There are just three teams in Virginia football history that put up more yards than the Cavaliers did a year ago. That, though, doesn’t mean Coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor haven’t done some reflection this offseason, especially now that Virginia’s offense will be counted on more than ever.
The reason has to do with statistics from a year ago, and the make-up of this year’s squad.
Virginia’s offensive scheme came into its own in 2011 as the Cavaliers averaged nearly 400 yards per game, fourth best in the ACC. All that production, though, didn’t help the scoreboard as much as it should have. Virginia finished the year ninth in the conference at 23.2 points per contest.
But with three offensive linemen returning, a stable of running backs and speedy wide receivers to spare, the Cavaliers’ offense is expected to carry a heavier burden this year with a defense that will feature an inexperienced secondary.
“I feel like we have more players that we know can contribute with the ball in their hands than we’ve had the last two years,” Lazor said recently. “The onus is on the coaches, now, of how you get those guys in the right situation. I feel real responsibility to make sure the ball gets in certain guys’ hands a number of times.”
Lazor admitted he sometimes failed in that regard a year, particularly at rotating the team’s three running backs into formations and schemes that played to their strengths.
His emphasis during the offseason, and even as Virginia prepared for the Chick fil-A Bowl last year, was to create more big plays in the offense. He feels it will remedy the Cavaliers’ scoring troubles.
“It’s very hard to create long drives with all short plays,” Lazor said. “You’ve got to have explosive plays and for two years we’ve kept track every week of how many explosive plays we had, and that leads you to what your point production is going to be. It’s hard to have a 15-play drive. There aren’t many in football. Almost every team in football, if you look at their drive start, the farther back they start, the harder it is to score.”
Lazor added quarterback play will be important, and he expects it to improve from a year ago. But in that regard, Virginia remains something of a question mark.
London has gone out of his way to praise incumbent Michael Rocco, Alabama transfer Phillip Sims and sophomore David Watford through the first week of training camp. But the Cavaliers will hold two scrimmages this week, and it sounds like they could go a long toward determining who starts under center when Virginia opens the regular season against Richmond on Sep. 1.
London said he and Lazor will be paying close attention to their accuracy and decision-making, whether it’s during live action or drills.
“They know they’re being evaluated,” London said. “This is an important week for us to see if there’s gonna be some separation made.”