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Is Virginia Football's 2015 Offense better or worse than last year?

As the beginning of the season nears, we're reviewing the team from several different viewpoints. Now, let's compare the team to last year. Where is the team better? Where are they worse? Will the team's strengths be enough to overcome its weaknesses? Today, we'll take a look at the offensive side of the ball, comparing each unit to last year's.

Matt Johns leads an offense that should improve on last year's 87th ranking.
Matt Johns leads an offense that should improve on last year's 87th ranking.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at the team from various viewpoints. We've looked at individual units, schemes, players, etc. Of course, none of that answers the question of how good this team will be. Are they good enough to win 6 games and make a bowl? Are they better than last year's team?

Despite a 5-7 record last year, the team wasn't that bad. There is a formula used in the NFL to determine projected record based on points scored and points allowed (sometimes called the Pythagorean projection). The Hoos outscored their opponents by 21 points, and based on the projection, should've won 6.5 games. Even rounding down, that should've led to a bowl game. Even after removing the Richmond game, the Hoos were outscored by just 9 points, and would be projected to win 5.2 games out of the 11 remaining, which would still get them to a bowl.

If you delve even deeper into the numbers, you'll see that the Hoos outgained their opponents by 252 yards on the season. This becomes even more pronounced if you remove the Richmond game, because the Spiders actually outgained the Hoos in that contest. Generally, if you gain more yards, you'll win games.

(This type of analysis works much better in the NFL than in college due to the smaller difference in talent level. Still, it suggests that the Hoos may have been better than a 5-7 team.)

We can discuss the reasons that the Hoos fell short of the projection, but that will inevitably turn into a discussion on the merits of the coaching staff. And then I'll go into a rant about coaching mistakes. Next thing you know, I'll be standing in front of Thornton Hall on McCormick Rd chanting "We Hate Mike" for an hour. (Personal note: I actually did this during Al Groh's last year. In my defense, I was drunk. Also in my defense, Al Groh sucked.)

What we want to do is determine if this year's team can improve on last year's? With a more difficult schedule, they'll have to improve if they want to reach a bowl game. We'll have some discussion later on about what the team has to do for Mike London to keep his job, but I think most people agree that another bowl-less season likely spells the end of the London era.

So, we're going to take a unit-by-unit look at what should be better than last year, and what should be worse. Then, we'll wrap it up by deciding if the team should improve from last year. Of course, that may not be enough. An improved team that once again falls short of projections would still likely cost London his job.

Today we'll look at the offense. Tomorrow, the defense.

Quarterback

Here's a chart showing the sophomore seasons for a couple of UVA QBs.

QB

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

TD

INT

Rat

Schaub

140

240

58.3

1524

10

8

118.8

Moore

141

282

50.0

2158

15

14

121.9

Johns

89

162

54.9

1109

8

5

122.6

As a sophomore, Matt Johns actually outplayed both Schaub and Moore. The comparisons aren't perfect, of course, especially in Moore's case. Back in 1988, the game was different. Moore also rushed for 368 yards and 10 TDs (Johns rushed for 107 and 1 TD, Schaub was not a mobile QB although he did have 2 rushing TDs). Moore was also the unquestioned starter at QB. Schaub was also competing with another sophomore, although Schaub was the preferred QB heading into the season.

Point is, Johns' performance as a sophomore was not that bad. Yes, you'd like to see a better than 55% completion rate, but 6.8 yards per attempt and an 8:5 TD:INT ratio aren't bad. Now here's the junior seasons for both Schaub and Moore.

QB

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

TD

INT

Rat

Schaub

288

418

68.9

2976

28

7

147.5

Moore

125

221

56.6

2078

18

7

156.1


Should we expect a similar jump from Johns? No, probably not. For one thing, the team isn't as good now as they were in 1989 or 2002. For another thing, Johns really isn't as good a QB prospect as either Moore or Schaub were. That said, we should expect an improvement. And since Johns was already better, statistically, than Greyson Lambert a year ago, that means we could see a significant improvement in QB play over last year.

Unless Johns' gets hurt. As a relatively mobile QB who is likely to be used on rollouts and read options, an injury is not out of the question. If Johns' misses time, the Hoos are falling back to a transfer who has only been in the program for a couple of months or a redshirt freshman who hasn't played a meaningful down of football in nearly 3 years. That would likely spell disaster for both the offense and the team. And Mike London.

Running Back

A year ago, the Hoos RBs didn't not perform particularly well. Kevin Parks led the team with 745 yards, but rushed for just 3.9 yards per carry. This is the same Parks who rushed for over 3000 yards and 29 TDs during his career. His backups, with limited carries, combined to rush for just 4.2 yards per carry, so maybe the problem wasn't with the RBs themselves.

