5 questions with Virginia beat writer Andrew Ramspacher

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 24:  Taquan Mizzell #4 of the Virginia Cavaliers steps out of a tackle by Jeff Schoettmer #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Georgia Tech will be tasked with stopping Virginia running back TaQuan Mizzell, whose 41 receptions is second among FBS running backs. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

For this week’s Q&A, we turn to Andrew Ramspacher of the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va. Andrew brings the goods about the Cavaliers and has my thanks. You can read his stuff here and follow him on Twitter here.

Q: How would you describe running back Taquan Mizzell’s game? Is there a particular way coaches like to get him the ball?

A: To me, Taquan Mizzell is a classic third down back. He has great hands, runs sharp routes and is improving at blitz pick-up. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, I’m not sure he’ll ever be a pure No. 1 back, but recent games suggest he could get there. He touched the ball 30 times last week at North Carolina, including 24 rushes for a career-high 117 yards. Against Syracuse, he got 23 touches, including a career-best 10 catches.

Mizzell gets the ball in all kinds of ways. He’ll line up in the slot for slants, outs. He’ll line up in the backfield for screens, wheels. He leads Virginia with 57 targets this season. That’s 10 more than No. 1 WR, Canaan Severin.

Q: Quarterback Matt Johns would appear to be a pretty accurate passer (61 percent) but it looks like his 12 interceptions are the most in the country. What do you put the high interception rate on?

Pocket presence. When faced with pressure, Johns tends to settle for back-foot throws instead of either stepping into them and taking a hit or simply moving out of harm’s way to buy time.

Last season, when Johns made three starts and nine appearances behind center, he seemed to be more mobile, trusting his legs to make things happen when the play broke down. He seems more hesitant this year and, although he won’t admit it, I think it has a lot to do with who sits behind him on the depth chart. There’s barely any college experience in Connor Brewer and Corwin Cutler. Johns can’t afford to be taking risky hits.

Q: In your mind, what would Virginia have to do to win the game?

A: First and foremost, it has to somewhat contain Georgia Tech’s option. I realize that’s likely the key for any Yellow Jacket opponent, but I think the challenge is greater for UVa. The Cavaliers have been burned by this attack three straight years — see an average score of 42-18 with GT averaging over 500 yards — and now are throwing first-year starting linebackers out there to face it. Micah Kiser vs. Justin Thomas is a huge matchup that the Wahoos have to win to have a chance.

Secondly, Virginia has to play smart. Ten more penalties against the Tar Heels gives them 51 on the season, good for 83rd nationally. The Cavs are rarely more disciplined than their opponents, and Georgia Tech is the least penalized team in the country.

Q: As you may know, Tech is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its 1990 national championship this year, a season whose most memorable game was probably the win over then-No. 1 Virginia (a strange thing to think) 25 years ago Tuesday. Older Tech fans know that game chapter and verse. I’m curious how Virginia fans view that season and game.

Our columnist Jerry Ratcliffe, who’s been covering the program for years, will have an in-depth look-back at that ’90 UVa-Georgia Tech game in our Saturday print edition. It’s still very much talked about around here among older fans. As you mentioned, it’s crazy to think Virginia once held a No. 1 ranking. As the apathy around the current state of the program increases, a look-back to those glory days gives this fan base the thought that success really can happen here.

Q: I sort of feel like I’ve asked this before, but what do you think has been Mike London’s downfall to this point?

A: A variety of things, but quarterback mismanagement is right up there. Matt Johns was Virginia’s fourth different opening day QB starter in four years. Seven games in, Johns is on pace to set the program record for interceptions in a season. London’s never found stability at the game’s most important position. Michael Rocco, David Watford and Greyson Lambert — opening day starters from 2012-14 — all transferred from UVa with eligibly remaining. You simply can’t win with that kind of carousel behind center.


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