The Virginia Cavaliers did a lot of things right statistically vs. Indiana but still lost at home 34-17. The Hoos played a clean game with solid defense, but came up short due to an ineffective short passing game and inept punting unit.
Looking at the stats in the game and on the season so far, UVA has limited mistakes and played solid defense. The Cavaliers did not commit a turnover and sacked Indiana four times. Virginia is the only team in the country with no turnovers and fewer than 50 penalty yards through two games. The last time the Hoos went two straight games without a turnover was October 3 and October 10, 2009, when they beat the same Indiana program 47-7. On the season, UVA ranks in the top 20 in fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards. The Cavaliers are in the top 50 in first downs allowed and top 15 in stopping opponents on third down. Virginia is also ranked 57th in scoring defense and 32nd in defensive yardage.
If the Hoos played such a clean, defensive game, how did they lose by 17?
The answer lies within the short passing game and the punting unit.
On the surface, Kurt Benkert’s passing numbers look great. He is 66 of 105 (62.9%) with 521 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions on the season. He set a Virginia record with 66 attempted passes in a game vs. Indiana. However, 16 of his 39 completed passes in that game went for 5 yards or less. Four of them went for no gain or negative yardage. None of the completions went for more than 20 yards, after having four such completions vs. William and Mary. Virginia ranks 126th out of 129 schools with only 7.8 yards per completion. The three teams ranked lower (Georgia Southern, Western Michigan, and Charlotte) have thrown for fewer yards combined than UVA.
While a QB checking down to a RB in the flat or hitting a quick WR screen is nothing new, UVA failed to get any yardage after the catch. Benkert may have just been going where the defense allowed him to go with the ball and the receivers just failed to make plays to further drives, but three times Benkert had completions less than the yardage to go on third down. This conservative passing approach led to several failed drives and eventually nine punts. Which leads me to my next point, the punting.
UVA’s punting unit struggled in both the distance and coverage of the punts. Of Lester Coleman’s nine punts, two travelled 30 yards or less. Two of the punt returns went for 40 or more yards. The Hoos have given up 102 punt return yards on the season so far, which ranks 126th out of 129 schools. Only Akron, Troy, and Rutgers have given up more yards. The combination of short punts and giving up long returns has Virginia ranked 120th in net punting. This led Indiana to start four drives in UVA’s territory. Those four drives resulted in 17 points. That is a tough situation to put your defense in.
Despite playing two clean games with strong defense, Virginia was let down vs. Indiana by a short passing game and ineffective punting. With a weak UConn passing defense coming into town this week, look to see the Hoos improve these numbers and get a second win.