5 points per game, and Carden leads the No. 8 passing offense in the country. The Pirates undoubtedly have the edge at quarterback, as NC State has struggled with both Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas. The two have combined for 15 interceptions and five touchdowns. Carden threw that many TDs by himself last week. If North Carolina was embarrassed by the Pirates at home, there’s no reason to believe the Wolfpack will fare much better. ECU is a solid eight-win team that, unlike NC State, is bowl eligible.

PITT (5-5, 2-4) at SYRACUSE (5-5, 3-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsCUSE. This game is a toss-up, as is nearly every league game these two teams have played this season (excluding Clemson and Florida State). Both are coming off losses, and both need one win for bowl eligibility. The problem for the Panthers is they have no real identity on offense. Syracuse does, and that is pounding the football. The Orange will get enough out of their run game and keep Aaron Donald at bay to win a close one.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Pitt 23

HD's pick: Syracuse 21, Pitt 17

ALABAMA A&M (4-7) at GEORGIA TECH (6-4), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3. #AAMUvsGT. Like Clemson and Florida State, Georgia Tech also gets a warm-up game before it closes with its in-state rival next week. Coach Paul Johnson says the focus is on getting better at what his team does this week. You can bet Robert Godhigh will have another terrific performance, following his 100-yard rushing/100-yard receiving day against Clemson. Godhigh is on pace to set the ACC mark for highest average yards per carry, currently at 9.5.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Alabama A&M 3

HD's pick: Georgia Tech 56, Alabama A&M 10

IDAHO (1-9) at No. 2 FLORIDA STATE (10-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #IDAHOvsFSU. Once again, the question is how long will Jimbo Fisher keep his starters in, especially with a bigger game against rival Florida looming. This also seems as good a time as any to get backup quarterback Sean Maguire some reps. Idaho is one of the worst teams in the entire country, and this game should be out of hand by the end of the first quarter.

AA picks: Florida State 65, Idaho 0

HD's pick: FSU 72, Idaho 3

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-4, 3-3) at MARYLAND (6-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsMD. This may have been the toughest game to pick this week. Maryland is coming off an impressive win at Virginia Tech, while Andre Williams has put together two straight games of incredible performances. So which direction will this game go? It is hard to pick against the Eagles given what Williams and the offensive line have done this season. Simply put, they have worn the opposition down. Maryland has had injuries to contend with on defense, so I think BC will end up wearing the Terps down in the end.

AA picks: BC 24, Maryland 21

HD's pick: Maryland 21, Boston College 17: This game could go either way, but with it being the final home game in Byrd Stadium, it was hard to pick against the Terps. More importantly, Maryland has fared well this year in stopping the run, and is ranked No. 30 in the country in rushing defense, holding opponents to 139.8 yards per game. Boston College has made its living this fall with its running game, and Williams is certainly no secret. The Terps will be looking to slow down the ACC’s all-time single-season rushing leader, and they’ve also got the advantage in quarterback with C.J. Brown.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
It was hardly the most exciting slate of games in Week 4, but the ACC provided plenty of big-time performances. Virginia had two tailbacks -- Kevin Parks and walk-on Daniel Hamm -- combine for 271 yards and four TDs. Nikita Whitlock tallied 14 tackles, including three for a loss, in Wake Forest's win over Army. Terrel Hunt continued to impress, accounting for five touchdowns in his first career start for Syracuse. And yet, none of them quite made the cut for helmet stickers this week.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: The history of NC State pulling the upset over ranked teams was well documented in the lead-up to the game, and the Wolfpack might have done it again if it hadn't been for Beasley's dominant work on defense. The Clemson defensive end racked up five tackles, three sacks, broke up two passes and -- three plays after NC State had a potential go-ahead score called back -- forced a fumble from QB Pete Thomas that turned the tide of the game. Beasley now has five sacks on the season -- just three shy of his 2012 total.

Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage: Handing out just one helmet sticker to a member of the Pitt offense after Saturday's 58-55 win is a tough task, but it's impossible to argue with Savage's final numbers. The senior QB completed 22-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, tying an ACC record. The six-TD performance hadn't been done by an ACC quarterback since 1999. He had plenty of help though. Tailback James Conner ran for 173 yards, receiver Devin Street caught six passes for 166 and freshman sensation Tyler Boyd had eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

Maryland's defense: Defensive back A.J. Hendy was the star, recovering two fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown in the 37-0 win, but there's plenty of credit to go around on the Terps' D. Maryland pitched a shutout against West Virginia -- the first time the Mountaineers had been held scoreless since 2001 -- while creating six turnovers. West Virginia had just 175 yards of offense, including a mere 62 from the passing game. Seven different Terrapins recorded a tackle in the backfield, three different players forced fumbles, and Maryland assured it will be undefeated for its Oct. 5 showdown with Florida State.

