After previewing the Coaching Staff, Special Teams, and Offense, we now turn our attention to Virginia's defense in the final part in our Virginia Cavaliers preview. As mentioned in the Coaching Staff preview, the Virginia defense held opponents to 16 points or fewer four times last season (unfortunately they went 2-2 in those games) and provide a bright spot for the Cavaliers to look to this year. Opponents only completed a shade over 50% of their passes for a little over 230 ypg, but did find itself susceptible to the big play. The Cavaliers were 39th in allowing 174 gains of 10+ yards but were 100th in allowing 69 gains of 20+ yards and 115th in allowing 39 gains of 30+ yards. The Cavaliers also allowed a little over 170 ypg on the ground, which places them in the bottom half of the NCAA (and right in line with UCLA's defense for comparison).
As a whole, the Virginia defense is returning most of its starters as well as returning two 5* freshman in DT Andre Brown and FS Quin Blanding. Brown will be featured in the line rotation, but is not listed as a starter, while Blanding will start. If there are two players to keep an eye out for on Virginia's defense, it will be Brown and Blanding.
In addition to Brown, Virginia boasts a wealth of talent along the defensive line. Jr. Eli Harold (6'4 250 lbs.) led the team with 8.5 sacks last year from his DE position. The other starting end is Jr. Mike Moore (6'4 265 lbs.), but Virginia will also rotate Kiwontie Moore (6'2 275 lbs.). Inside, Jr. David Dean (6'1 295 lbs.) and So. Donte Wilkins (6'2 285 lbs.) start, and will rotate with Brown (6'4 305 lbs.), So. Andre Miles-Redmond (6'4 285 lbs.), and Sr. Greg Gallop (6'1 290 lbs.).
The linebacking corps is mostly in tact from last year with MLB Sr. Henry Coley (6'1 245 lbs.) leading the charge. Coley led the team with 90 tackles last year. He'll be flanked by So. Max Valles (6'5 240 lbs.) at SLB and Sr. Daquan Romero (6'1 230 lbs.) at WLB. Romero was second on the team with 89 tackles, while Valles was second on the team with 4 sacks. Virginia also returns most of its backups at linebacker, but I don't suspect the starting trio will come off the field that often unless it is to make room for a nickel package.
As aggressive as Tenuta is on defense, Virginia's secondary will have to play a very good game to prevent UCLA from making big plays. Virginia returns three cornerbacks in Jr. Maurice Canady (6'2 190 lbs.), Sr. DreQuan Hoskey (6'0 180 lbs.), and So. Tim Harris (6'2 200 lbs.), and moved returning FS Sr. Brandon Phelps (6'0 185 lbs.) to corner to make room for Blanding, so experience is not an issue in Charlottesville. Phelps and Canady will start, but all four corners are big, solid corners that will match up well with our receiving corps. Expect them to play on the line and challenge our receivers.
At safety, the aforementioned Blanding (6'4 215 lbs.) will start at FS alongside SS Sr. Anthony Harris (6'1 185 lbs.). Harris led the team with 8 interceptions last year, but it would be wise to keep an eye on Blanding to see if he has freshman jitters in his first collegiate game.
That concludes our Virginia preview. Fire away with any additional thoughts.