The Virginia football team rattled off 17 wins the past two seasons, including 9 victories, a Coastal Division title, and an appearance in the Orange Bowl this past season. Along the way, the offense started to produce more points with a climb into the top 40 at 32.1 points per game last season.
A group heavily scrutinized over the past few seasons has been the Cavalier offensive line. During this stretch, the unit has dealt with key departures to graduation and seemingly constant injuries that have tested the unit’s depth. The program brought in transfers to help bolster the numbers. From the time Bronco Mendenhall arrived, the offensive line position essentially has undergone a complete overhaul.
That task has not been easy for the linemen and offensive line coach Garett Tujague, yet they have still been able to block for a Virginia offense that continues to score more points and gain more yards each season. The ongoing improvement projects the 2020 O-Line as a strong part of the team.
3-year production – offensive line
- Power Success Rate: Percentage of runs on 3rd or 4th down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown
- Stuff Rate: Percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage
- Standard Downs Sack Rate (SDSR): Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts
- Passing Downs Sack Rate (PDSR): Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts
- * All according to footballoutsiders.com
- 2017: Power Success Rate: 61.2% (102nd in FBS), Stuff Rate: 20.9% (90th in FBS), SDSR: 6.6% (94th in FBS), PDSR: 5.7% (40th in FBS), 2.3 sacks allowed per game (T-86th in FBS)
- 2018: Power Success Rate: 92.6% (2nd in FBS), Stuff Rate: 14.4% (12th in FBS), SDSR: 7.5% (115th in FBS), PDSR: 8.9% (86th in FBS), 2.3 sacks allowed per game (T-69th in FBS)
- 2019: Power Success Rate: 69.6% (59th in FBS), Stuff Rate: 18% (52nd in FBS), SDSR: 6.8% (102nd in FBS), PDSR: 9.6% (97th in FBS), 3.2 sacks allowed per game (T-120th in FBS)
- 3-year average: Power Success Rate: 74.47%, Stuff Rate: 17.77%, SDSR: 6.97%, PDSR: 8.07%, 2.62 sacks allowed per game
These statistics give life to the roller coaster the Virginia football team and its fans have ridden while watching this position play early in the Mendenhall era. Different seasons provided different strengths and weaknesses. Part of the reason for these differences is the different personnel on the offensive line each year.
Looking at the power success and stuff rates in 2018, it is not surprising to see them as some of the best in the country. The reason is that it was Jordan Ellis’s senior season. Virginia had a back that offensive coordinator Robert Anae trusted immensely in short yardage situations and Ellis did a good job of playing through first contact.
Generally speaking, this group has struggled to keep opposing defenses off of the quarterback in pass protection. Having one of the most mobile and athletic quarterbacks in the country in Bryce Perkins the last two seasons, that remained the case. Of course, his willingness to extend plays likely produced both big plays and increased sacks at the same time.
2020 Virginia football look ahead
While there has been much transition within the offensive line at the start of the Mendenhall era, that should not be the case next season. The entire starting line from the 2019 campaign is expected to be back in Charlottesville this coming year, including some that have starts in multiple years so far: Bobby Haskins, Ryan Nelson, Olusegun Oluwatimi, Chris Glaser, and Dillon Reinkensmeyer.
There are also players in place with multiple years of experience in the program: Ryan Swoboda and Tyler Fannin have started at least once, while Joe Bissinger, Gerrik Volmer, and Derek Divine have made appearances in games. Swoboda and Bissinger have logged the most snaps in that group. Throw in Penn State transfer Alex Gellerstedt as well, who was expected to have a role last season before he was injured in preseason camp, and others with redshirt seasons under their belts.
This is great news for the program as the group’s cohesion in the second half of the season last year was noticeable. It was no secret they got off to a slow start, but the line found a rhythm together that allowed for Bryce Perkins and this Cavalier offense to shatter some QB records, beat Tech, and win the Coastal Division. The O-Line finished the season off by holding its own against a tough Florida defense in the Orange Bowl.
Consistent and solid play from the offensive line next year will be crucial to Virginia’s offensive success. With a new and inexperienced quarterback at the helm, this group likely will need to give him much more time than they gave Perkins.
Additionally, without Perkins, the offense may look to establish the running game earlier and more often in games from somewhere other than the quarterback position. The offense cannot afford to put up the rushing numbers they did last year outside of the QB spot. The offensive line will need to do a better job opening up holes for Wayne Taulapapa and the other backs next season.