It’s hard, if not impossible, to sugarcoat this one. And I’ll try not to.
Virginia, a Power Five team, got throttled on their home turf by Richmond, an in-state FCS team, on what was supposed to be a day of celebration and affirmation. The Bronco Mendenhall Era couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, and we learned some truths on Saturday about where this program is – some good, some disconcerting. Here are three of them.
1. Kurt Benkert is a “franchise” quarterback.
“Franchise” is in quotes because “program quarterback” doesn’t hit the ear as well. The ECU transfer, in his first collegiate start, went 26-34 for 264 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while being sacked three times. Benkert looked fairly comfortable when not under pressure and the timing on his releases were generally quick enough. With a deeper offensive line in front of him, the UVa offense probably would have scored more than seven points in the first three quarters, even if the result might have been the same. More adventurous playcalling from offensive coordinator Robert Anae would have been to Benkert’s benefit, as well. Benkert had a net gain of 28 yards on five rushing attempts (not including the three sacks for a combined loss of 25 yards). Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who sat out the first half due to a violation of team rules, ended the day with five catches for 75 yards. It again may not have led to a different result, but his availability could have made the game more competitive in the first two or three quarters.
2. There were a couple of small bright spots that might indicate the framework for a moderately successful season.
This isn’t a “quality loss” and I don’t mean to imply that. There were, however, some minor positives evident in an otherwise dreadful game. Most notably, there were no penalties! None. Zero. From 2012-2015, UVa ranked 89th, 91st, 85th, and 100th nationally in penalty yards per game. At least in this regard, the team proved that the talk of improved discipline and improving on the details was more than mere rhetoric. Punter Nicholas Conte also deserves a tip of the cap, as his three punts went for an average of over 46 yards, which helped to keep the margin of victory at 17 instead of something closer to 30. To be sure, these are nothing to phone home about -- this was FCS Richmond, after all.
3. The defense has a long way to go.
Just in looking at the numbers, Virginia’s defense was largely the reason for Richmond coming away with the win. With 24 first downs given up, no turnovers created, and 524 yards allowed, UVa was wholly ineffective at stopping the Spiders either through the air or on the ground. Up front, the Hoos were frequently moved off the line of scrimmage by the UR offensive line, and Richmond had a solid 4.6 yards gained per attempt. The secondary woes were apparent on the first drive, with a 17-yard completion by Kyle Lauletta on the first play from scrimmage, then an 18-yard run from Gordon Collins one play later after he broke through the second level.
What went wrong? To be blunt, everything. Schematically, Mendenhall said after the game that the defense “didn’t execute well the entire day and did not play physical and didn’t play well not only on first down, but on third down,” before adding that he thinks he gave the group “too much” from a schematic standpoint. “Too many variables defensively to execute effectively … it appeared that we were a little bit tentative in our adjustments and not really adjusted and ready in anticipating what was happening, kind of being a step behind in many cases,” he said.
Richmond head coach Danny Rocco did an outstanding job of opening up the playbook and stretching Virginia’s thin secondary all over the field.
Open Benkert’s options. Build on Week 1’s discipline. Simplify the defense. Three things we’ll be watching for heading into Saturday night’s showdown at Oregon.