With Virginia sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco set to take on more extensive responsibilities once again now that Coach Mike London has reduced true freshman David Watford’s in-game role, London said Monday it will be imperative that other Cavaliers players and coaches “raise their level,” as well.
“You’ve got to be able to run the ball better,” London said during his weekly press conference. “We have to be able to get the ball to [wide receivers] Kris Burd and Tim Smith. Tim for the last couple of games has caught the long touchdown passes and we need to continue to keep doing that and take multiple shots.
“So I think the best way also to help Michael would be to do some of these other things. Run the ball better more, and then also be able to take those down-the-field shots.”
While it obviously is the responsibility of the receivers to get open and catch the ball, just like it is the responsibility of the running backs and the offensive line to rush the ball effectively, London’s comment sounded as much like a directive to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as it did anything else.
Later on during the press conference, London was asked about the offense’s run/pass balance. It had appeared Saturday during Virginia’s 28-14 loss to North Carolina State that the Cavaliers did not rely enough on its run game after halftime despite averaging five yards per carry in the first half and trailing by only seven for most of the second half.
“When you run the ball, you want to get in a situation where your second down is second and five, second and four, where you can always create those third-and-short situations and you have a chance to move the chains,” London said. “What happened with us [Saturday is the N.C. State defense] did a great job on the first down runs and then became second and 11, second and 10.
“So the way to get out of that and try to minimize that and get half of that is to throw the ball. So we got caught into a rut of having to throw the ball to try to get us back on schedule to make a makeable third downs.”
Nearly half of Virginia’s rushing attempts (16 of 33) Saturday occurred on first down. The Cavaliers advanced more than four yards on those first-down carries five times (31.3 percent).
When you take away the three instances in which Virginia rushed for 10 or more yards on first down and the one instance in which Virginia’s first-down rush ended up being the final play of the first half, the Cavaliers didn’t rely exclusively on the pass on second downs following a first-down rushing attempt. In fact, the Cavaliers pretty much stayed true to offensive identity. Virginia passed on 7 of 12 second downs following a rushing attempt on first down.
Lazor prefers that his offenses be balanced. Actually, being that he’s the play-caller and all, he ensures it. Take away the Georgia Tech game – in which the Yellow Jacket’s run defense was so porous it was all but begging the Cavaliers to run on nearly every down – and Virginia’s offensive plays this season have been split almost exactly down the middle between run (235 attempts) and pass (236 attempts).
In 2010 – Lazor’s first season as Virginia’s offensive coordinator – the Cavaliers passed the ball 51.4 percent of the time. So, again, the run/pass ratio was pretty much split right down the middle.
The question, then, for this team in this particular season is whether that’s the most prudent approach. Virginia owns the No. 3 rushing offense (183.1 yards per game) in the ACC, three serviceable and somewhat diverse tailbacks and an offensive line that London has lauded from the outset of training camp.
Conversely, the Cavaliers own the conference’s No. 8 passing offense (224 yards per game), a quarterback situation that only in recent days gained any sort of clarity and a starting quarterback (Rocco) who has tallied the second-most interceptions (8) in the ACC.
No one is suggesting Virginia try to become a purely run-oriented offense, but perhaps becoming a tad more run-oriented wouldn’t hurt.
The Cavaliers will play Thursday at Miami, which owns the second-worst run defense (179.4 yards per game allowed) in the ACC.
“Going into this game [against Miami] and going into all of the other games, Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and an increased role with Clifton Richardson, obviously they are running backs and that’s their strength,” London said, “and so we need to also address the strengths of some of the playmakers that we have that are going to carry the ball.”