Throughout this Virginia Football season, we’re going to provide a report card to the team. This will include an individual grade for offense, defense and special teams. From week to week, we’ll highlight a specific unit, player, or coach (or some combo of them). We’ll also be giving out individual grades. Let’s get to it!
Team Report Card
The Hoos won. That’s a good start. Though this was almost definitely the easiest game on the schedule, the Tribe are still a decent football team with a strong, veteran unit as William and Mary was first in the FCS in pass defense last year.
The Tribe’s offense was almost nonexistent. Of their 240 yards, 89 came on QB scrambles. Tommy McKee was able to find some running lanes, both on broken plays and on a few designed QB keepers. This is something that must be fixed because the Hoos face some much more dynamic running QBs later this season. But for this week, against this QB, this was not something the Hoos were overly concerned about.
All told, the Tribe rushed for 168 yards on the day at 4.1 yards per carry. Those are not good numbers for the Hoos. But removing McKee’s runs, and the Tribe ran for just 79 yards at three yards per carry. Considering the Hoos didn’t know who was going to be playing QB entering the game, and that McKee is not known as a runner, I don’t think the coaching staff is all that concerned about the rush defense.
Giving up 72 yards in the air kind of speaks for itself. McKee was sacked just twice, but he was under pressure several other times. And considering he threw just 12 passes (he also dropped back to pass another 5 or 6 times), there weren’t a ton of options for sacks. The Hoos brought a lot of pressure from LBs and DBs, and more often than not were not able to get there. But it really only cost them once, as the secondary did a wonderful job of staying with their coverage. All-American candidate DeVonte Dedmon had just two catches for 11 yards. Keep in mind that he had seven receptions for 80 yards and two TDs the last time these two teams played.
Overall, the defense gets a B.
Some people are disappointed in the offense. After all, 354 yards isn’t that many in this day and age. The Hoos left a number of plays on the field. There were a couple of drops and Kurt Benkert also missed a few passes early on. Overall, though, the offense did what it had to do.
The running game was not great. There were far too many plays called that had the RBs running laterally across the line. These types of plays don’t make sense against such a small team. The Tribe DL was giving up an average of 40 pounds per player to the OL. Why would you ask your RB to run away from that kind of size advantage?
Later in the game, there were more direct runs and Jordan Ellis was successful. All told, he rushed for 80 yards on 20 carries. What was lacking was a big run. The Hoos long run was 16 yards, and they had just three runs of over 10 yards. If the Hoos are going to continue to throw the ball on over 60% of plays, then teams are going to focus on the passing game. That means that when the Hoos do run it, they’ll need to be more successful. A couple of dynamic runs will change things very quickly.
As for the passing game, although Benkert was efficient, he averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt. Although that beats his 6.3 yards per attempt from last season, it still would’ve ranked around 100th nationally. Again, W&M’s pass defense is good, but there were far too many short passes and not nearly enough long ones.
On the plus side, although Kurt was sacked 3 times, he was given time to throw on most plays. One of those sacks was a well-timed CB blitz that was missed by the OL, one was a coverage sack and one was an intentional grounding where Kurt had plenty of time to throw the ball away and just did not do his job.
Overall, the offense gets a C-. If they did that same thing against a better opponent, the grade would be higher.
The return teams looked very dangerous. Joe Reed very nearly broke one, settling for a 44 yard return. He averaged just over 30 yards per return. Daniel Hamm wasn’t quite as successful on punt returns, but he did manage a decent six yard return on his only real chance of the day. More importantly, he made good decisions on fielding punts and didn’t make any mistakes. The Tribe averaged just 30 yards net per punt.
The coverage teams were very good as well. Dedmon is a dangerous return man, and never really got going. Lester Coleman punted four times for a 43 yard average, and boomed a 63 yard punt, which actually went for a 70 yard net. The rest of Coleman’s punts were either downed or fair caught.
But oh, the kicking unit. After hearing all throughout camp how the kicking unit would be improved over last season, the evidence was not there. AJ Mejia missed his lone attempt, a 42 yard kick which was well short. And though he was 4/4 on PATs, none of them looked particularly good. The Hoos are going to need to make some FGs to win games this year, so this is going to have to improve. Hopefully, the coaching staff is addressing it.
Overall, the special teams unit gets a B-. The missed kick really hurts, but Joe Reed gets an A- for his KRs.
This week, we’re going to focus on the WRs. Coming into the season, we thought the WR corps could be the best unit on the team. They certainly didn’t do anything to change that in this contest.
Doni Dowling was almost the forgotten man among the group. Heading into the season, Olamide Zaccheaus got a lot of talk about replacing Smoke Mizzell’s contributions, Joe Reed got a lot of love for his potential and Andre Levrone got a lot of love for being big and fast. But Dowling may have been the star of the show in this game.
First of all, he led the team with six catches for 76 yards. He also should’ve had a TD on a deep pass that he should’ve caught. It went off his finger-tips, and would’ve been as easy catch had he run through it rather than turning too early. But, the main reason he was the star was this:
Here for all the hurdles pic.twitter.com/TsYfQ0zpyT— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 2, 2017
That hurdle was the highlight of a game where Dowling showed off some really strong run-after-catch skills. He repeatedly broke tackles and made defenders miss. That skill is something that has been lacking among UVA wideouts for pretty much the past decade.
Zaccheaus also got in on the action, catching five passes for 56 yards and a TD. He did his best Smoke impression, catching a number of shorter passes but also made a very nice catch on a back-shoulder throw for the TD.
The final piece is Levrone. He had the big 4th down TD, and would’ve had another on a similar route had Benkert not overthrown him. He looked fast going downfield and also had a nice catch-and-run for a key first down on a 3rd-and-14. There’s a good chance that Dowling leads this team in receptions, but Levrone leads in TDs. William and Mary has two good CBs and they couldn’t stay with Levrone. He is going to make a big play in a big spot at some point this year.
The WRs receive a B+ for this game. DeVonte Cross, Dowling, and Zaccheus all had drops. That is too many drops for the grade to be much higher. But the production was there and figures to get better. I didn’t even mention Joe Reed, who continues to look dangerous every time he touches the ball.