CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Virginia is hoping an early bye week leads to a more polished look.
The Cavaliers and their revamped coaching staff worked on finding an offensive identity, and on correcting defensive mistakes made in a 59-10 pasting against No. 2 Oregon two weekends ago.
The biggest offensive questions center on quarterback David Watford, coach Mike London said Monday. Watford, a first-time starter this year, is viewed as a dual threat, but has 18 carries for 18 yards.
“One of the things that we had to address is also using David as an option to run that ball as well so teams have to defend the field, not only vertically and horizontally, but know where he is at all times.”
The other thing, London said, is attention to throwing the ball downfield. The Cavaliers’ longest completion through two games is a 20-yard pass from Watford to Darius Jennings. Virginia is just are one of just two FBS teams – East Carolina is the other – without at least one pass completion of 25 yards.
The Cavaliers’ two completions of 15 or more yards ranks last among the 125 Division I teams.
“We spent a lot of time getting those receivers downfield throwing the ball to them,” London said.
The two likely go hand-in-hand, he said, with success at one element opening up the other.
As the dust settled from a tough pair of games to open the season, Virginia also regained some confidence from watching how other games unfolded. The first boost came when BYU, which lost 19-16 at Virginia, beat Texas 40-21. The next one came when Oregon manhandled Tennessee 59-14 on Saturday.
“I think with the bye week, it kind of helped us get our confidence back,” defensive tackle Brent Urban said. “You know Oregon is a great team. We made a lot of mistakes but ones that are fixable. We went over that a lot in practice this week. … It helped us iron out the kinks basically.”
The offense, though, had more to fix, especially since it is averaging just 260 yards.
With new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators on London’s staff, as well as an assistant head coach for offense, the bye provided a chance to assess things, and tinker.
“I think it came at a great time because we just came off these two really tough games and we had a lot of mistakes,” tight end Zachary Swanson said, and they did it in intense, preseason-like practices.
“I mean, I was soaked at the end of practice,” he said. “They were tough practices.”
The hope is they will also prove valuable on Sunday against the Keydets (1-2), a Big South Conference team coming off a 37-24 home loss against Division II North Greenville. Virginia and the Keydets have played 83 times in their history, and the Cavaliers haven’t so much as trailed in the last 25 quarters.
This week, Swanson said, is all about showing how effectively they used their time off.
“This VMI game is a great chance for us offensively to improve,” Swanson said.