99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Kickoff is closing in for Virginia.
Chris Moore and the Hoos improved with red zone defense in 2017. ~ Mike Ingalls

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series rolled past the one third mark Wednesday and it’s covered a lot of ground so far. Highlighted players have included Jordan Mack, Jordan Ellis, Joe Spaziani, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Zane Khokhar as well as some players to root for and some potential wildcards for the upcoming campaign.

When players haven’t been in the spotlight, the series has looked at other things related to the UVA program. Back at No. 79, the entry focused on red zone offense. The “99 Thoughts” series is back for a look at the other side of the ball.

No. 65 – Defense Showed Red Zone Improvement

Bronco Mendenhall inherited a defense with a different base scheme than his preferred 3-4 alignment so the transition led to some growing pains in 2016. The Cavaliers ended up 99th nationally in scoring defense by allowing 33.8 points per game in his debut season. In year two, they finished tied for 78th nationally by allowing 28.4 points per game. One reason why came in the red zone.

Defenses that can keep teams from scoring points in the red zone, the area from the 20-yard line and in, can often provide a big boost for their teams and their chances of winning. In that critical area of the field, the Hoos made a major improvement from year one to year two under Mendenhall’s guidance. That played a key role in climbing from two wins back to bowl eligibility with six wins in the 2017 regular season.

Just how much did the defense improve? Take a look at what ammounts to a 20% decrease in scores allowed in the red zone over the two seasons.

2016

  • 92.68% scoring percentage – No. 123 nationally
  • 38 scores in 41 trips

2017

  • 72.73% scoring percentage – No. 9 nationally
  • 32 scores in 44 trips

That’s a mega jump from one year to the next. UVA gave up fewer scores despite allowing three more trips inside the 20 too. That’s best scoring percentage allowed in the red zone for the Hoos since the 2011 season (72.0%). It’s not surprising that both 2011 and 2017 ended up in bowl games with those being the best red zone defensive efforts of the last several years.

Last season’s performance fell in line with many BYU seasons from recent years. Dating back to 2008 on cfbstats.com, the Cougars allowed a scoring percentage in the red zone of less than 80% on four occasions and two more in the 80th percentile They ranked second nationally in 2012 by allowing a score just 62.29% of the time! That’s stingy.

While the Hoos made a big improvement from year one to year two to get on a level similar to BYU in the red zone, they do still need to make a big step up when it comes touchdowns allowed. UVA’s touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone ranked 78th or lower nationally in Mendenhall’s first two seasons.

2016

  • 65.85% touchdown percentage – No. 96 nationally
  • 27 touchdowns allowed

2017

  • 61.36% touchdown percentage – No. 78 nationally
  • 27 touchdowns allowed

For the Hoos to continue to reach bowl eligibility year to year under Mendenhall, that’s an area to target for improvement.

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

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