Behind enemy lines: Virginia Secondary

Coach Guy Holliday

The deepest and most talented part of Virginia's defense is its secondary. BYU receiver coach Guy Holliday and Fox Sports Virginia beat reporter Jacquie Franciulli give BYU fans an inside look into who the Cougar pass-catchers will face.

BYU's passing offense will face the teeth of the Cavalier defense. It will come down to who can best execute their scheme as the Cougar pass-catchers face a talented UVA defensive secondary.

"Coach Tenuta is very talented as far as playing a scheme based on the team he's going to face," said Coach Holliday about Virginia's defensive coordinator. "You know, I've watched Wake Forest and North Carolina and he played his secondary totally different in those two games. To say, 'Hey, we're going to get this or that,' I really can't say. We just have to make adjustments and execute what we do. If we do that, we'll be fine. It's going to be who executes their scheme the best. If they out-execute us, they'll be better than us, and vice versa."

The general consensus is that the Cavaliers will play more man coverage with no help over the top from the safeties during Saturday's game. The Cavaliers feel their cornerbacks can cover BYU's receivers without much help. This will allow the safeties to help more in the run game if needed.

"With any strong defense that likes to blitz, you have to prove you can win over the top at some point," said Coach Holliday. "You know, big plays – whether it's on defense or offense – can change the mindset of any play-caller. We have a challenge against us. They return four starters and, obviously, the strength of their defense, and I like to think we're the strength of our offense. It's going to be a lot of fun come Saturday."

What kind of coverage BYU will face is yet to be seen, but Coach Holliday is prepared for what's to come.

"It's kind of like Jack in the Box," said Coach Holliday with a smile. "When you order your food you never know what you're going to get."

Let's introduce what the Cougars will face in the Cavalier secondary. At the strong safety position, Virginia is loaded with talent. Coming in at 6 feet 1 inch and 190 pounds, strong safety Anthony Harris anchors a tough Cavalier secondary considered one of their strongest in many years. A junior, Harris was ranked third on the team last season with 97 tackles and is considered a ball-hawk.

"This is the one area where UVA has a lot of experience and depth," said Fox Sports Virginia beat reporter Jacquie Franciulli. "Anthony Harris is one guy you have to watch out for because he's a very good safety. He had a few picks last season, so he reads routes very well and is one of my favorites in the Virginia secondary and is very vocal. He's a really good leader and is one of the better players in the secondary. I feel like this is the year for Anthony Harris to really have a breakout year."

At free safety is 6-foot, 185-pound Brandon Phelps, who played last year as a sophomore.

"That was one of the issues with Virginia last year was they had youth in the secondary, but this year they have more experience," Franciulli said. "Last year Phelps was a cornerback and they switched him over to free safety last year, so he struggled a bit learning the position but he now has a year under his belt. I think he was top five on the team in tackles [48] last year. For Phelps to get the starting spot in the secondary is a real testament to him because there are a group of players at the free safety position, like Rijo Walker and Anthony Cooper, who could be starters as well. He just proved something in the offseason and learned the position and the coaches seem to be very confident in his abilities to become that number one guy."

"Their safeties are very athletic and really fluid," said Coach Holliday. "They're going to be a formidable opponent, there's no doubt about that. They way you beat aggressiveness is by being just as aggressive. The way you beat Mike Tyson is not by taking punches but by coming out swinging, so we have to stand up and be accounted for. I mean, I'm impressed with them. They're great players and we're going to respect them but we're not going to fear them. We have to show up and play and they have to show up and play and we'll know 60 minutes later."

Taking a look at the cornerback position, Virginia is again loaded with talent and experience. Field corner Demetrious Nicholson is tied with Virginia offensive guard Luke Bowanko for the most starts (25) on the Cavalier roster.

"At one side of the field it's going to be Demetrious Nicholson [5 feet 11 inches, 185 pounds] and at the other side there will be DreQuan Hoskey [6 feet, 180 pounds] who will be the starters," said Franciulli. "Nicholson is a third-year player. I know the thing that really bugged him last year was he had no interceptions. He said that now with Jon Tenuta being an aggressive coach, he said he can finally play the game in a way he wants to play. Last year he had a couple of pass breakups but he never had any picks, so that's something that he wants to work on this year a little bit. It's one of the positions that was very competitive at UVA. You have a lot of player competing at the cornerback position. You've got Hoskey, you got Tim Harris, Maurice Canady and Nicholson. Nicholson really had to prove himself this spring and in the offseason."

Both Nicholson and Hoskey are talented enough to cover both the boundary and field side, so there's not a lot of need to switch sides of the field sides based on skill sets.

"Oh, I think they have excellent cover skills, excellent cover skills," said Coach Holliday. "They have a corner [Hoskey] that's really aggressive, comes up and plays the run as good as any corner I've seen."

With 10 career starts under his belt, Hoskey looks to elevate his game this season.

"Hoskey is a guy that the UVA coaches can really count on," said Franciulli. "He played over nine or 10 games last year and did really well. He didn't have any interceptions last year and it was kind of a bad season for UVA last year when it came to interceptions. There were no interceptions last year and that was kind of a big thing. Hoskey really stood out last year and has become a leader in the secondary and got some experience last year. Now with some experience, he's a guy they feel they can count on. The one position Virginia won't have any problems with is at cornerback. They have a lot of depth and a lot of talent there."

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