2005 Outlook: The Run Defense

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New DL coach Levern Belin

In football, nothing can be more demoralizing to a team than the inability to run the football, or to stop other teams from doing so. The running game is the number one factor in dictating tempo and will to your opponent. This is what makes the run defense such a critical aspect of any given team. If a defense can line up, look the offense in the eye and repeatedly destroy the run, it is highly unlikely that a team will lose. Take for example, the Florida vs. Florida State rivalry. For as long as I can remember, both teams have fielded highly explosive offenses with dynamic passing games, but the deciding factor in nearly all of their matchups has been who is able to run the football more effectively. All big games are a battle of wills, and nothing so clearly defines will than the battle for ball control.

This offseason there has been a tremendous amount of talk about Virginia’s passing game and secondary. These two aspects of the game are very important, but while preparing to write this article, it became apparent that nothing is so crucial to Virginia’s season as continuing to improve against the run. Each year the defense has taken steps forward, but last year that improvement was not evident in big games. Fresno State ran for 222 yards, Miami for 203, FSU for 192 and VT for 147. Considering the Cavaliers allowed just 118.1 rushing yards per game for the season, that tells me they stuffed inferior opponents but failed to hold firm against the most talented teams on their schedule. There is obviously a great deal of room for improvement.

The philosophy of the 3-4 defense against the run is a simple one. The big bodies on the defensive line are tasked with holding the line, while the linebackers fill the gaps to make plays on the ball carrier. This is particularly true with the 2-gap variety of 3-4 played by UVa. Typically it is read-and-react oriented and has been somewhat frustrating since it appears the defense is “catching” the offense instead of putting them on their heels. This was especially evident in the big games last year as the Cavaliers were blown off the ball and