The Virginia football team’s 2020 season frustrations continued last Saturday as the Hoos suffered their third loss of the year, falling 40-23 at the hands of Wake Forest. The loss extended UVA’s losing streak to the Deacs to four games, the longest in series history.
The defeat was the third consecutive 17-point plus loss for the Hoos and the third game in a row where the Hoos allowed 38 or more points. The 62 points Clemson scored in the ACC title game last December was the first time an opponent had put up 38+ on the Hoos since Navy hung 49 on Virginia in the Military Bowl, a string of 25 games. However, this marked the fourth time in the last six games UVA has surrendered 38 or more points.
Entering Week 5, the Wahoos have allowed an average of 34.8 points per game and a total of 139. That’s 37% of the total UVA surrendered in 14 games last season. The defense can’t take all the blame considering 57 of those points (41%) have come off offensive or special teams’ turnovers.
There were other frustrations as well. Wake Forest scored on three drives of fewer than four plays. Seven UVA possessions ended inside the Wake 24-yard line yet the Hoos managed to score just 23 points out of a possible 49. Special teams continue weekly to cost a possession or two, or set up the opposition for an easy score as it did Saturday with the fumbled kickoff. The Demon Deacons scored a touchdown four plays later.
Virginia is not playing winning football and there is no operation – special teams, defense, or offense -that is immune. Overall the team received a 71.4 grade for this game and that is probably high. These last three games have been a disappointing showing for Cavalier football. Describing it anything other than that way would be disinformation. And, with the 11th-ranked Hurricanes up next, it doesn’t get easier.
On to the grades …
- Top performing unit (non-special teams): Offensive line
- Needs work unit (non-special teams): Secondary
- Top special teams’ unit: Punt coverage
- Needs work special teams’ unit: Kickoff return
Offense – Grades
- Total Offense: 70.6 (C-) +3.7
- Quarterback: 64.5 (D) +2.3
- Running backs: 67.8 (D+) +3.4
- Wide receivers and tight ends: 74.4 (C) +2.1
- Offensive line: 75.8 (C) +6.9
Offense – Quick Takes & Notes
- Virginia’s passing game had in second lowest completion percentage of the season again Wake and its lowest total yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating of the season. UVA’s passing yards per attempt has dropped in each of the last three games.
- Why are the Hoos so slow to hit open running lanes? This is an issue for running backs and receivers. Get the rock, find a hole, and hit it hard – trust your blockers and stop overthinking. This is why I like fullbacks – they just see a gap, put their head down, and plow through whatever gets in the way.
- Really good effort by the offensive line in the run game. They opened plenty of room and the three-headed QB option gave Wake fits. This was the best running game against a Power 5 team since 2015 with 218 yards, 5.74 yards per carry, and 2 scores.
- Another INT in opposition plus territory; the defense again held a team to a FG following a turnover; the Hoos have done that three times this season (unofficially).
- On the opening drive of the second half and the score tied, UVA converted a 3rd-and-1 at midfield but Olusegun Oluwatimi is called for holding – as Al Groh used to say, “If you don’t want to get called for holding, don’t put yourself in a position to get called for holding.”
- With 1st-and-10 at the Wake 22 and UVA down three, a four-yard run became an 11-yard loss on a personal foul flag by tight end Grant Misch – UVA could not move the chains and settled for a FG (one of those seven Wake territory possession that ended in fewer points than it should have.)
Defense – Grades
- Total Defense: 65.1 (D) -11.6
- Defensive line: 73.1 (C) -1.6
- Linebackers: 68.9 (D+) -7.3
- Secondary: 53.2 (F) -26.1
Defense – Quick Takes & Notes
- Defensive containment was non-existent in the first quarter and reappeared again in the fourth quarter.
- How UVA defenders cannot bring wrapped-up ball carriers to the turf is maddening?
- It’s been discussed but requires repeating – way too many explosive plays blowing up in the secondary. It’s an issue for the entire defense but the defensive backs shoulder the load – Wake gained 70% of its 483 yards on 10 explosive plays; putting that in perspective: the Deacs gained 2.4 yards per play on their other 59 plays (more on this in One More Thing).
- Third down conversion defense has been championship level the last two games holding both State and Wake below 26.7% conversions.
- While the offense can’t secure the ball, the defense can’t get turnovers; Virginia failed to force a turnover for the second time in three games against Wake.
