BYU fans know their team inside and out from quarterback Taysom Hill to linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Now as game day is but a few days away, it's time to get to know BYU's first opponent, the Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia is recovering from a disappointing 4-8 season that could have easily gone 8-4 had it been better at winning close games. However, the Cavaliers have plenty of talent and ability returning this season.

From quarterback David Watford to defensive end Eli Harold, here's what you need to know about the Cavaliers.

Lafe Peavler is a sports writer intern for the Deseret News and a national college football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @MasterPeavler


Virginia struggled at quarterback last season as it oscillated between Michael Rocco and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims. Neither quarterback returns this season as Sims transferred to Winston-Salem State and Rocco transferred to Richmond.

With both of last year's starting quarterbacks gone, it's up to redshirt sophomore David Watford to lead the offense.

Watford saw limited action as a true freshman in 2011. He passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions. However, last season he had to take a redshirt with the arrival of Sims from Alabama.

Watford has good speed with a sub-4.6 40-yard dash time and great athleticism. However, BYU will be Watford's first opponent as a starter. Furthermore, against Southern Miss, Idaho and N.C. State in 2011. he went 24-for-56 for 265 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

That kind of play won't get the job done against a team like BYU.

Fortunately for him, Virginia has an experienced offensive line led by All-ACC offensive tackle Morgan Moses. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound senior is an excellent blocker and anchors a line featuring four returning starters.

Plus, the Cavaliers return their top rusher in running back Kevin Parks. Parks rushed for 734 yards and five touchdowns last season, and he should help take the pressure off Watford as he steps up as a starter.

Virginia has a solid set of wide receivers, led by Daruis Jennings. Jennings is a little undersized at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds. However, he was Virginia's leading receiver with 568 yards and five touchdowns last season.

BYU should expect Watford and the Cavaliers to run their offense out of the pistol formation. Virginia will depend largely on its running game, meaning that the Cougar front seven will have a busy day.


Virginia's defense will test BYU's new "go fast go hard" offense.

Senior defensive end Jake Snyder led the defensive line with 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. Sophomore Eli Harold will take over on the other side of the line with 36 tackles and 2.0 sacks last season as a true freshman.

The Cougars would do well to be wary of Harold. He was the No. 1 recruit of the state of Virginia and the No. 5 defense end of his class, according to Rivals.

Also, they better watch out for the Virginia secondary. Junior CB Demetrious Nicholson and junior S Anthony Harris are both seasoned veterans and dangerous against the pass. Nicholson made 15 pass break-ups last season, but he didn't make any interceptions.

That doesn't mean that Taysom Hill can be careless with the ball, particularly with new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's emphasis on creating turnovers.

Meanwhile, Virginia has rebuilding to do at linebacker as it has to replace Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds and their 212 tackles last season. The Cavaliers have plenty of talent in Daquan Romero, Henry Coley and Demeitre Brim. However, Virginia won't have near the experience at linebacker as it did last season.

In short, the Cougars will face a young, fairly inexperienced defense with plenty of talent.

Special Teams

Sophomore Ian Frye takes over as Virginia's place kicker after handling kickoff duties last season. Frye went 3-for-5 last season, but his longest make was from just 30 yards.

Also, Fyre missed a 22-yard field goal against N.C. State last season.

However, junior punter Alec Vozenilek returns average 40.6 yards. No, it's not Riley Stephenson's 45.4 yards per punt, but it's not bad, either.

Virginia has to improve on kick coverage as it was No. 119 in the nation in kickoff return yardage defense, according to the NCAA. That will be new assistant head coach Tom O'Brien's job to turn around.

Regardless, the Cavaliers have good options on kick and punt returns, led by junior Khalek Shepherd. Shepherd had 929 yards on kickoff returns last season.

Overall, Virginia's special teams aren't that special. After last season, BYU fans can sympathise.


Head coach Mike London starts his fourth season with a 16-21 record. He led Richmond to an FCS championship in 2008, but he still has work to do to win the ACC.

After starting 4-8 his first year, his Cavaliers had a solid 2011 campaign that finished 8-4 and a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance.

Then, his team fell back to 4-8 again in 2012.

After that disappointing finish, London shook up his staff and hired new offensive and defensive coordinators.

Some BYU fans may recognize offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. Fairchild used to be head coach at Colorado State.

Also, London hired former N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien as assistant head coach and O'Brien's former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to the same position. This means that Virginia's defense will be more aggressive in forcing turnovers given Tenuta's emphasis on taking away the ball.


Virginia has plenty of talent but not a lot of experience. On offense, the Cavaliers will depend on Watford's ability as a dual-threat quarterback and an experienced offensive line. On defense, BYU should expect a decent pass rush as well as solid plays in the secondary.

BYU should be the better team on Saturday, but Virginia has the home field advantage. That's why the Cougars are a narrow 3.0 favorite in this game.

Will Robert Anae's new offense be ready against Virginia's talented defense? Can the solid Cougar defense contain Watford and the Cavaliers' running game?

We shall see on Saturday.