99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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The Virginia football program made many strides in 2017. The obvious one was the return to bowl play, but some other examples would be things like sacks allowed, interceptions gained, and penalties per game committed. One area dropped off quite a bit that could play into the team’s success in the years ahead, though.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series returns for the latest countdown entry.

No. 79 – Which Red Zone Offense Is The Real One?

Over the first two seasons of Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure at Virginia, the offense under coordinator Robert Anae has had a hot-cold success rate. The Hoos have scored 25 or more points 11 times – eight of those 11 games came during the first half of a season – and 24 or fewer points 14 times. UVA closed last season without scoring a point on offense in the final 147 minutes (nine quarters and 12 minutes). More on the inconsistency can be found in five questions that followed spring practice.

Obviously, an offense can score from anywhere on the field. It takes just one play. With that said, however, the red zone from the 20-yard line into the end zone provides an up-close opportunity to put points on the board. That’s an area that Virginia found some success in Anae’s first season, but slid backward in 2017.

Here are the specific numbers for score rate (number of times the offense scored any points so FG or TD) and touchdown rate (number of times the offense scored a TD):

2016
  • 84.62% score rate – 60th nationally (tie)
  • 71.79% touchdown rate – 16th nationally (tie)
  • 39 red zone attempts – 103rd nationally (tie)
2017
  • 78.79% score rate – 100th nationally
  • 54.55% touchdown rate – 98th nationally (tie)
  • 33 red zone attempts – 117th nationally (tie)

So in the second season, Anae’s offense produced fewer trips into the red zone with a lower touchdown percentage. The Cavaliers went from being one of the nation’s top 30 teams in scoring touchdowns inside the 20 to one of the nation’s bottom 30 teams in the same category. That’s with the same quarterback and an at least improving offensive line from year to year, though the offense did lose Taquan Mizzell to the NFL and Albert Reid as a senior from the backfield from one season to the next.

Of course, this is still the rebuilding phase for Mendenhall, Anae, and company. Prior to arriving at Virginia, the coaching staff with Anae at coordinator led BYU to quite a bit of red zone success in the three years before the move to Charlottesville.

Here are those numbers:

2013
  • 80.70% score rate – 72nd nationally
  • 47.37% touchdown rate – 118th nationally
  • 57 red zone attempts – 31st nationally (tie)
2014
  • 88.14% score rate – 29th nationally (tie)
  • 71.19% touchdown rate – 14th nationally
  • 59 red zone attempts – 26th nationally (tie)
2015
  • 94.34% score rate – 4th nationally
  • 73.58% touchdown rate – 6th nationally
  • 53 red zone attempts – 53rd nationally (tie)

So in two of those three seasons, BYU ranked among the nation’s top 15 teams in touchdown rate in the red zone and among the top 30 teams in score rate overall. In 2013 after Anae was rehired at BYU, those numbers were not as strong with the touchdown rate falling near the bottom of the country. Overall, Anae’s offenses have produced three top 16 finishes in touchdown rate in the red zone over the past five years and two in the bottom 35 of the rankings. Which side of that coin will unfold in 2018?

Of note, the regression at Virginia over the two years didn’t impact overall scoring as UVA averaged 22.5 points per game in both seasons. No matter how you break down the red zone, that’s not enough overall scoring to compete for division championships week in and week out in this era of college football. The Hoos are going to need more points inside and outside of the 20 to do that.

The Cavaliers, of course, will feature a new quarterback this season in Bryce Perkins. Virginia didn’t run Kurt Benkert much in the red zone so the change will provide an additional option in the ground game. If you think back to 2016 game at Connecticut, the Hoos called for a quarterback keeper inside the 10-yard line in the closing minute and that draw call was one block or one cut away from the go-ahead touchdown. Is that the type of thing Anae has in store for Perkins? That’s part of what made the 2014 touchdown numbers strong in the red zone for BYU. Quarterback Taysom Hill rushed for eight touchdowns in 2014 (in just five games).

It will be to interesting see how all of that looks for the offense in the red zone in 2018.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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