Georgia Tech running backs: North Carolina jumped out to a 13-0 lead early, but the Georgia Tech offense roared back with 324 rushing yards, 199 of which were delivered by Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Godhigh racked up a career-best 100 yards on just nine carries -- five of which went for first downs. Sims, meanwhile, tacked on 99 yards and two scores. The senior B-back scored on a 1-yard run for the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown, then rumbled in from 6 yards out to put the finishing touches on a 28-20 come-from-behind win that established Georgia Tech as a top contender in the Coastal Division.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: Perhaps it's breaking an unwritten rule by giving a helmet sticker to a player whose team lost, but it's hard to fault Crowder for the outcome. The junior did all he could to keep Duke in the game, recording 279 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. He became the first Duke player to record a rushing, receiving and special-teams TD in a single game since 1999.
You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.


  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.
At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Virginia left tackle Morgan Moses is impossible to miss. That’s a good thing, because he’s going to be the face of the offensive line this fall. UVa returns four starters up front, experience the program will need as it gets acclimated to first-year offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. Moses’ decision to return to school instead of leaving early for the NFL was a big boost to the program and the offense. He started 11 games last year and helped the Hoos rack up over 500 yards of total offense multiple times in a season for the first time since 2004. I spoke with Moses recently to get his take on the offense and his decision to return. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

How do you think your role is going to change? Do you have to be more of a leader this year?

Morgan Moses: Definitely. Me being a four-year starter and a guy who played every game last year on the offensive line, I know there are a lot of people looking up to me and I just have to help the team as a leader and push them forward.

What was really the driving force that made you decide to come back?

MM: Just being able to play with these guys for my last year, having those guys call me over break and tell me they wanted me to be a part of the team. Just sitting down with Coach London, and all of the changes we had with the coaching staff. I felt comfortable with the coaches, and of course, the schedule we’re playing. I always talk to Coach London about it. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best, so it’s set up for a great senior year. I love to be back here.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Moses
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia's Morgan Moses, No. 78, said he's eager for the challenge of playing left tackle in 2013.
Who called you to try to convince you to stay?

MM: David Watford, Kevin Parks, a whole bunch of guys, Tim Smith.

Sometimes that just doesn’t really resonate with guys. Why did what they say have such an impact on you like that?

MM: Just because these guys, I’ve been with them for the last three years. They know what I went through, I know what they went through. Just being able to finish out my last year here, plus to graduate with a degree from the University of Virginia, you can’t get any better than that.

What’s your degree going to be in?

MM: Anthropology.

Anthropology? What are you going to do with anthropology? What have those classes been like?

MM: It’s been really good being able to learn about the culture of people. I really don’t know what I want to do with that after football, but I have some plans.

It never fails that offensive linemen are among the most interesting interviews I have. So tell me a little more about the staff changes. You said you sat down with Mike London. What was that conversation like and what did he tell you about the guys he brought in?

MM: Through that whole situation about coming back to school for my senior year, Coach London was really helpful. He was beside me 100 percent on any decision that I made. Just being able to have coaches like Coach O’Brien, who’s been around for a long time – he’s been a head coach, he’s coached offensive line, he’s a high-energy guy. To have those guys and Coach Fairchild brings a great opportunity for me and the offense as a team.

How is the offensive line looking this year? With four starters back you guys should be a pretty strong group this year, right? How excited are you about the experience returning?

MM: I’m excited. Right now we’re learning a new offense and trying to get everyone on the same page. We’ve got a lot of young guys we’re bringing along that haven’t really played games yet, but they have some opportunities to have some playing time this year. Us older guys who have been around know what’s expected from the coaches. We’re trying to take them under our wings as we move forward.

You don’t come back to school to be 6-6 or not go back to a bowl game. What encouraging signs did you see on the field that led you to believe you can have the kind of season you did in 2011?