Losing Parks is a big blow to the RB corps. The returning RBs have a total of 1127 yards in their combined careers (this includes Albert Reid's rushing yards at Maryland).

That said, as a group, the trio of TaQuan Mizzell, Daniel Hamm and Albert Reid could be very good. All 3 are probably faster than Parks ever was. Mizzell has better receiving skills that Parks did. And Reid is bigger than Parks too.

At least on paper, the RB corps will be worse than they were last year. But the potential is there for a more productive season from the RBs a year ago.

Wide Receiver

When fall camp opened, the Hoos WR corps was looking great. UNC transfer T.J. Thorpe was wowing people with his speed and hands. Canaan Severin was looking every bit as good as he did last year. Keeon Johnson was impressing people after a lost season in 2014.

Then Thorpe got hurt. And Severin missed practice time with an injury, as did Andre Levrone. Doni Dowling still hasn't practiced. Suddenly, the Hoos were talking about playing true freshmen David Eldridge and Olamide Zaccheaus (a former RB) as well. Sure, both youngsters are fast, but with 7 upperclassmen at WR, it would seem a waste to force true freshmen into action.

Severin is healthy now, and he'll be leading the WR corps. A year ago, he led the team in catches, yards and TDs. He also did this:

Levrone has returned as well. Also in the mix is Kyle Dockins. All of these upperclassmen are well over 6 feet tall. All have had some degree of success in their career so far. Put it all together and the Hoos could be loaded at WR.

Also, Thorpe is expected back in October.

Tight End

Last year, following the transfer of Jake McGee, the Hoos basically did not have a TE. They spent much of the season in multiple WR sets, with no TE. Rob Burns got the most playing time of the TEs, and finished with just 2 catches for 11 yards. He was a solid blocker, mostly in short yardage situations.

This year, the Hoos have a redshirt freshman Evan Butts, who was a 3-star TE out of Pennsylvania. Burns also returns as a blocking TE.

And then there is Charlie Hopkins, a transfer from Stanford. Hopkins' numbers at Stanford don't blow anybody away, but he's bigger than Butts and more athletic than Burns. He's looked good in camp, and figures to get the majority of the playing time at TE.

With the Hoos expecting to play a more pro-style offense, emphasizing the ground game, we should see more out of the TEs. Hopkins is a guy who can block, but can also be a good option in play-action passing. And Butts could provide a matchup problem for defenses, because he can outrun many LBs.

Offensive Line

Above, when discussing the RBs, we noted how the RB's poor production may not have been related to their talent level. After all, we'd seed Kevin Parks be successful before, so why did he all of a sudden struggle as a senior? The problem most likely sat on the OL. After losing two starting OLs to the NFL (Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko), and seeing another (Jay Whitmire) miss the entire season due to injury, it was no surprise that the OL struggled.

This year, the defections aren't a problem. There are still some injury concerns. But the Hoos return 5 OLs who started at least two games last year (plus Sadiq Olanrewaju, who started twice but seems likely to miss this season with an injury). With 5 returning starters, it seems like the OL simply has to get better.

Another factor in the OLs favor is the return of coach Dave Borberly. Borberly coached the Hoos OL from 2006-2009. Those were some bad years for the Hoos, but as the chart below shows, the running game was not the culprit.

Year

RBs

Carries

Yds

Avg

2006

Jason Snelling

183

772

4.2

2007

Cedric Peerman/Mikell Simpson

226

1155

5.1

2008

Peerman/Simpson

240

1036

4.3

2009

Simpson/ Rashawn Jackson

181

847

4.7

Borberly helped make Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert first round draft picks. He helped get Austin Pasztor into the NFL. He helped get Will Barker into the NFL, albeit briefly. Not to take anything away from Scott Wachenheim, but he was a TE coach who was moved to OL (he did have 6 years of coaching the OL at Rice). Borberly has been an OL coach for nearly 30 years.

This OL may not have the individual talent of a Morgan Moses or a Eugene Monroe, but there are veteran starters at every position and depth all over the line. This OL could be very good.

Offense

Last year's offense was ranked 87th in the nation. In other words, it won't take much to be a better offense than last year's unit. And, obviously, there is quite a bit of room for improvement.

With largely the same personnel and coaching staff, we aren't likely to see a top-20 offense suddenly emerge. However, there is enough talent and experience on the offensive side of the ball to be in the top half of the NCAA. And that should be good enough.