Virginia’s special-teams units have now had major muckups that played key roles in each of the Cavaliers’ last three losses.
There was the blocked punt that led to a JMU touchdown in the 36-35 loss to the Dukes in Week 2; the kickoff-return TD that got Maryland off the mat from an early 14-0 deficit in Week 3; and then last week, in the 24-21 loss to NC State, the 35-yard kickoff return that set up the Pack for a potential game-winning field goal, and then the leaping penalty that moved the kick 15 yards closer to set up the eventual walk-off kick.
The issue with special teams has unfortunately been a feature of the Elliott regime since he took over last year. UVA’s special teams were ranked 115th nationally last year (among the 131 FBS teams playing in 2022) by Pro Football Focus and 127th by the ESPN Football Power Index.
Through four games in 2023, PFF has Virginia at 114; FPI has the ‘Hoos at 103.
There are 133 FBS programs competing in 2023.
Diving deeper inside the 2023 numbers, the kick-return unit ranks 68th; kick-return coverage ranks 116th; the punt-return unit is 117th; punt-return coverage is 128th; and net punting is 119th.
Elliott, speaking to reporters at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, noted that there will be some personnel changes on the special-teams units, and that he’s been making special teams a point of emphasis in practice.
“It’s a lot of coaching of the details,” Elliott said. “Again, I think special teams at the college level is a little bit different, right, a little bit more detailed, a lot more involved. So, that’s the approach, is to try and find the right personnel with the right skillset for all the jobs we’re asking them to do, and then spending adequate time not just schematically, but fundamentally.”