Of dinosaurs and defensive lines
In “Jurassic Park,” Dr. Alan Grant and his comrades first encounter the Tyrannosaurus Rex well before the movie’s climax. They survive the attack — or at least the good guys do — and breathe easy for a bit. But of course, the drama is far from over. Though smaller and lacking the brute force of the T-rex, the Velociraptors prove to be a deadly challenge in their own right.
If Scott Stadium is Jurassic Park, then No. 2 Oregon is the Tyrannosaurus. It came in, stomped around, killed some people — er, offensive lines — and left. For Virginia football, the worst threat has passed. But last weekend’s drubbing exposed a number of areas that need improvement as the season continues. No. 3 Clemson, No. 16 Miami and Virginia Tech may not be T-rexes, but the Cavaliers cannot ease up — Velociraptors are still killers.
When a team gives up 59 points, the first instinct is to blame the defense. Heisman contenders De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota romped across the field last Saturday, rushing for a combined 246 of the Ducks’ 557 total yards. But it is imperative to remember that Oregon is among the top-ranked teams in the nation — not because they have winged uniforms, but because they are really, really good. To expect the Virginia defense to post a shutout would have been entirely absurd. In addition, only a week earlier, that same Virginia defense held Brigham Young to only 16 points, despite ceding 362 yards. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is already making progress with his defense, and against weaker competition, it will have an opportunity to shine.
So while the defense has a few things to work on, that goes tenfold for the offense. The Cavaliers totaled 298 yards against Oregon, which could be chalked up to Oregon’s superior defense, but they also finished with just 223 yards against BYU. In the two games this season, the offense has only scored three touchdowns — not exactly a heartening statistic.
David Watford has completed 47 of 73 passes and thrown one touchdown and four interceptions in his two games this season. Of course, the Virginia passing game is also handicapped by its receivers’ unfortunate habit of dropping anything but three-yard screen passes — they caught 10 passes for all of 41 yards against Oregon. In the absence of an effective running game, the offense needs a more dynamic air attack with deeper throws and reliable receivers — Jake McGee, anyone?
Conversely, if the Cavaliers’ passing game cannot deliver, the ground game needs to step up. Watford has been described time and again as one of the fastest players on the team, and was even chosen as the starting quarterback over Greyson Lambert in part because of his mobility. He and the Virginia running backs, however, have combined for only 233 yards this season.
Their problem may stem from the big men up front — the offensive line has been lacking thus far. The left side has been mostly solid, but with new starters at center and right tackle, the unit could use more work. The line should view the next few games as an excellent chance to work out some kinks, which could do wonders for the Cavalier offense. Besides, when a member of your backfield is a five-star running back recruit nicknamed “Smoke,” you’re obligated to have a decent rushing game.
Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement this year, but at the same time, no need for despair. After a bye week spent licking the multitude of wounds left by Oregon, the Cavaliers should be re-energized for this week’s game against Virginia Military Institute, a team that was demolished 48-7 last time it visited Charlottesville.
After that, they then face a new ACC member in Pittsburgh, which finished 6-7 last year, followed by Ball State, Maryland and Duke. None of these opponents have nearly the the same amount of talent as Oregon, but they certainly should not be taken for granted. As far as dinosaurs go, they are the Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus: not quite as deadly as their carnivorous counterparts, but they’ll still crush you if provoked.
The good news is that in the end of “Jurassic Park,” the good guys got out alive, and so will the Virginia football team. Having already faced what is most likely the biggest challenge the season has to offer, the Cavaliers have an invaluable opportunity over the next few weeks to solidify its entire offensive attack against weaker teams. Of course, that task cannot be taken lightly. A long season stretches before us, and depending on the changes made, it could either be a joy to watch or could be really, really ugly. To quote Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold on to your butts,” Virginia fans.