clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Virginia Football: Fairchild's First Down Follies?

New, 12 comments

Are the concerns about Offensive Coordinator Steve Fairchild's first down play calling legitimate? We'll give you the data and you can give us your thoughts.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

During the Louisville game on Saturday, I endured having a gentleman behind me in the stands commenting on our first-down play calling the entire game. Literally, every, single, first, down. He seemed oblivious to the times when we actually did something other than run up the middle.

So, I figured I'd do a little analysis and see what our first down plays actually looked like. I'm not going to go and look at the plays and figure out what the play call might have been. I'm just going to go by the results in the box score. Maybe not a perfect analysis, but it should give me an idea whether the guy behind me deserves a raise, or if I need to switch out his regular bourbon with something a bit stronger so he'll shut up.

Let's dig in

First Quarter:

Field Pos. Play Type Result
VA 26 Pass 50 yard pass to Miles Gooch
L 24 Rush 4 yard gain by Kevin Parks
VA 16 Rush 1 yard gain by Taquan Mizzell
VA 28 Pass 5 yard pass to Kevin Parks
VA 41 Rush 5 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 15 Rush 6 yard gain by Kevin Parks

Two passes and four rushes. The first pass was clearly a "start of the game" pass and the outcome was awesome. The four rushes averaged 4.0 yards per carry. I'll take that all day long.

Second Quarter:

Field Pos. Play Type Result
V 38 Rush 11 yard gain by Khalek Shepherd
V 49 Pass 3 yard gain by Miles Gooch
V 43 Pass Incomplete
V 48 Rush 3 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 41 Rush 2 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 17 Rush 3 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 35 Rush 3 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 25 Rush 2 yard gain by Kevin Parks

Six rushes, two passes. One of the the passes was incomplete. The other was for very short yardage. The six rushes averaged 4.0 yards per carry, but the bulk of that was from the 11 yard gain by Shepherd. By themselves,  those plays aren't going to cut it.

Third Quarter:

Field Pos. Play Type Result
V 31 Rush 1 yard gain by Kevin Parks
V 45 Pass Sacked for 1 yard loss
L 25 Rush 1 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 10 Rush 10 yard gain, Touchdown, by Greyson Lambert
L 48 Rush 3 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 37 Rush 11 yard gain by Taquan Mizzell (brought back because of holding)
L 36 Pass Incomplete
VA 37 Rush 1 yard gain by Kevin Parks

Six rushes, two passes. The first pass attempt was a sack. The second was incomplete. The six rushes averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown. The 10 yard gain and touchdown by Greyson Lambert was absolutely set up by the previous simple rushes up the middle.

Fourth Quarter:

Field Pos. Play Type Result
V 25 Rush 2 yard gain by Greyson Lambert
VA 21 Rush 5 yard gain by Darius Jennings
VA 39 Rush 2 yard gain by Darius Jennings
L 30 Rush 7 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 47 Rush 14 yard gain by Taquan Mizzell
L 33 Rush 4 yard gain by Kevin Parks
L 21 Kneel Kneel by Lambert. End of game

All rushes here. The kneel doesn't really count. 34 yards on six rushes is 5.7 yards per carry. Some of these (Jennings and Mizzell) were jet sweeps. The Parks rushes were up the middle. The best part, to me, is that at the end of the game everyone in the stadium knew we were going to rush. And we did. And we got the yardage we needed.

Overall

22 rushes, 6 passes on first down. Clearly biased towards rushing, and a lot of those were, in fact, straight rushes up the middle like my stadium-mate liked to point out.

But there's a little more going on here.

First of all, for an offense that is struggling (or maybe just unproven), giving them some yardage - any yardage - on first down can go a long way to getting another first down. If you're unsure of the offensive line and the quarterbacks, why don't you go ahead and rush for a few yards on first down to make sure second and third down have a little better chance?

Second of all, our running backs are good. Parks is good. Mizzell is good. Jennings can apparently run 100 yards side to side to gain 5 yards really well. So why not make use of that? Of the six pass attempts on first down, you had two incompletions, a sack, a 3 yard gain and a 5 yard gain. Not exactly lighting the world on fire. So let's stick with what we're comfortable with - for now, at least.

Finally, we are very clearly setting things up for an offense with more variety. Greyson Lambert's touchdown is a perfect example of that. Louisville knew we ran it up the middle on first down often. So they bit hard on the fake and Lambert barely had to jog to get to the end zone. The jet sweeps are a nice wrinkle that also play off our apparent tendencies. Even if we're not setting up a play action pass, we're still able to set up other parts of the rushing game.

So what's my final analysis? Well, I'm not sure. I think the guy should shut up regardless. But I do think he has a point. We were clearly a bit one-dimensional on first down. But is that really a bad thing right now? Again, I'm not sure. If we're still being that conservative towards the end of the season, I'll probably be very concerned. But right now, in game three, with the way the defense has been playing (thus giving the O some breathing room)? I'm not that concerned at the moment.

What say you, dear STL readers?