Special Teams – Grades
- Total Special Teams: 77.6 (C+) -10
- Placekicking: 82.3 (B-) -11
- Kickoff coverage: 76.9 (C) +5.1
- Kickoff return: 67.8 (D+) +10.2
- Punt coverage: 88.7 (B+) +37
- Punt return: 72.3 (C-) +8.9
Special Teams – Quick Takes & Notes
- It’s not just that Virginia has had three kickoffs land out of bounds this season, it’s that they always seem to happen when Virginia has got back into a game and could use a defensive stop deep in the opponents’ territory – you can’t do that when they start at the 40-yard line.
- For the second time this season, the kick return unit fumbled the football in plus territory for the opposition .
- PK Brian Delaney was 2 of 3 on field goal attempts. His miss from 36 yards in the third quarter snapped his school record streak at 17.
- Nice bounce back by the punt coverage unit from last week’s short net punting and a blocked punt; posted a 42.7 net punting and downed two kicks inside the 20-yard line this week .
One More Thing
One of the keys for coach Bronco Mendenhall’s success has been consistency in play and consistency in the growth of the program. I’m not convinced the program is taking a step back right now, but I can be persuaded that play consistency certainly has.
One of the most glaring issues in 2020 is the Virginia offense’s ability to get huge explosive plays and the defense’s inability to stop them.
Thus far, opposing offenses have run for 367 yards on 22 explosive plays for an average of 16.7 yards per run. Through the air, the Hoos have allowed 817 yards on 29 passes, an average of 28.2 yards per reception. The 1,184 combined chunk play yards accounts for 71% of the yardage gained against the UVA defense this year and occurred on just 17% of the 284 offensive plays against the Hoos in 2020.
On the bright side, that means the defense is holding opponents to less than two yards per play the rest of the time – that’s good. Now you know where all those high defensive grades were coming from and many told me were too high. Hopefully, with such a limited number of plays to break down, the coaching staff can identify the issues and coach up some fixes. Clearly, there are issues in the middle of the pass coverage with the slot and the Hoos are vulnerable between the seams. That was vividly on display against Wake.
Compare those numbers to the Virginia offense which has produced 42 explosive plays out of 341 total offensive plays (12%) and has averaged 18.04 yards per carry and 21.57 yards per catch on those plays. The Cavaliers’ explosive plays account for 49% of UVA’s offense. That means more extended drives and more opportunities for drive-killing penalties or turnovers.
Case in point; seven of the 13 drives against Virginia where the opponent scored a touchdown came on drives of four plays or less. That’s 54%. Of the 13 touchdowns the Hoos have scored this season, only three have come on drives of four plays or less (23%).
There are other execution consistencies that have fallen off since last season too.
The Cavalier passing offense has declined consistently over the last three games. Yards per attempt dropped 21% from the Clemson game to the NC State game and then 10% more in the Wake outing. Virginia’s passer rating dropped 16 points from game two to three and an additional 22 from State to Wake. The Hoos rank 72nd out of 77 FBS teams in most interceptions, 71st in passer rating, and 72nd in yards per attempt.
The offense has been well below the Mendenhall era consistency on third down conversions. In season one, the Hoos finished 107th nationally with a 34.6% conversation rate and in 2017 they improved to 74th. Over the last two seasons, however, UVA was ranked No. 6 and No. 22 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. After four games, the offense is ranked 66th of 77 teams with the lowest conversation percentage in Mendenhall’s tenure at 30.3%. In the red zone, things are down too. Virginia is scoring touchdowns just 55% of the time in 2020 compared to 62.3% last fall and is scoring on 75% overall in the red zone compared to 86% in 2019.
Special teams showed some improvement last week, but this operation has been a disappointment all season long. In 2018, the Virginia special teams posted nine D’s and seven F’s for the season grades (1.23/game). In 2019, the combined special teams units received four D’s and seven F’s (0.78/game) in the grades. In 2020, the special teams have received three D’s and four F’s in four games worth of grades. That’s an average of 1.75 per game. The issue isn’t even the grades as much as they are putting the defense in a position to defend a short field.
Finally, the ball security issue. Virginia currently is a minus five in the TO category. The Hoos started the season at plus four after the Duke game but have suddenly become a turnover machine and considering the defense has forced just one TO in the last three games, you are flirting with disaster (Molly Hatchet, circa 1979). That’s putting the defense back on the field and killing time of possession control, not to mention the loss of chances to score for the offense.
Not that it will help, but keep this in mind, Virginia was minus seven in turnovers after the Notre Dame game last fall and ended the regular season even. So yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.
Greg's Grades Game By Game 2020