The Virginia Cavaliers got absolutely molly-whomped by the Navy Midshipmen in the 2017 Military Bowl, posting only 163 yards of offense en route to a 49-7 loss.
Here’s what we know, from what we saw.
The offensive line is far from being a serviceable FBS unit.
There haven’t been many games recently where Virginia holds even a putative edge in talent and size in the trenches. This was supposed to be one of those games. Just three players on the entire Navy roster weigh more than 300 pounds. Of the 26 defensive linemen for Navy, only five were rated as three-stars in the 247 Composite.
And they absolutely DOMINATED the Cavalier offensive linemen. Navy recorded five tackles for loss—on only 54 UVA plays from scrimmage. Play after play, Virginia’s linemen stood and watched as Benkert ran for his life. The UVA run game was rendered non-existent: 48 yards on 13 carries (excluding sacks and that weird Lester Coleman loss).
Jack English, Jack McDonald, Brandon Pertile and John Montelus are gone to graduation. English and Montelus will be missed; the others not so much. The juniors and sophomores behind them have not shown much ability to play at the Power Five level: Jake Fieler is a turnstile too often, Steven Moss has barely made the field in three years, and R.J. Proctor is the only sophomore offensive lineman to have earned a number this year.
Don’t be surprised if the true and redshirt freshmen from this year grab most of the playing time next year. Dillon Reinkensmeyer was the most consistent element along the line, and his addition to the starting lineup seemed to inject vigor into the offense. Chris Glaser and Ryan Nelson have been two of the most buzzed-about members of the current freshman class, and Tyler Fannin has all the hallmarks of being a major upgrade at center. A line that goes, from left to right, Nelson, Reinkensmeyer, Fannin, Proctor, Glaser would be something I’d look for in 2018.
Lindell Stone is not a realistic part of this program’s future.
Throughout the bowl prep season, Bronco Mendenhall talked about how great it was to be getting younger guys more experience, and to try out guys and see where they’d fit best. Yet down by six scores late in the game, there was never a change at quarterback. Kurt Benkert played every snap that the UVA offense was on the field.
If you thought a freshman quarterback, whose redshirt has already been burned—or could be regained even if the NCAA legislation passes to re-establish redshirts for guys playing fewer than four games—had a shot at being your QB of the future, why don’t you play him?
We saw what happened when Stone did see the field this year: he threw as many passes to defenders as he did to Virginia receivers. He showed an arm that simply does not have the zip to execute an air raid offense, and wheels that aren’t fast enough to be a true dual-threat.
With Bryce Perkins and Brennan Armstrong enrolling in January, the last grains of sand are starting to slip out of the hourglass keeping time for Stone’s viability in Charlottesville.
The jury should still be out on Robert Anae.
Plenty of Virginia fans have been calling for the head of offensive coordinator Robert Anae. After the Hoos put up all of 0 points on offense in their last 147 minutes of the season, that’s understandable. Getting manhandled by Virginia Tech is one thing; getting embarrassed by Navy is quite another indeed.
But see the two points above. There hasn’t been an offensive line Anae can rely on, despite transfers in and Garrett Tujague’s frenetic efforts. And he’s run an offense motivated by necessity instead of by preference. What we’ve seen the last two years is the Tanner Mangum version of BYU instead of the Taysom Hill version—and without a decade of recruiting to the coaches’ preferences.
Yes, there are moments this year where more creativity would have been warranted. The choices of plain-vanilla calls has also been interesting at times. Just in the bowl game, there was a real head-scratcher of a call: running on second-and-long, late in the second quarter, down 21 points, with only two timeouts.
Judge Anae on what 2018—and, frankly, 2019—look like. Not the patchwork approach that’s been required so far.