Virginia wants to make better use of David Watford ‘s running ability.
After facing always tough BYU and national juggernaut Oregon to open the season, the Virginia football team used its first bye of the season last week to evaluate its 1-1 start and regroup for an eight-week stretch of games. Coach Mike London said the Cavaliers focused on improving themselves more than game plans during the break.
The offense, which averaged less than 4.0 yards per play in the two games with the Cougars and the Ducks, received much of the focus.
“We talked about going into the season being smart, tough, and aggressive. I think when you play against two really good football teams that you’re going to have to find that type of identity sooner rather than later,” London said.
Part of the Hoos’ self-assessment during the bye week looked at starting quarterback David Watford . Through the first two games, Watford has recorded just 18 carries for a total of 18 yards. The good news there is that he’s been sacked just twice in the official statistics. The bad news is that most of his rushing yards have come from some scrambles and not designed runs. Part of the reason the coaches liked Watford in the starting role was that it presented an opportunity to use his mobility, but that didn’t materialize much in the first two weeks even on plays where there was a keeper option built into the offense’s call.
“One of the things that we had to address is also using David [Watford] as an option to run the ball as well so teams have to defend the field, not only vertically and horizontally but know where he’s is at all times,” London said. “There were some things that we could do to allow him to do that. He’s talented enough to be able to do that, and that’s what we did a lot of things to focus on that.
On the passing side of the coin, Watford has thrown 1 touchdown pass with 4 interceptions. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes (47 of 73) for 275 yards against BYU and Oregon. That’s just 5.9 yards per completion and 3.8 yards per attempt, both of which rank last in the ACC.
London acknowledged on Monday at his weekly press meeting that “there won’t be wholesale changes” with the offense, but that the Cavaliers need to stretch the field vertically more effectively.
“The other thing for us is to go vertically down the field, and we have to [succeed with] some of those explosive plays – that’s we’re looking for. We spent a lot of time getting those receivers down field throwing the ball to them,” London said. “So if we can do that, you can have a quarterback that can run and kind of also fit into your style of offense, then you have opportunities. I think those are things that you’re looking to create.”
Another key target for the bye week was special teams. In particular, London said, the Cavaliers want to improve their kickoff return unit. Virginia has averaged just 18.17 yards per return, which ranks 106th nationally out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Bye Week Timing
While the bye week gave Virginia a chance to work on its issues from the first two weeks, the early season open date is a bit unusual. It came at a good time for the Hoos, though. The top three running backs – Kevin Parks , Khalek Shepherd , and Taquan Mizzell – came out of the first two weeks with ankle injuries.
London said the team is close to 100 percent healthy entering the VMI contest, though.
Going into this game we should be at a hundred percent. The timing of this open date and the guys particularly to the running back position had those issues. But they’re out of their boots. They were involved in yesterday’s practice, and they’re off today. I’m sure they’re getting treatment, and they should be ready to go by Tuesday.
While Brent Urban is garnering the attention of NFL scouts, he won’t have to wait to get his picture on a trading card. As the Virginia media relations staff showed everyone on Monday, Urban already has had that honor as a junior hockey player in Canada (see the included photo).
It may not be long before he has an NFL rookie card, though. London indicated that NFL scouts have taken notice of the senior defensive lineman’s play already this season. He has 7 tackles with a team-leading 4 pass break-ups.
“I tell you what, Brent Urban has garnered the attention of every scout. We’ve had every NFL team come through to our practice facility, and every scout has come in and said this guy’s playing well,” London said. “He’s a strong, powerful, can pass rush, can play well against the run, all of those things. He is definitely emerging as being, again, I’m just saying what the scouts are saying, is definitely a guy moving up the radar and catching a lot of people’s eyes. So his game has improved and we’re looking forward to him having better games and better games as we move forward.”
Kwontie Moore ‘s Move
At the end of the Oregon game, sophomore Kwontie Moore made an appearance on defense … at defensive tackle. The 6’2″ Norfolk product began his career and remains listed at middle linebacker on the official roster and depth chart. However, London said Monday that the coaches are trying to find ways to get players like him some playing time.
“We’re trying to find ways to get guys in the game. And Kwontie is a big, strong, powerful guy that went through kind of a transition here to see if he can put his hands on the ground and just go vertical and penetrate up the field,” London said. “His ability to do that will help us defensively. He knows the defense. He’s a big, strong physical guy. Obviously we’d like to see him get more reps, more opportunities particularly in this game and going into the games that are conference games.”
- Playing against the no-huddle, up-tempo offenses of BYU and Oregon limited the chances to sub on defense for Virginia. London said that the coaches hope to get some true freshmen in the mix moving forward. Three players expected to get some defensive snaps are tackle Donte Wilkins, corner Tim Harris , and linebacker Zach Bradshaw .
- During a timeout of Saturday’s game, former UVa captain John Leys will be honored as part of Military Appreciation Day. Leys was a solo captain of the 1935 UVa team and is the oldest surviving captain of a UVa athletics team. The 99-year old was on the touchdown receiving end of the longest pass play in Virginia football history as he teamed up with Bus Male and Harry Martin on a 97-yard pass play against Navy in the 1935. Leys was an honorable mention All-American in 1935 at defensive end. Leys is a World War II veteran and was the commander of a landing craft infantry assault shop that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
- VMI head coach Sparky Woods worked as a Virginia assistant in 1997-98.
- Virginia and VMI are facing each other on the gridiron for the 83rd time, but only for the second meeting since 1991.