MM: You just think about it: Offense and defense, we didn’t really lose that many players. Of course you lose a stud tackle like Oday [Aboushi] and a great running back like Perry Jones, but we got a lot of guys, a lot of quarterbacks, running backs … we’ve got the pieces, it’s about putting them together and putting them in the right places.

So who filled in for Oday this spring and what has the competition been like there?

MM: I moved over to left tackle, and they are battling at right tackle.

What’s that change been like for you?

MM: It’s been interesting. I’ve been wanting to play left tackle since the first day I stepped on campus. Just being able to switch from right to left and being able to play guard my first year has really helped me learn the offense. I know what every position is doing.

No kidding. Now you’re on the blindside. What’s that like?

MM: It’s great to be there. I played a little bit last year, switching with Oday, so I have some experience at it, and I know the quarterbacks feel way comfortable to have me at left tackle knowing they’ve got the big guy on their back side.

Ya think? I could play quarterback if you’re watching my back. Tell me more about the quarterback competition. I know you mentioned Watford. What’s going on there?

MM: It’s a competition. David Watford, he brings so much to the table with his running ability and his throwing ability. Same with Phil. He’s able to move around in the pocket, and then we have Greyson [Lambert], who has a helluva arm. He can make any throw. He’s not as mobile as the other two, but he’s definitely making strides. They’re all good. I’m pleased with their work ethic and whoever is back there, I’m going to fight for them regardless.

What are you looking forward to most this fall, your last year?

MM: It came so fast, too. I was just talking about it the other day. But just being able to compete with these guys. We’re playing BYU, Oregon and these great teams we have on the schedule. Being able to have those guys in Scott Stadium, and you never hear about eight home guys. I’m excited to just get out there with the guys and compete.
This is getting ugly.

First Virginia coach Mike London fired four of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid -- a man London likes very much. Quarterback Michael Rocco decided to transfer (can you blame him?), and now Rocco has blasted London for his use of a two-quarterback system (just like many ACC fans have all season long):
"It's an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVa," Rocco told Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times. "It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me."


London's decision to fire Reid was as puzzling as his use of the quarterbacks this year, which leads me to believe it wasn't entirely his decision. If this was an administrative move forced upon London, it was the wrong one, and London is going to take some heat for it. Reid was tasked with coaching a group that had to replace seven starters and was very young. Virginia was No. 31 in the country in scoring defense and showed progress every week. Don't forget the offense in that two-quarterback mess was turning it over every other play and putting the defense back on the field again.

Arguably the biggest disappointment for Virginia was its inability to run the ball, not the defense. Virginia was supposed to have two of the ACC's top offensive tackles in Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. With Kevin Parks and Perry Jones in the backfield, along with talent up front, there's no reason Virginia should have ranked No. 96 in the country in rushing offense. That certainly doesn't fall on Reid.

London, just one year removed from being named the ACC's Coach of the Year, has a bit of a mess to clean up in Charlottesville, starting with hiring a defensive coordinator. Look for the Hoos to go in a different direction regarding style and philosophy, otherwise it really wouldn't make any sense. And Phillip Sims better be every bit as good as many seem to think he is. Otherwise, we'll have Sims and David Watford repeating the Sims and Rocco storyline, and there will only be one scapegoat left.

UNC ruins Virginia's bowl hopes

November, 15, 2012

Neither team is going bowling.

An ineligible North Carolina team played the role of spoiler once again, crushing Virginia’s bowl hopes Thursday night with a nationally televised 37-13 victory in Charlottesville, Va. The Cavaliers (4-7, 2-5 ACC) were cruising after back-to-back wins, but the Tar Heels brought them crashing back to reality and ended any possibility of Virginia playing in the postseason.

It wasn’t just North Carolina, though. Virginia made too many mistakes -- six of them, to be exact. A six-game losing streak put Virginia behind weeks ago, and the Cavaliers were trying desperately to get out of a crater-sized hole they began digging Sept. 15 in a 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech. Back-to-back victories over NC State and Miami gave them hope, but in a must-win situation against the Tar Heels, the margin of error proved too slim to overcome.

Virginia’s errors were costly, and North Carolina’s defense made a statement after allowing Georgia Tech 68 points just five days earlier. Virginia was just 2-of-15 on third down, and 3-of-6 on fourth. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams played like he was auditioning for the NFL, and UNC (7-4, 4-3 ACC) came up with crucial stops. UVa also stopped itself.

Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a pick-six in the second quarter, and Darius Jennings dropped a wide-open, would-be touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia also had the ball on UNC’s 1-yard line on fourth and goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but Kevin Parks was pushed back for a loss of two yards as UNC preserved a 20-13 lead. North Carolina followed up with a 97-yard touchdown drive and never looked back.

North Carolina has one game remaining, home against Maryland, while Virginia must still face rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The subplot to the Commonwealth Cup has changed now that Virginia won’t be bowling, but the Hokies can still clinch a postseason trip with a win at Boston College on Saturday, then another against the Cavaliers on Nov. 24.

The question now is if Virginia call pull a North Carolina and play the role of spoiler.

ACC: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 9, 2012
Our choice for the player who will transform tomorrow and make a big impact in Week 11: Virginia running back Kevin Parks.

First: Parks has really come on strong for the Hoos, rushing for more than 100 yards twice in the past three weeks. In both games, he was the team's offensive MVP. First up was a big game against Maryland, when he ran for a career-high 129 yards.

Then last week in a 33-6 upset win against NC State, Parks had 115 yards and a touchdown, contributing to the largest rushing output of the season for the Hoos -- who racked up 248 yards. It was the first 200-yard rushing day of the season.

Parks leads the Hoos in rushing, with 618 yards and a team-high four touchdown runs, as he shares backfield duties with Perry Jones.

"Kevin, over the last couple years has shown that when he has an opportunity to run the ball downhill and he has an opportunity to run over or run through arm tackles, that he's shown that," coach Mike London said. "So I think just being his strength, such a low center of gravity, he's very rugged, and he can catch the ball too coming out of the back field. So it makes him a multi-dimensional type of player. But his ability to really hit it downhill, down field is something that is a positive for us."

Second: For those who have been following Miami, you know the Canes have not been very good at stopping the run. Miami has given up more than 200 yards rushing in eight of its nine games this season and ranks No. 119 in the nation in rushing defense. In the meeting between these schools last year, Virginia had 207 yards rushing, and Parks led the way with 85 yards. In 2010, the Hoos had 185 yards on the ground.

So this game presents a big opportunity for Virginia to have another good day on the ground, which should help quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco manage the game the way they did last week against the Wolfpack. Virginia has made tremendous strides with its running game over the past few weeks, bumping its rushing average from 104.7 yards per game through the first three games to 159.8 in the past six.

If Parks and Virginia run well and limit the turnovers, the Hoos could very well keep their bowl hopes alive.
Virginia is not running the ball the way it did last season, one big reason the Hoos have been so inconsistent on offense this year.

Last week against Duke was the perfect example. Virginia had 184 yards rushing in the first half en route to a 17-14 lead. In the second half? Two total yards on the ground. Coach Mike London was asked this week to explain the difference between the halves.

[+] EnlargeVirginia's Mike London
Peter Casey/US PRESSWIREMike London and Virginia will be tested by a Maryland defense that is tough against the run.
"There are so many elements to the running game part of it," London said. "Obviously, the offensive line and blocking -- the tight ends and the fullbacks who are doing the kicking out or leaning up on the isolation plays. So there's a renewed sense of being able to run the ball, move the ball, but obviously with the start that we had, we got to 14 points early, we need to continue on and culminate that with scoring more points, whether it's on the ground or through the air.

"So it is noted that the running game has picked up, but at the same time, we need to increase our scoring opportunities."

Just take a look at the overall numbers. Virginia is averaging 134.8 yards rushing per game, ranking No. 88 nationally and No. 6 in the ACC. Compare that to last season, when the team averaged 165.3 rushing yards per game. That was the second-highest amount put up by the Cavaliers in the past 12 seasons.

The struggle has been obvious. Last week, Kevin Parks’ rushing touchdown in the first gave UVa its first score on the ground since the fourth quarter of the Richmond game Sept. 1, a streak of 16 quarter. Perry Jones also became the first 100 yard rusher of the season.

If history is any indication, this team is going to have to put up some good rushing numbers to have a shot against Maryland on Saturday.

Virginia is 23-8 against Maryland since 1937 when rushing for at least 150 yards. Despite some of the inconsistency, UVa has rushed for at least 145 yards in three straight games.

But if it cannot run the ball? Tougher times. Before 2009, Virginia had lost 15 straight games to Maryland when rushing for fewer than 100 yards, dating to 1957.

