Virginia’s home opener on Friday at Scott Stadium against William & Mary is also a homecoming of sorts for former Cavaliers head coach Mike London.
London replaced Al Groh at Virginia in 2010 and went on to post just one winning season in six years before giving way to current UVa head coach Bronco Mendenhall after the 2015 season. In 2011, London led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 campaign, but he left Charlottesville with a 27-45 record.
After Virginia, London spent a season as an assistant at Maryland before taking the head job at Howard, where he led the Bison to a 7-4 record in 2017 before they went 4-6 last season. Friday will be the first time London has coached in Scott Stadium since he resigned from UVa.
“Human nature part of it is I spent a lot of years there,” said London, adding that his daughter, Kristen, played for former UVa women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan. “There are mixed emotions but the main focus is to prepare a team to go play a very good team.”
Most of the seniors on Virginia’s roster were recruited by London’s staff, including cornerback Bryce Hall and defensive end Richard Burney. London’s current staff at William & Mary includes several former Cavaliers in quarterback Matt Johns, cornerback Ras-I Dowling and linebacker Darryl Blackstock.
“I probably wouldn’t be here without him,” Hall said. “He’s a good man and was almost like a father figure. I’m happy to see him doing well.”
London is coming to Charlottesville with a revamped offense, anchored by a veteran offensive line and led by an explosive young quarterback in freshman Hollis Mathis.
Last weekend against Lafayette, Mathis posted 127 rushing yards, which is the most in a game by a quarterback in William & Mary history.
“Obviously, one of the things he has are his legs,” London said. “His wheels are pretty good and he got us out of a couple third-down situations. He came in and did a good job and we’re excited about where we are in terms of our quarterback play.”
While Mathis stole the show, William & Mary’s depth chart actually listed four quarterbacks last week. Coastal Carolina transfer Kilton Anderson saw almost as much time as Mathis and completed 4-of-8 passes for 100 yards. On Monday’s CAA teleconference, London wouldn’t commit to which quarterback would take the bulk of the snaps on Friday night.
“We want to be creative in how we do things, but we don’t want to disrupt the flow of the game,” London said. “I thought Mathis played well and Kilton came in and did some good things.”
Anderson may be the more natural passer, but Mathis’ athleticism lends itself to offensive coordinator Brennan Marion’s “GoGo” offense, which is similar to what Gus Malzahn runs at Auburn.
The Tribe will primarily operate out of the shotgun with two running backs joining the quarterback and either three wide receivers or two receivers and a tight end. Both backs will get carries and the quarterback is a constant threat to run.
“I think you could say it’s not triple option, but their approach is unique and diverse enough to where the chance to be prepared in one week is difficult,” Mendenhall said. “They have a dynamic player at quarterback, actually two quarterbacks that I think are very good players. So the challenge is in a short week to adjust to their style of play, but that player in particular at that position.”
In last week’s season opener at Pittsburgh, Virginia’s defense limited the Panthers to 78 rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry. The Cavaliers also watched quarterback Bryce Perkins use his legs to turn a broken play into a 27-yard gain and carry the ball 18 times.
After chasing Perkins every day in practice for more than a year now, the Cavaliers feel like they know what to expect from a dual-threat quarterback.
“We can definitely game plan for a running quarterback based on previous experience,” defensive end Mandy Alonso said.
Kickoff on Friday night is scheduled for 8 p.m.