99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia kicks off the season in fewer than 55 days.
Joe Reed needs to be a bigger factor for the UVA offense to succeed this season. ~ Kris Wright

With the ACC Football Kickoff on tap this week, the media coverage for college football is slowly gaining steam. Of course, the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has been at this since late May, so we’ve already reached cruising altitude here.

The Best Seat in the House, a media partner of TheSabre.com that airs on WINA AM 1070 in Charlottesville, began preparations for the ACC Football Kickoff and the season’s actual kickoff by tossing five questions at some of the guests appearing on the show. That included Tyrone Lewis, the former Cavalier safety that appears on WINA’s pregame show during the season, who tackled the burning questions like the safety he is.

Host Jay James is asking guests their thoughts on these questions:

  • How does Virginia replace Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding?
  • What do you expect to see from the defensive line? Do you have any concerns?
  • What do you need to see from the offensive line for the offense to succeed as a whole?
  • How important is the play of new quarterback Bryce Perkins?

And there was one more that caught my attention so we’ll put it in the spotlight for the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series.

No. 51 – Borrowing A Burning Question

For the fifth burning question ahead of the 2018 season, James asked “Who is the No. 1 playmaker Virginia needs production from?” Lewis stole the thunder for the final question of the segment by saying Perkins, the transfer quarterback that joined the program in January and was named the starter by Bronco Mendenhall after spring practice. You can listen to the full Lewis segment here:

Selecting Perkins makes sense. For starters, he must replace two-year starter Kurt Benkert that signed an NFL free agent deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Benkert set a UVA single season records with 3,207 yards, and 298 completions in 2017 as the Cavaliers returned to a bowl for the first time since 2011. That’s a lot of production to replace so it’s certainly logical that the Hoos need to replace some of that with Perkins.

Still, something about James’ question made me think differently for a choice. Which playmaker does Virginia “need” to be productive in 2018? That, to me, excluded the known quantities or the quarterback position. UVA doesn’t need, so to speak, Olamide Zaccheaus to keep it up and doesn’t need the new quarterback to put up some numbers. To me, those aren’t needs – those are givens. Zaccheaus is going to show up and produce. Perkins will come through with some production essentially by default – the quarterback touches the ball on every play and there are going to be plenty of designed runs in the scheme for him.

If those are the only two playmakers, however, the offense likely will be stuck in the starting blocks. One reason last season’s offense was successful at times – even if inconsistent over the course of the season and, in particular, down the stretch – rested on the fact that the Hoos presented multiple weapons. In other words, Andre Levrone and Doni Dowling drew defensive attention and created openings as a result.

So when it comes to someone the Hoos “need” to be a productive playmaker in 2018, I think the answer is Joe Reed.

Several times last season, Mendenhall and the coaches indicated that they would like to get Reed more involved in the offense and that they’d like to get him the ball in space to try to make plays. Considering how well he set up and used blocks as a kick returner, the idea of getting him touches to try to do the same on offense really is a no brainer. The issue in 2017, however, became turning the idea into real-world results on the field.

Yes, the offense motioned Reed into the backfield and basically used him as a running back. He went over the top to score one touchdown and caught a swing pass to score another from that concept. Overall, however, those cameos of creativity generally fizzled. Reed finished with three touchdowns to go along with 21 carries for 112 yards and 23 receptions for 244 yards.

That’s decent production, of course, particularly when you consider that Levrone and Dowling both put up more than 600 receiving yards with 12 combined touchdowns. Reed had to share touches within the offense that was trying to maximize Benkert’s passing strengths.

This season, 356 yards of combined rushing and receiving with three total touchdowns won’t be enough though. The Cavaliers must account for 84 catches, 1,336 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns that departed with the aforementioned senior duo. While this year’s offense likely will trend toward a more balanced attack with more rushing plans in the works, meaning all of that receiving production may not need to be replaced, there will be a need for someone to be a reliable, week-to-week option in the passing game.

If no one emerges to do that, the plans for rushing balance won’t work as defenses could just load the box to take that away. The good news is that Reed has the versatility to potentially provide some punch for the evolving rushing schemes, while also increasing his production in the passing schemes.

Reed can catch swings and screens in the flats to try to set up blocks akin to his kick return skills. He can slide into intermediate areas and be an effective target with his 6’1” and 215-pound frame. Plus, he can periodically help take the top off the defense with downfield patterns because his long strides allow him to get on top of the secondary quickly if he can get a clean release and build up speed, again like he does with kick returns.

The Cavaliers will “need” that potential to turn into more potent production this season if the offense is to make strides toward becoming a more explosive force.

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

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