Twenty days from now, Virginia will open its football season against UCLA, the seventh-ranked team in the nation.
Coach Mike London’s staff began its homework on the high-powered Bruins as far back as early February and will submerge itself into studying UCLA even deeper this week, once that the Cavaliers finish their work on fundamentals.
UVa defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild will help one another in terms of giving their respective units looks that the Bruins use so that Cavalier players can learn to recognize what may be coming their way.
“You’re looking for similar formations or similar plays that your own offense runs,” said Tenuta, who began breaking down video of UCLA as soon as signing day concluded. “Steve and I work together on some things on both sides of the ball, such as if he needs to see a specific coverage early and those type of things.”
Fairchild got his first look at the Bruins right after spring practice concluded, breaking down Virginia’s first two opponents, UCLA and Richmond.
“We looked at every game, broke it down, we’ve got it in the computer, we have the cup ups,” Fairchild said. “We looked at it. I wouldn’t say I’ve studied it all summer. I’m more interested in getting our guys, the right guys on the field at the right spots, doing the right things.”
Still, Fairchild is well aware of what UCLA is defensively under coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
“We know what they do structurely, we know where their personnel is, we know what their strengths are,” Fairchild said. “After this week, we will start gearing some of the things we do toward them.”
Because Tenuta has so much experience returning to his defense, he delved into the Bruins a little earlier. He didn’t have to look very long to determine what his Cavaliers will face.
“UCLA is a damned good football team,” Tenuta said. “They have all the hoopla and a tremendous quarterback. Their offense is high powered.”
Coach Jim Mora’s Bruins are coming off a 10-3 season in which they lost only to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State. UCLA hammered Virginia Tech, 42-12 in the Sun Bowl and are picked to win the Pac-12 South.
Tenuta was right about the Bruins’ quarterback, redshirt junior Brett Hundley, who set UCLA records for both most passing yards in a single season (3,740) and most total offense (4,095).
“I’ve known Noel Mazzone [UCLA’s offensive coordinator] personally,” Tenuta said. “I’ve gone against him numerous times, so I kind of know what he looks for in the run game as well as the pass game, who’s going to run the ball in the red zone, so on and so forth. I’m up on that.”
Once UVa begins to work against UCLA’s offense and defense, Cavalier coaches will also be working against opponents that use similar schemes.
“You’ll see us work against a lot more UCLA stuff, which is going to carry over based on other teams [on UVa’s schedule] that are in similar formations, whether it’s BYU, or Louisville, which plays in similar formations because [Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee] do all kinds of stuff. But first and foremost, it’s UCLA.”
Tenuta believes that the addition of assistant coaches Mike Archer and Jappy Oliver will add to the cohesiveness of the Cavaliers’ defensive operation this fall. UVa All-American safety Anthony Harris said last month at the ACC Football Kickoff that Archer and Tenuta are so much alike that he believes they are the same person.
This is Archer’s second stint at UVa, having served as George Welsh’s linebackers coach in 1991-92. He moved on to Kentucky as assistant head coach, then the Pittsburgh Steelers, before another stint at Kentucky and joined Tom O’Brien as defensive coordinator at N.C. State from 2007-12.
It was in Raleigh where Archer and Tenuta first worked on the same staff, but they have a long history.
“Mike and I go way back to when I first went into the Southeastern Conference ,” Tenuta said. “I was secondary coach at Vanderbilt and Mike was the defensive coordinator at LSU.”
They first met at a golf outing and have been friends ever since.
“Years went on and Mike was head coach at LSU,” Tenuta said. “I was at another school and I needed some film and we’ve been buddies. We’ve been in touch for over 30 years.”
In fact, Tenuta said that the only person who probably knows him better outside of his own son, Zach, a grad assistant at UVa this season, is Archer.
Because Tenuta and Archer as so familiar and Tenuta also coached with new defensive line coach Jappy Oliver at Notre Dame, UVa’s defensive boss believes they are on the same wave lengths.
“There is no substitution for experience,” Tenuta said. “Guys that have been in the spectrum of BCS bowl games. As a person, Arch and I are very similar in our likes and dislikes.
“We were kind of brought up in similar systems with Coach [Bill] Arnsparger,” Tenuta said, “so our philosophies are very similar. If we want to adjust something, it’s bang, bang, bang, it’s pretty easy to do that.”
Arnsparger coached for years under Don Shula, before taking over at LSU from 1984-86.
Oliver has 35 years of coaching experience.
“Jappy understands our system and what we like to do,” Tenuta said. “He has a plethora of knowledge.”
Bringing the band back together has been a good experience for Tenuta and it could be good for Wahoo football this fall.
“It’s pretty cool to be in that room,” Tenuta said of the defensive staff meetings.
If their experience and knowledge transfer to the playing field, it will be cool for Virginia.