BLANK: Zaccheaus shows Virginia’s potential
Under former coach Mike London, Virginia’s offense seemed stuck in the mud. The offense was slow, as in 2014, they ranked 83rd in the country in pace, measured in seconds per play. They weren’t overly effective either, as they were 80th in yards per game, and 92nd in points per game. Their style was vanilla — heavy on runs up the middle, with big blockers and big backs.
This state of affairs didn’t seem to lend itself to receiving a commitment from a lightning quick offensive weapon. Nonetheless, they received a commitment from Olamide Zaccheaus, a five-foot-eight running back from Philadelphia, Pa. Zaccheaus was certainly a strange fit in London’s offense as recruited — an agile back with no defined role as a freshman.
Additionally, there was a logjam at tailback going into the 2015 season, along with then-junior Taquan Mizzell being entrenched in the role Zaccheaus might have been able to fill as a back. Zaccheaus could have taken a redshirt season, but instead switched to receiver and kick returner, contributing in any way he could.
Zaccheaus announced his presence to both the Cavalier faithful and the national audience in a blowout loss to Boise State early in the season. He was one of the few bright spots, accumulating 231 kick-return yards in the game, a school record. It was the most return yards a power conference player had all season, and stands as the third most return yards in a game in ACC history.
Throughout the year, Zaccheaus’ name continued to surface. Against Duke, he showed off his diverse skill set by throwing a touchdown pass. He also led the team in receiving yards that game, and in catching a 50-yard touchdown pass, became the first Virginia player to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game since 2011.
His success was carried throughout the year, as Zaccheaus got playing time in all 12 games. While he did lead the team in kick return yards, and played primarily as wide receiver, Zaccheaus had success running the ball as well. Zaccheaus averaged 7.9 yards per carry, the highest number on the team for an offensive player. In all, Zaccheaus impressed with his potential, enough so that he was named to the Paul Hornung watch list for the 2016 season, the award given to the nation’s most versatile player.
While Zaccheaus managed to stand out in an otherwise unmemorable season, it still seemed as if there was untapped potential. Being used primarily in gimmick plays and occasional screens wasn’t enough to maximize his talents. Thankfully for Olamide, whose name means “blessing has come” in Nigerian, Virginia underwent a coaching change, and coach Bronco Mendenhall brought with him a fast-paced, spread offense, one much better suited to Zaccheaus’ skill set.
The results this year have exceeded expectations. Zaccheaus has become a favorite target of junior quarterback Kurt Benkert, as he leads the team with 340 receiving yards, 63 more than anyone else, and is tied for the lead with 26 receptions. He also leads the team with four receiving touchdowns, and is averaging 9.5 yards per carry on the ground, although he hasn’t run as often this season. Zaccheaus was also crucial in turning the season around. It was in part his stellar game with 141 yards and two touchdowns that helped the Cavaliers defeat Central Michigan.
While his skillset has always been readily apparent, Mendenhall’s offense has allowed Zaccheaus to bring those skills onto the field in a more consistent manner. The up-tempo scheme has created a weapon that few teams can consistently fend off, with benefits reflected in the success of the whole offense. Although it’s still early, and much of the ACC schedule remains to be played, Virginia currently ranks 41st in yards per game, and 56th in points per game, a noticeable improvement from last year.
Now that he’s established a rapport with Benkert, Zaccheaus should only continue to get better in the years to come, and the Virginia offense stands to benefit as a result. So while his name is hard to pronounce — Oh-llama-day Zah-key-us — as his Twitter handle (@llamaday) underscores, Olamide Zaccheaus is certainly a name worth knowing going forward.