Greg’s Grades 2019: Liberty

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The grades are in.
Lamont Atkins helped keep the running game going late this season. ~ Kris Wright

For the third time this season Virginia’s offense, defense, and special teams all posted grades of 80 or higher in Virginia’s 55-27 win over the Liberty Flames. That means the stage is set for Friday’s battle for the Coastal Division title against Virginia Tech with the winner earning a date with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

Continuing to track Virginia’s Last Five-First Five-Final Five efforts, both the defense and offense stepped up late in the second quarter with the offense pushing the UVA lead to 24-14 with a four-play, 59-yard drive with 2:40 left in the half. The defense took over following a 65-yard kick return by Liberty, holding the Flames out of the red zone and watching their field goal attempt sail wide. To open the second half, Robert Anae’s offense took the second half kickoff and marched 59 yards in 3:39 to bump the lead to 17. The Hoos never looked back.

UVA’s offense has led the team (non-special teams) from a grade standpoint for three consecutive weeks and over that span has averaged a championship level mark of 91.6. The Hoos scored 50+ points for the first time since 2005 and posted 499 yards plus in total offense for the third time in 2019. Finally, the running game had its best day (227 yards) since rushing for 301 yards in the season opener against Richmond in 2018.

Special teams had another solid week grading out 84.5 with four of five operations recording marks of 83.5 or higher. The lone holdout was, surprisingly, the normally consistent kickoff coverage unit that suffered its first failing grade of the year. The punt coverage unit had a big afternoon posting an A grade in back-to-back weeks while the placekicking operation sealed a perfect grade by delivering one of the highlight plays of the day with their fake field goal attempt and pass to Charles Snowden.

Following three consecutive weeks below 70%, the defense got back on track with an 83.5. After allowing Liberty to wrap back-to-back touchdowns around the first and second quarters, the Wahoo defense was stout keeping the Flames off the scoreboard for the next 25 minutes; Virginia was securely in front by 24 points before the visitors scored again late in the third quarter. The defensive brain trust was excellent at mixing the coverages and fronts and bringing a good blend of various pressures to disrupt Liberty’s high-octane passing game.

It was very good effort and a nice tune-up for this Friday’s showdown with the Hokies. As we look at the grades, let’s hope we can be thankful for even better marks next week.

Greg’s Grades

Superlatives

  • Top performing unit (non-special teams): Wide receivers and tight ends
  • Needs work unit (non-special teams): Defensive backs
  • Top special teams’ unit: Placekicking
  • Needs work special teams’ unit: Kickoff coverage

Offense – Grades

  • Total Offense: 94.2 A)
  • Quarterback: 91.1 (A-)
  • Running backs: 93.9 (A)
  • Wide receivers and tight ends: 97.4 (A+)
  • Offensive line: 94.6 (A)

Offense – Quick Takes & Notes

  • Virginia recorded its third consecutive game rushing for 100+ yards since the FSU game.
  • The Hoos converted 60% of third down chances – the team’s second highest rate of the season.
  • Against the nation’s 20th ranked red zone defense and 26th ranked TD scoring percentage defense (52.8), UVA’s offense scored on 8 of 8 red zone possessions including 75% touchdowns.
  • Yaaaa! I saw a swing pass to a running back. AND IT WORKED!!
  • I really wish young wide receivers would learn to catch the ball and get north-south. If I want to see dancing, I’ll watch old Michael Jackson videos.
  • UVA posted a season-high 55 points against Liberty. 55 was also the most points allowed by the Flames in a game in 2019.

