50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff: Red Zone Offense

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Virginia needs to improve in the red zone.
The Virginia offensive line works against Pittsburgh last season. ~ Mike Ingalls

The Virginia football team won eight games last season, the program’s most since 2011 and a total that tied for the second most victories in any season since 1990. Only the 1994, 1995, 1998, 2002, and 2007 teams won more with nine wins in each of those seasons.

Part of the reason for that success was that the Cavaliers scored more points in a season than any UVA team since 2002. That club cranked out 402 points in 14 games. The 370 points scored last season easily outdistanced most seasons in that 16-year span since 2002 with the exception of the 2003 and 2004 teams; the Wahoos produced 364 and 363 points in those two years with the 2004 team getting that total in 12 games.

That’s something an article looked at a little earlier this month, but the “50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series is back to look at an area where the Hoos left some points on the table.

31 – Red Zone Offense Stalls Again

When you slice up how teams score, there are a lot of ways to put points on the board. Defense and special teams can help with field position obviously, but with touchdowns of their own too. There are also field goals or a safety. On offense, points are generated through touchdowns either inside or outside the red zone (20-yard line and in). The offense obviously puts special teams in place for field goal tries.

This series looked at explosive touchdowns of 25 yards or more within the “more points” article mentioned above. The Cavaliers have seen an uptick in that category since Bronco Mendenhall and UVA Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae arrived. They’ve cranked out 31 such touchdowns in the past two seasons, just one short of the previous four years combined when the offense had 32 from 2013-2016.

That’s been a big boost to the offense. Still, the Hoos could score more points – potentially a lot more points – by getting the job done closer to the end zone. After a good start with Anae in 2016, the next two years have seen a downward trend in red zone offense. Both UVA’s overall scoring rate and touchdown rate have declined year to year in each of the first three years with the new coaching staff.

All three years generally trail Anae’s final three years as BYU’s Offensive Coordinator. Here’s a look.

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)

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)

2018

  • 74.07% score rate – 127th nationally (tie)
  • 51.85% touchdown rate – 118th nationally
  • 54 red zone attempts – 40th nationally (tie)

Looking more closely at the UVA numbers from 2016, 2017, and 2018, there are a two main things that pop out.

One, in this staff’s first season, the team did a good job of cashing in with touchdowns when it managed to get to the red zone. That team had 28 touchdowns in its 39 red zone attempts. That proved to be more touchdowns than the 2017 team (18) and tied with last year’s team despite having 15 fewer tries inside the 20.

All three years, however, were average at best and horrible at worst for overall scoring rate inside the red zone. The 60th place national ranking in 2016 is right around the middle of the FBS pack, while the last two years have been in the bottom 30 nationally. Last season, UVA’s 127th ranking finished ahead of just two teams (Louisiana-Monroe and California) at the FBS level for score rate in the red zone at 74.07%. The lack of confidence in the field goal operation likely contributed to some of that until midway through last season.

That’s played a role in the ongoing streak against Virginia Tech. Over the past three years, UVA is 3-5 with only one touchdown in the red zone against the Hokies. The Hoos were 2 for 4 with one touchdown in the red zone in the 2018 regular season finale loss to Virginia Tech last fall.

The second thing that jumps out in the trend numbers is the low number of red zone attempts. If you don’t get chances in the red zone, you’re certainly not going to score from there. In the first two years with this coaching staff, UVA ranked in the bottom 30 teams within the FBS level. That improved last season, but the Cavaliers squandered the improvement with the low overall scoring rate and the touchdown rate.

For comparison sake on that last statement, Virginia produced more red zone opportunities last year than teams like Notre Dame, Miami, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh that are all on this year’s schedule. All of those teams, however, recorded a better touchdown rate in the red zone. All but Pitt averaged more points per game as well.

At least some of the scoring trouble inside the 20-yard line can be traced to the running game.

Over these three years, the Cavaliers averaged 3.07 yards per carry (2016, 45th nationally – tie) 2.02 (2017, 114th nationally), and 3.09 yards per carry (2018, 43rd nationally – tie) in the red zone. It didn’t produce much scoring in any of those three seasons. In 2016, the Hoos had 12 rushing TDs in the red zone (103rd nationally – tie). In 2017, UVA finished with 9 rushing touchdowns (117th nationally – tie). In 2018, Virginia scored 14 rushing touchdowns (95th nationally – tie).

That’s a modest improvement despite dynamic threat Bryce Perkins stepping in as the starter at QB. Perhaps, that’s part of what Mendenhall means when he reiterated again recently that for the program to take another step forward, the lines need to take control on the interior.

Virginia can overcome a lack of rushing touchdowns and some of the overall red zone scoring issues with big plays and a sturdy defense, something it showed last season en route to eight wins. Still, this is an area that can be targeted for improvement as the program continues to grow under Mendenhall.

50 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff
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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Perkins would be a nightmare for defenses if he were to take a shotgun snap, run forward toward the line, read the defense, then either continue as a runner or stop (perhaps drop back a bit) and throw a short pass. This could include a jump pass over the line to a tall receiver. It would be a different type of run/pass option and we now have the personnel to execute it. What type of hands does Swoboda have?

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