Atlantic Coast Conference offenses were never more efficient during conference play in 2010 than when they faced Virginia.
Opposing ACC offenses needed an average of 15.57 snaps to score a touchdown against Virginia in 2010, the lowest mark in the league. The Cavaliers finished with a 1-7 conference record during Coach Mike London’s first season at the helm, and while the defense wasn’t solely to blame, its penchant for giving up big plays proved problematic.
Players have said winning at least six games – and thus, becoming bowl eligible for the first time since the 2007-08 season – is a top priority this year. To do that, Virginia will need solid play from whichever inexperienced quarterback London chooses as his starter and significant improvement across the board from its defense.
Only 11 Division 1-A teams in the nation scored fewer points per game than Boston College last season, and yet the Eagles advanced to a bowl game with a 7-5 record thanks in large part to their stout defense. On average, opposing ACC offenses scored a touchdown against Boston College every 47.58 snaps. No other defense made opposing offenses more inefficient in ACC play.
“The longer you keep making them snap the ball, the more you have an opportunity to make something good happen on defense,” Virginia Defensive Coordinator Jim Reid said in a recent telephone interview.
Boston College ranked No. 7 in the nation – and No. 1 in the ACC – in turnovers gained (33) in 2010. Virginia forced 16 turnovers last season. Only 13 teams in the nation – none of which resided in the ACC – tallied fewer.
Here’s a rundown of each ACC team’s defensive efficiency rating (the average number of plays it took for opposing offenses to score a touchdown) during conference play in 2010:
Team / Defensive efficiency / 2010 conference record / Returning defensive starters
|1. Boston College||47.58||4-4||7|
|2. Florida State||41||6-2||8|
|4. Virginia Tech||36.5||8-0||6|
|7. North Carolina||25.57||4-4||6|
|8. N.C. State||23.4||5-3||8|
|9. Georgia Tech||20.19||4-4||5|
|11. Wake Forest||15.97||1-7||9|
Reid said if an offensive drive lasts longer than 10 plays, “then there should be an opportunity for the defense to get a turnover.”
The Virginia defense was on the field for nine opposing offensive drives that lasted more than 10 plays in 2010. Eight of them ended with the other team scoring points (six touchdowns, two field goals), and the one that didn’t was the result of a missed 47-yard field goal by Southern California.
Reid said keeping opposing offenses on the field for more than 10 plays in a single drive is not a particular goal of Virginia’s defense. Rather, the Cavaliers set yardage goals. Reid said the Virginia defense aims to hold opponents less than 105 rushing yards and less than 225 passing yards per game.
Last season, Virginia held one opponent – Division 1-AA Virginia Military Institute – to less than 105 yards rushing.
The Cavaliers held eight opponents – Division 1-AA Richmond, USC, VMI, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Eastern Michigan, Boston College and Virginia Tech – to less than 225 yards passing. But five of those eight opponents tallied more than 200 yards rushing against Virginia, which made operating an effective passing game less imperative.
On the two occasions in 2010 in which the Cavaliers held their opponent to less than 330 total yards – against USC and VMI – Virginia went 1-1. The Cavaliers held Richmond to 333 total yards in a 34-13 victory.
Reid said another one of the goals for the Virginia defense is to force at least three opposing offensive drives to end in a three-and-out per game. Average number of three-and-outs per game by the Cavaliers’ opponents in last season: 2.6.
There were six games in 2010 in which the Virginia defense forced at least three opposing offensive drives to end in a three-and-out. The Cavaliers owned a 3-3 record in those contests.
Virginia began its game at Virginia Tech last November by forcing the Hokies to go three-and-out on their first three offensive possessions.
But Virginia Tech’s fourth offensive possession began on the U-Va. five yard-line after Marc Verica threw an interception deep in his team’s own territory. The Hokies recorded a touchdown on first-and-goal, the first of five scores Virginia Tech would tally in a six-possession span. The Hokies won the game, 37-7.
Reid has said that last season – the first of a transition for the Virginia defense from the 3-4 base scheme utilized by former Coach Al Groh to the 4-3 scheme implemented by London – he simplified the defensive approach too much.
So far during training camp, London said last week, the Cavaliers have installed more packages in which a cornerback is blitzing, linebackers’ routes into the backfield aren’t straight lines, multiple linebackers are rushing off the edge, etc.
He and Reid are hoping the addition of those nuances – as well as addressing the other faults that plagued the defense in 2010 – will help Virginia avoid once again being the easiest team for ACC offenses to score against.
“As you look at it, it’s like, ‘How did we make this mistake? How did this happen?’” Reid said before the start of training camp. “We didn’t see the formation. We didn’t see the pattern developing. So I think I have to make it more challenging for them.”