Maryland presents the toughest test of the season. The Terps have the best rushing defense the Hoos have faced, ranking No. 7 nationally in rush defense, allowing 81 yards per game. There is no question this game brings many challenges, but London is just focused on making sure his players have a good month of October, after a disappointing 2-4 start.

"It's my job to make sure I try to keep creating that positive mindset about there's games left to play," London said. "You've got home games. Let's win the month of October. And that's what I've got to do. That's what we should do. Like I said, we're focused on putting the plan together that people, when they come to Scott Stadium, if they see, they think, 'you know what, this team is improving,' because that's important, also to make sure we improve, offense, defense, and special teams, as the season goes on, goes forward."
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco has been able to hold on to his starting job despite competition from Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, coach Mike London announced Monday.

Rocco started all 13 games last season, throwing for 2,671 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But London opened up the competition once Sims arrived and was granted his immediate eligibility. Rocco, Sims and David Watford were involved in an open quarterback competition during preseason practice, but London always maintained that Rocco had the edge over the other two quarterbacks in the race to win the job.

He confirmed that Monday.

"It just became apparent that Michael has the best grasp of the offense right now," London said during his weekly news conference. "He’s the guy that we feel most comfortable with right now because of what he knows, knowing the system and the schemes and knowing the players he’ll be throwing the ball to or handing the ball off to. He’s done nothing to lose his position. We talked about his leadership, his knowledge of the offense, and so he’s put himself in a position to be the guy right now and I’m quite sure he’ll work hard at it, he takes pride in it. That’s how it worked out."

"I believe that I was the starter throughout the spring and the summer," Rocco said. "It was my job to lose. I root for Phil and David as hard as I can. I would never want anything bad to happen in their career and their life. But I believe I’m here to play quarterback at a high level. I was excited when I heard Coach London was going with me, but in my mind I was preparing to be the starting quarterback. I was excited, but I had a confidence in my mind, too."

London added that he knew it would be a tall order for Sims to overtake Rocco while learning a new offensive system.

"With respect to Phillip, he has a big arm, strong arm, been in college games as well. He’s a guy that’s learning our offense," London said. "To expect him to know our whole offense by the time the season started, I don’t think that would be fair on him. He knows enough of the offense that we understand his situation will be on-the-job training as the season goes on, how much he picks up, the communication, all those things."

London also said he would try to redshirt Watford, who served as the backup to Rocco last season.

"With David, it was a tough call," London said. "David has done everything that we’ve asked and then some. He’s matured tremendously, his physical talents and skills improved greatly. They are three selfless players. They want what’s best for the team. My plan is to try to redshirt him."

A few other UVa notes:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- This game is by no means over, but the Hokies have made more big plays and Virginia will need a spark in the second half to get back into it. The UVa fans could also use a spark, too, as the sold-out stadium here has gotten much quieter since the opening kickoff. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has had good protection and has been throwing the deep ball well, while Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco has been throwing under pressure a lot. Here's a look back at some of the key points of the first half:

Turning point:Trailing 7-0, Virginia had a chance to tie the score on fourth-and-three from the Hokies' 7-yard line, but Virginia Tech came up with a big fourth-down stop as Kevin Parks came up a yard short, and Virginia turned it over on downs. The play summed up the first half for Virginia, as the Hoos were able to move the ball on Virginia Tech, but they obviously couldn't score. It was Virginia's first scoreless half of the season.

Stat of the half: Four-and-oh: Virginia had four drives into Virginia Tech territory and came away with zero points. The Hoos have had three punts, two fumbles, and a turnover on downs. On the flip side, the Hokies took miserable field position and made the most of it. Four of their five drives started at their own 17, 5, 4, and 3-yard line and they were able to sustain some long drives and capitalize in the red zone.

Best player in the half: Thomas. He has been overshadowed this season by teammate David Wilson, but Thomas has been the difference-maker. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, and he has also run for 22 yards and a touchdown.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 13, 2011
Here are your top five performers for Week 11:

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas: He played an outstanding game in the Hokies' 37-26 victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Thomas threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 209 yards and ran for another 70 yards. He also completed 75 percent of his third-down passes.

Florida State's special teams: Greg Reid scored on an 83-yard punt return, and Dustin Hopkins kicked three field goals to help lift the Noles over rival Miami, 23-19. Hopkins accounted for the only points in the third quarter with a 21-yard field goal, and his 38-yarder to start the fourth quarter put FSU up 23-7.

