UVA defense faces physical test against nation's leading rusher
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- While plenty of faces have changed from last year's matchup between Virginia and Illinois, there is still plenty of familiarity between the coaching staffs, especially for defensive coordinator John Rudzinski.
"This is like going out and playing bags or cornhole with your brother," Rudzinski said.
Illinois offensive line coach Bart Miller, defensive line coach Terrance Jamison and special teams coordinator Ben Miller all spent time on the coaching staff with Rudzinski at Air Force. While Coach Rud said the Cavaliers will be sure to change up some signals for Saturday with the knowledge on the other sideline, he also knows plenty about his former Air Force co-workers.
"I look at shoot, there's three guys, you look at Ben Miller, I know Ben Miller tell you what he makes good ribs," Rudzinski said on Wednesday after practice, "I look at Bart Miller, he's a carpenter, he made his own kitchen table and then Terrance Jamison, I tell you what I know our daughters are close friends, so I know a bunch of those guys well."
Rudzinski enters week two with plenty of work ahead, especially with one of the best running backs in the country lining up for the Fighting Illini. All-Big Ten running back Chase Brown leads the nation with 350 yards rushing through two games.
"You know that kid can run the ball, like you were saying, we just got to play like we know that we can," senior defensive end Jack Camper said, who transferred from Michigan State in the Big Ten, "Really need to lock back in on just the small details of everything, hand placement, steps, sticking in your gap, not peaking into gaps that aren't your responsibility, just making sure we get 11 hats to the ball."
A year ago, the UVA defense held Brown to just 41 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in a 42-14 win at Scott Stadium. But Illinois trailed for much of the game and threw 45 pass attempts, so this time around Rudzinski is prepared for a physical Big Ten rushing attack led by Brown.
"Getting ready for this run game, you've got to be really, really gap disciplined, you've got to do a great job of holding of holding that space and then when we get to contact on tackling, we've got to get the second and third guy to the ball," Rudzinski said, "Illinois wants to run the football and we're going to have to find a way to make sure we stop their run game."
In the the Cavaliers season opener against Richmond, Virginia struggled against the run allowing 170 yards on the ground to the Spiders. Tony Elliott identified many of the issues down to communication before the play and getting players set up earlier. Against a strong rushing attack like Illinois, the small details will loom even larger this week.
"The big plays in the run game just came from guys not being where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there," Elliott said, "They were on the way, they just didn't get there fast enough, and if you're a step slow, it's going to be big plays."
While some in the coaching business would rather avoid games against old friends, Rudzinski is looking forward to the challenge at Illinois.
"I just like going and competing and know that they do too," Rudzinski said, "As Terrance Jamison would say we'll let lovers love and fighters fight."