As Friday’s Final Thoughts return this week for a Virginia football home game, my attention is drawn to the kicking game.
UVA fans knew that one of the bigger question marks for this year’s team, new coaching staff or not, would be how to replace Ian Frye. The senior finished up his career with 45 made field goals and 218 career points, good enough for No. 4 and No. 7 all-time in program history. Frye made 45 of 58 attempts in his career (77.6%), which included nine misses from 41 yards or more (41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 48, 50, 50, 53). Take out those 10 attempts and Frye finished 45 of 48 from 40 yards or close (93.8%).
This season, many of those kicks aren’t even on the table. Attempts beyond the 35-yard to 37-yard range have been out of the question for the coaching staff, who has gone for it six times on fourth down this season with four of those attempts coming inside the opponent’s 40-yard line and two of those inside the 30. That included a predetermined (based on a specific spot on the field) fake field goal at Oregon. The coaches have apparently told TV crews that they don’t have a lot of confidence in the field goal situation inside of 35 yards because it has been alluded to three different broadcast teams this season.
Dylan Sims had been the top line kicker coming out of training camp, but even then the coaches didn’t sound any trumpets about the competition. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said before the Richmond opener that Sims was “battling” and that he was “trying as hard as he can to be consistent” with it. In the first two games, the Hoos didn’t even attempt a field goal and Mendenhall said it was “still a work in progress.” Of course, they tried the fake at Oregon too. When asked if 39 yards was within Sims’ range, Mendenhall didn’t answer specifically and said that “the very first time we got within a given range we were going to fake it.”
At Connecticut, Virginia used Sims on kickoffs but sent out walkon Alex Furbank for field goals. He made 1 of 2 attempts, missing from 20 yards as time expired. UVA lost 13-10. Furbank had kicked well during the week according to the coaches and Mendenhall said Sims had a groin injury that limited his practice time. Mendenhall also said “If Dylan isn’t able to practice, then Furbank will get all the reps and remain in that spot.”
Or will he? An interesting and unmentioned development this week has been the addition of another walkon kicker. Hat tip to HamiltonHoo, who compiles The Sabre’s printable roster card each week, for spotting it. New to the roster this week is Sam Hayward, a former Cavalier soccer player. The junior spent his freshman season at Penn before transferring to UVA where he was part of the 2014 NCAA Championship team. That title run included two wins in penalty kicks and Hayward converted in both the quarterfinal win at Georgetown and the title match against UCLA.
His football bio simply says “joined the team in September as a walkon,” but he kicked in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade. You probably can read that as “joined the team this week” if you like. Looking back at the roster in the Connecticut week game notes shows that Hayward was not on the roster last week. Now he’s not only the roster, he’s assigned No. 89.
At the very least, the situation is worth monitoring.
More Final Thoughts
I’d like to see a formation with four receivers, two on each side, aligned with Doni Dowling and Keeon Johnson on the outside and Taquan Mizzell and Olamide Zaccheaus in the slots. I’d probably motion Mizzell to his spot to get a read on the defense too.
I still think Evan Butts needs to be on the field more too – he had two key blocks last week on the lone touchdown drive.
Virginia will recognize the 1976 ACC Tournament Champion men’s basketball team this weekend. It’s the 40th anniversary year for that group. The Hoos also scheduled an event to honor former coach Terry Holland.
Micah Kiser led the ACC in tackles last season and he’s currently leading the ACC with 34 stops in 2016. I think he looks like a better football player this year. He seems to be more consistent, have better reaction time, and is finishing more plays.
I know there’s been a lot of second guessing – me included – about the QB draw call late at UConn, but before that play came up short Virginia had scored a touchdown on seven of its last eight trips to the red zone.
The red zone offense is going to be tested this week. CMU is tied for 15th nationally in defensive touchdown percentage allowed at 37.5%.
This is probably not the week that the kick return game makes a big leap. Central Michigan ranks No. 16 in the nation by allowing only 15.15 yards per return.
Kurt Benkert has thrown 4 interceptions this season, while the Chippewas lead the MAC with 5 interceptions on defense.
I know that the Chippewas are looking for their first 4-0 start since 1985, but are they paper tigers maybe just a little bit? Two wins against 1-2 UNLV and 1-2 Presbyterian by big scores helped the numbers and the miracle finish at Oklahoma State shouldn’t have been allowed by officials.
I’m very interested to see the progression of corner Kareem Gibson, who made his college debut last week and seemed solid out there.
It was good to see that senior Andre Miles-Redmond earned a number now.
I’m always in a basketball frame of mind so here is The Sabre’s exclusive interview with coach Tony Bennett if you missed it.
Speaking of basketball, members of the men’s basketball team will be handing out schedule cards at the gates on Saturday beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Here are a couple of Thursday’s Heroes videos to wrap it up.