Quin Blanding, free safety
Blanding was the only freshman to lead his team in tackles last season. He made 123 stops for the Cavaliers to earn ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and Freshman All-American honors.
Blanding has started every game since he stepped on campus. He was the consensus No. 1 safety recruit in the nation out of Virginia Beach, Va.
He averages 9.9 tackles per game in his career.
“He’s a big guy, hard worker. He covers a lot of ground,” Virginia tailback Taquan Mizzell said. “He’s absolutely one of the best tacklers I’ve ever seen, very football savvy. He’s still young, but he’s the head of our defense.”
Taquan Mizzell, tailback
Mizzell, a junior and former five-star recruit nicknamed “Smoke” because of his elusiveness, became a starter for the first time this season. But he has been a significant part of the Cavaliers’ passing attack since his freshman year.
He has made a catch in 24 straight games and leads the nation’s running backs with 233 receiving yards this season, including an 80-yard TD last week. He led ACC running backs with 39 catches last year as a backup.
Mizzell averages 4.0 yards per carry and 13.7 yards per catch.
“It’s been really exciting playing a different role than my first two years, now being the starter, able to make the plays for my team,” said Mizzell, who played with Blanding in high school. “I’ve prided myself on things like that — not to take away from other running backs, but most of the time you can take someone away from the game putting eight in the box, but that’s not all I can do. It takes some time to learn those things — I know some people assumed it would be there right away, but I think I’m doing the things I knew I could be capable of.”
Matt Johns, quarterback
The junior is the Cavaliers’ fourth starting quarterback in four years, and he’s off to a solid start. He has thrown for 790 yards and six touchdowns, with 10 first downs in 28 third-down pass attempts (35.7 percent).
He started three games last season as the backup and went 2-1.
“Players feed off of his energy,” coach Mike London said. “He’s still improving. We have a tremendous test Friday night against a very fast and athletic football team coming in here. But we expect Matt to produce for us.”