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Grading Virginia’s performance against Boise State

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The Hoos almost get straight A’s, but it wasn’t a perfect performance.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

In their 42-23 win over Boise State last week, the Virginia Cavaliers’ offense put up the highest point total they’ve had on the road in nearly a decade, dating back to November 2007 when the Hoos shut down the Orange Bowl 48-0. Couple this offensive output with Virginia’s defense, which shut down an offense ranked No. 21 in the nation just a year ago.

Grades are continue to come in pretty high for a Virginia team that is beginning to outpace expectations.

Offense

Even though the output wasn’t as high as it was against UConn, Virginia still amassed 440 yards of offense for the second time this season. The last time the Hoos had 440 or more yards twice in a season was 2014, which is also the last time they had that many yards on the road. Incidentally, that game in 2014 came against Bronco Mendenhall’s BYU Cougars.

Coming into last week’s game, the Broncos (Boise State, not the Fighting Mendenhalls) allowed just 315 yards per game (98 in rushing). Now, Boise State’s average has gone up to 346 yards per game, ranking them 44th in the country. Virginia amassed 167 yards rushing and 273 yards passing, the latter of which may not seem all that impressive given the 455 yards in passing Virginia totaled just the week prior. But prior to Virginia, Boise State was allowing just 217 yards per game, or 6 yards per pass. Kurt Benkert averaged 9.4 yards per pass.

On the season, Benkert is still averaging just 7.2 ypa, which is 73rd in the nation. But over the past two games, he’s averaged 10.5 yards per attempt and that would rank 3rd nationally. Kurt is also 12th in the country in passing yards.

Those are some pretty impressive-sounding stats. But, they may not tell the story quite as much as the eye test. The Hoos’ first run of the game went for 3 yards. That’s not great, but it’s not bad. The next two rushes went for 21 yards. Getting down to the 8 yard line, the Hoos ran the ball 3 consecutive times and got into the endzone. That’s not easy to do against a good run defense. The offensive line was doing work this week.

The Hoos had just two drives that failed to gain a first down (not including the bad snap for a safety). Four drives lasted at least seven plays, which (usually) requires two first downs. That’s awfully consistent for a team that hasn’t been very consistent offensively in a long time. Along with the long drives, the Hoos also had a 1-play TD drive (56 yards), a 2-play TD drive (35 yards) and a 3-play TD drive (75 yards). Consistent offense and big play ability. That’s the mark of a good offense.

Of course, we do have the ding the offense for the bad snap. And for a Kurt Benkert fumble, which was recovered by the offense.

Grade: A-

Defense

Giving up 21 points and allowing 383 yards to a team that was averaging just 340 yards per game, Virginia’s defense did not perform quite as well as its offense on paper. However, 130 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Hoos already led 42-14 and BSU fans had left the stadium. Those yards mostly came against a defense made up of backups, and even then, that unit only gave up points following the safety. Had the Hoos been able to run out the clock without turning it over, the backups would’ve pitched a shutout.

The defense gave up just 30 yards rushing, with 22 of that came in the final four minutes of the game. The Hoos also allowed 353 yards passing, but even that total is misleading. BSU threw 53 passes, meaning they averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt. Coming into the game, the duo of Brett Rypien and Montell Cozart were averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.

The Hoos also generated four sacks, 7 TFLs and an INT. Those are all plusses. But, they also committed 3 penalties, all of which came on BSU TD drives. All came in the first half as well. And, the Hoos got beat on a long TD pass again, although once again that came against backups.

Grade: A-

Special Teams

This is the one place where the Hoos weren’t great. There were, to put it mildly, issues.

Let’s start with the good. Daniel Hamm got only one attempt at a punt return, and he made it count. His return went for 17 yards, and set the Hoos up with good field position on their game tying drive in the first quarter. Hamm also had the only kickoff return for the Hoos, but wasn’t quite as successful. His return went for just 19 yards, giving the Hoos poor field position for their opening drive. Hasise Dubois also had a 32-yard kick return on the onsides kick. That was fun, although I would’ve been just as happy to see him fall on the ball.

Another positive was the kicking operation. Though the Hoos did not attempt a field goal, A.J. Mejia was 6/6 on PATs and they all looked more confident than they had earlier in the season.

The coverage teams weren’t quite as successful, though they weren’t bad. Boise had one big kickoff return, a 30 yarder by Cedrick Wilson on the opening kickoff. But the other returns averaged just 22.4 yards. All told, a 23.7 average on kickoff returns still isn’t particularly (would’ve ranked 106th last year) but it’s still an improvement for the Hoos. And BSU’s dynamic punt returner Avery Williams only got one real attempt and he was stopped for no gain.

The thing about the punt returns, though, is that a punt return only happens if you get the punt off. The Hoos were only successful at that on 83% (5/6) of their punts. The other punt was blocked. Luckily for Lester Coleman and the Hoos, it came late in a blowout, so it didn’t matter. They had better fix whatever issues caused the punt to be blocked, because if that happens in a closer game, it could absolutely change a game.

Grade: C (A blocked punt is a big negative.)

Highlight

Perhaps last week’s record-setting performance would’ve been the time to discuss Kurt Benkert. But, if you ask me, he was better this week than he was last week. For one thing, the opposition was better. For another, going on the road with a young team, the Hoos needed their senior leaders to come up big. That meant Micah Kiser, it meant Quin Blanding and it meant Kurt Benkert.

And boy did Benkert come up big. Though Benkert stumbled on the Hoos’ opening drive, taking an unnecessary sack after stepping up into the pass rush on second down, he recovered quickly, and beginning with the second drive, Benkert had his A-game on.

On 3rd and 2, Benkert rolled out to his left and ended up running for 5 yards and a first down. That may not seem like much, but it’s a sign that Benkert is willing to pick up those key first downs with his legs, and that helps keep defenses honest. If Virginia is going to go four- and five wide on big third downs, there is going to be space for Benkert to run. He doesn’t need to do it often. But when the opportunity presents itself, he needs to be willing to pick up those key first downs.

But running is not why Benkert is being highlighted here; throwing is. He threw some great passes this past week. The first TD to Andre Levrone was a thing of beauty, but the throw that we’re all going to remember is the 64-yard TD throw to Levrone. I cannot recall a better pass thrown by a Virginia QB. The ball traveled 60+ yards in the air and Levrone did not have to break stride to catch it. That’s pretty much the definition of highlight.

Later in the third quarter, Benkert made another big throw to Levrone. On a third down, Benkert hit Levrone down the left hand numbers on a seam route for 31 big yards. That led to Jordan Ellis second TD and effectively put the game away.

A lot of guys were good this week for the Hoos, but Benkert led the way and is deserving of the accolades he’s receiving.

Grade: A