BC linebacker Luke Kuechly: He finished with 18 tackles in the 14-10 win over NC State, extending his streak of double-digit tackles to 32 consecutive games, the longest such streak in FBS. In the third quarter, Kuechly became the fifth player in ACC history to record 500 or more career tackles. He now has 509, fourth-best on the conference record list.

Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro: His game-winning, 43-yard field goal as time expired assured Clemson of a 31-28 win over Wake Forest and its second appearance in the ACC title game in three seasons. It was the first time since 2007 that Clemson had won on a last-second field goal. It was also the first time since 1948 -- when the stat started being tracked -- that Clemson won at home on a last-second field goal.

Virginia's offensive line: The Cavaliers have now gone three consecutive games without giving up a sack and the line paved the way for Kevin Parks and Perry Jones in the 31-21 win over Duke. It was the tenth game in a row that the offensive line has had the same five starters -- guards Austin Pasztor and Luke Bowanko, tackles Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses and center Anthony Mihot . The last time the same five players started an entire season on the offensive line at UVa was 2004.

Final: Virginia 31, Duke 21

November, 12, 2011
Virginia coach Mike London continues to build his case for the ACC's Coach of the Year.

With its 31-21 win over Duke, Virginia got another step closer to winning the Coastal Division title. Only two more teams -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- stand in the Cavaliers' way. But those are two tough roadblocks. London did a great job, though, of keeping his team on task and not letting the players get wrapped up in becoming bowl eligible or looking past Duke.

Virginia's defense played a great game against the Blue Devils, and was a major factor in snapping a three-game losing streak in the series. With the exception of a pick-six, Duke quarterback Sean Renfree played well and was on-target in the second half, but there were too many drops. Once again, the duo of Kevin Parks and Perry Jones helped balance out the Cavaliers'offense, and quarterback Michael Rocco managed the game well. Virginia has now won three straight games heading into Tallahassee.

Predictions: ACC Week 11

November, 10, 2011
It’s not easy being perfect. That’s why I’m not. One itsy bitsy teeny flaw in last week’s picks left me at 4-1, the lone erroneous pick against NC State. C’mon, five straight? Who outside Raleigh saw that one coming? Then again, it wouldn’t be a week in the ACC if there wasn’t at least one upset, right? Get ready for another one …

Georgia Tech 21, Virginia Tech 17: The Hokies are so well-coached that they won’t make the same turnover mistakes Clemson made against the Yellow Jackets, but the difference in this game will be the injuries to Virginia Tech’s defense. The veterans like Bruce Taylor who are sidelined are the ones who have seen this offense before, but too many rookies will be learning the ropes on the fly. The Jackets will sustain drives and keep Virginia Tech off the field just long enough to win.

NC State 24, Boston College 21 (OT): NC State hasn’t run the ball very well to begin with this season, and the Eagles will make it even more difficult and force quarterback Mike Glennon to win the game, which he will. As long as the Pack gives him time to throw, Glennon will get NC State one step closer to a bowl game.

Clemson 42, Wake Forest 21: The atmosphere at Death Valley combined with Clemson’s sheer talent will be too much for the Deacs to overcome. Clemson will be playing its final home game of the season, the crowd will be relentless, and the Tigers can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win. Wake Forest will play better than it did against North Carolina, but it will still be overmatched.

Florida State 31, Miami 28: That’s right, FSU by a field goal. The fact that it’s in Tallahassee was only a small factor in the decision. The main reason was because Florida State has played better more consistently in recent weeks, and the defense has been unstoppable. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has played exceptionally well lately, but FSU quarterback EJ Manuel will have the edge against Miami’s secondary.

Notre Dame 38, Maryland 10: Turnovers will make this game ugly. Regardless of how coach Randy Edsall plans to use quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Danny O'Brien, the Terps won’t be able to get past a scoring defense that has held opponents to just 20.89 points per game. Nor will Maryland’s defense be able to stop one of the nation’s top receivers in Michael Floyd.

Virginia 28, Duke 24: This is going to be another heartbreaker for the Blue Devils. The Hoos’ three-game losing streak to Duke will end, thanks to Virginia’s improved defense. The pass efficiency defense is No. 20 in the country, and running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks will continue to get their yards and set up the pass for Michael Rocco.