Mendenhall making do with makeshift O-line

uva footballVirginia is 4-1, has ACC wins over Pitt and Florida State, played Notre Dame evenly, aside from the five ghastly turnovers that turned a close game into a 15-point loss.

Feels like something has been left out on the field, doesn’t it?

Bronco Mendenhall is up front about what the issue is.

It’s the O-line.

“Our offensive front is really the position group right now that’s controlling the speed in which we can progress. Because of its effect, direct effect on the run game and the pass game, there’s really no offensive play where that can be a workaround. It has to go through the offensive line,” Mendenhall said at his weekly Monday presser.

The ground game is way, way off where it was a year ago, averaging 107.6 yards per game, down 65.6 yards per game from a year ago.

You could try to pin at least some of that on the loss of 1,026-yard tailback Jordan Ellis, but it’s more the line than anything else.

The line had made marked improvement from 2017 to what it did a year ago in clearing holes for Ellis and quarterback Bryce Perkins, who gained 923 yards on the ground in 2018.

That total gave Perkins 71.0 yards per game on the ground. This year, the senior is averaging 32.8 yards per game on the ground.

What you wouldn’t give now to have R.J. Proctor, who left as a grad transfer for Oklahoma, where he is now a backup, right?

Line play has been a focal point for the staff since Mendenhall arrived in 2015. We’re four years into the Mendenhall regime, and to be fair, what you’re seeing now, in terms of the thinness roster-wise on the O-line, is the last remnant of the recruiting failures of the Mike London era.

The London staff was not able to consistently recruit and develop the line, and that roster hole is pronounced now that you’re looking at a position that should be dominated by redshirt juniors and seniors who would have begun matriculating on Grounds at the end of the London era, and instead, well …

Of the 10 guys on the depth chart for the Miami game, you’ve got one true freshman, two redshirt freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors, with junior Dillon Reinkensmeyer listed as RT1 and C2.

“I would say in general, rather than just this week, it is a continuation of work that’s happened the minute I’ve arrived here,” Mendenhall said. “We have needed graduate transfers, we’re developing players, we have enough scholarship players now while we work on the quality. Our run game yardage is about 70 yards off pace from where it was a year ago per game. The sack total versus Notre Dame was a little bit of an outlier in relation to why the protection hadn’t been outstanding or up to my expectations previously, that game was obviously a higher yield against us than what I had hoped for.

“So, lots of work going. And there is no comfort zone for our offensive line, there’s continual expectation, asking and directing and prompting and driving, and they want to get better, they need to get better, and they’re working hard to get better. That’s just a matter of factually where we are.’

Story by Chris Graham

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