Football seeks offensive consistency
Watford, rushing attack underwhelm in season debut
The hype surrounding the Virginia football team coming into this season largely revolved promising sophomore quarterback David Watford and star recruit, freshman running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell. All that talk, much like the game, was rained on Saturday when Virginia faced BYU.
Watford completed a mediocre 18-of-32 pass attempts, tacking on just one touchdown and one interception. The interception, which Watford threw while being taken to the ground, was reminiscent of the quarterback debacles of the past two years, causing some to question the aforementioned talk of a new era of Virginia football. Watford, however, partially alleviated those worries by firing a touchdown strike while on the run to junior receiver Darius Jennings.
The young signal caller’s numbers were not indicative of Watford’s development into an efficient, well rounded quarterback. His teammates, however, believe it is unfair to judge the sophomore’s performance based on the one game, given he made his debut as a starting quarterback against one of the best and fastest defenses in the country.
“You look at the defensive guys they have over there, their defensive staff, you’re talking about a top-five defense from last year that’s returning a lot of players,” senior offensive tackle Morgan Moses said. “We knew going in it was going to be a struggle.”
To put Watford’s numbers into perspective, his counterpart on Saturday, BYU sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill, went a dismal 13-for-40 for 175 yards and like Watford, had one touchdown and one interception. At the beginning of the season, Hill was viewed as an up-and-coming field general who had the potential to lead BYU to a 10-win season. Hill had a promising season last year in which he nearly led the Cougars to an upset win over perennial BCS-buster Boise State.
And though Watford declined to use the delay or slippery conditions as an excuse, the passing numbers for both quarterbacks were clearly affected by the torrential downpour.
Watford’s ineffectiveness Saturday may not represent what is to come from the inexperienced starter given that he dealt with difficult circumstances, including a two-hour lightning delay and weather conditions so atrocious that the stadium tunnels flooded. With anemic production from a running back corps that was built to anchor this offense, Watford was forced to be more of a playmaker than a game manager, a role in which he struggled.
“It was David’s first game back, taking all the snaps and being the guy in there,” coach Mike London said. “Maybe little jitters here and there. . . We have to make sure we can execute the things that can help us.”
In addition to picking up five-star recruit Mizzell, the Cavaliers returned two running backs who enjoyed considerable playing time last year: junior running backs Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd. Yet the Virginia running backs combined for just 99 yards on 32 carries, though Mizzell was limited in the latter half of the game due to a turf toe issue. For a team that planned to rely heavily on its rushing game, last Saturday’s numbers were nothing to write home about.
“You’d like to have had our ground game be present and prevalent most of the game,” London said. “We’re looking to improve in that area and all areas … The running game and the efficiency in our short to intermediate throws, I think that’s critical in making sure we get those catches and turn those catches into first downs, rather than getting off the field and going 6-for-20.”