Defense – Grades

  • Total Defense: 83.5 (B)
  • Defensive line: 85.4 (B)
  • Linebackers: 87.5 (B+)
  • Secondary: 77.7 (C+)

Defense – Quick Takes & Notes

  • The Flames entered this game having posted 400+ yards of total offense in seven of eight games – Virginia held LU to 392.
  • After allowing QB Stephen Calvert to start the game 8-of-14 passing for 164 yards, 5 first downs, and a TD, the Wahoo defense held Calvert to 8-26 for 119 yards, six first downs, one score, and two INT’s over the last 37 minutes of the game. His streak of 295 consecutive passes without an interception also came to an end.
  • Overall, the defense held the Liberty QB to a season low completion percentage, quarterback rating, and a season high for interceptions (2). Liberty came into the weekend ranked 12th in the country in fewest interceptions in 2019 (4).
  • The defender responsible for the two interceptions, De’Vante Cross, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Back of the Week.
  • The Cavaliers held NFL Draft prospect Antonio Gandy-Golden to six catches for 60 yards and a score.
  • The Flames were averaging 32.8 points per game – the Hoos held them to 27.

Special Teams – Grades

  • Total Special Teams: 85.8 (B)
  • Placekicking: 100 (A+)
  • Kickoff coverage: 59.5 (F)
  • Kickoff return: 83.5 (B)
  • Punt coverage: 94.3 (A)
  • Punt return: 88.1 (B+)

Special Teams – Quick Takes & Notes

  • Special teams recorded its seventh 80+ grade week in the last eight games.
  • PK Brian Delaney has converted 12 of his last 13 FG attempts.
  • Liberty began the day seventh in the NCAA allowing just 17.06 yards per KO return – Virginia averaged 32.5.
  • Kudos to the placekicking unit for a superbly executive fake field goal.

Team Quick Takes & Notes

  • UVA did not turn the ball over for the third consecutive game. This is the fifth game Virginia has not turned the ball over this season They are 5-0 in those contests.
  • Virginia scored 40+ points for the third time this season and has averaged 39 points per game over its last five outings.
  • The Hoos completed their second consecutive 8-win season under Coach Bronco Mendenhall.

One More Thing

I never thought I’d use two Charles Dickens references in a single season, but with Christmas on the horizon, it seemed applicable for this week’s One More Thing. The Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come.

Several Cavaliers made key contributions in the win over Liberty and hopefully they will be factors this Friday and beyond.

Freshman Seneca Milledge made an impact 17 minutes into the contest on his very first college play, returning a kickoff 37 yards, the longest kickoff return given up by the Flames this season. On the afternoon, Milledge returned four kicks for 130 yards and averaged 32.5 yards per return. That was the highest YPR average and the most total yards against Liberty this season.

Wideout Dontayvion Wicks caught his second and third receptions of the season and hauled in his first career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. His two receptions gained a total of 49 yards and Wicks caught his first touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Brennan Armstrong. That’s a vision UVA fans are hoping will be repeated frequently over the next few years.

Armstrong finished the game hitting 3 of 4 passes (75%) for 73 yards, the TD, and an 18.25 yards per attempt number. One of those completions went to Snowden on the fake field goal.

Tailback Lamont Atkins scored his first collegiate touchdown on a three-yard rush in the second quarter and added 61 yards rushing on nine carries for a strong 6.7 yards per rush average. Atkins surpassed his season total of 10 yards on six carries with the performance. He also caught his eighth pass of the year for nine yards. This was Atkins’ second start after also starting against William & Mary.

Junior running back P.K. Kier, whose previous high for the season was 45 yards against W&M, finished with 10 carries for a team-high 82 yards rushing (8.2 yards per carry). Kier’s four-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter was also the first of his career.

Defensively, converted wide receiver Heskin Smith, made his inaugural start at cornerback. After a bumpy first 20 minutes, the sophomore appeared to settle in and was big part of Virginia defense shutting down Liberty’s late second quarter drive. Tasked with covering Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Antonio Gandy-Golden, Heskin recorded two pass breakups on back-to-back passes against the NFL prospect to force fourth down. Alex Probert’s field goal attempt sailed wide left. On the day, Heskin held No. 11 to 60 yards on six catches – his second lowest yardage total of the season and led the UVA defense with eight tackles and two pass breakups.

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