Through two games, the Cavaliers offense has been stagnant at best. Virginia currently ranks 111th in the nation in passing (144 yards/game) and 99th in rushing (116.5 yards/game). While the poor results are obvious, the reasons behind the offensive ineffectiveness are much harder to pinpoint. Here are some possible theories:
1) Steve Fairchild's brand of offense is no good. Fired from his head coaching position at Colorado State in 2011, Steve Fairchild was hired as UVa's offensive coordinator because of experience and pro-style philosophy. Thus far, his play-calling has been extremely conservative. UVa has taken only a couple shots down the field all season. Currently, the longest passing play of the season is 20 yards. Quarterback David Watford is averaging an abysmal 3.77 yards per passing attempt. Because of conservative play-calling, Oregon and BYU were able to stack the line of scrimmage to defend against the run.
The most confounding element of the UVa offense thus far has been the lack of involvement from the wide receiving corps. Considered one of the strengths of the team coming into the 2013 season, Virginia wideouts are not targeted with regularity. Dominique Terrell has only three catches for eight yards. Tim Smith, the top receiver on the depth chart, has only five receptions. The leading receiver in terms of yards is Zachary Swanson, the back up tight end. This is not a formula for long term success. If Virginia does not at least threaten to throw the ball vertically on occasion, opposing defenses will continue to put eight or nine players in the box.
2) David Watford is not ready for the starting role. After the dismissal of Phillip Sims in the offseason, Watford emerged as the clear starter at quarterback. According to all media reports from camp, Watford distinguished himself from redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert. He is unquestionably the best option UVa has at the moment. However, he has struggled out of the gate. The raw numbers aren't pretty-Watford has one touchdown and four interceptions. He has a tendency to overthrow, as both deep passes thrown during the Oregon game were five yards beyond open receivers. Watford simply does not appear comfortable in the pocket. He appears anxious to get rid of the ball, too often opting for the check down receiver instead of allowing plays to develop.
There is no questioning Watford's skill set and leadership in the huddle. Still, at the moment, he is not making the necessary throws to spur the offense. This leads to a "chicken-egg" debate about the Cavaliers' offense: Is David Watford struggling because of the play-calling, or is Fairchild opting for conservatism because he knows Watford is not completely comfortable with the playbook?
3) The offensive line is a liability. Watford's discomfort in the pocket may have something to do with the porous play from the offensive line. With the exception of a single run from Khalek Shepard against Oregon, Virginia's running attack has been stifled. Running lanes simply are not emerging. Dynamic players such as Kevin Parks and Taquan Mizzell have been bottled up because of a lack of push up front. Though UVa has allowed few sacks thus far, teams have successfully used blitzes to disrupt the offense.
Aside from Morgan Moses, the offensive line was a concern coming into the season. Walk-on redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo was given the reigns at center. First time starter Jay Whitmire won the starting job at right tackle. An injury to Sean Cascarano forced junior Conner Davis to play at right guard for the first time. This inexperience has hurt Virginia, and especially Watford who is learning on the fly after a redshirt season.
4) Scheduling. Some of UVa's struggles must be credited to the quality of the opponents. BYU and Oregon are strong defensive teams. These are not the teams you want to play when breaking in a new playcaller, quarterback, and offensive line. While the schedule lightens considerably in the coming weeks, UVa still has to play at Miami, Clemson, and Virginia Tech this season. The offense needs to improve considerably to have any chance in these games.
All of these factors are likely causes of UVa's offensive struggles. The problem for the Cavaliers is that none of these issues can be easily addressed. The quarterback and line will need time to develop. Fairchild's pro-style offense is unlikely to become more dynamic overnight. This suggests that the remaining ten games on the schedule could be tough sledding for an already anemic offense.