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Virginia hasn’t recovered from the post-Tony Elliott hiring offensive line mass exodus

tony elliott uva football
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia football coach Tony Elliott was asked this week to revisit his offseason comments about wishing he had spent more time trying to re-recruit last year’s offensive line, which skedaddled en masse after Elliott was hired in December.

The spin this week is that the guys who left had already made up their minds.

“I believe some of the decisions were made, to be honest with you. Really didn’t have much of an opportunity, because as soon as I got there, the guys were like nice to meet you, but I’m planning on moving on,” Elliott told reporters at his weekly presser on Tuesday.

“It just happened so late in the cycle,” Elliott said. “You’re talking about, I think, Dec. 10th and then those guys are trying to get enrolled somewhere else in the spring. So they have to make those decisions relatively early so that they can make sure they secured their spot at other places.”

He has to say this, of course, even after putting it on the record in July that the “only regret that I have is that I didn’t do a good job of recruiting those guys that left when I first got to UVA.”

Elliott was announced as the new head coach on Dec. 10, and was formally introduced at a press conference on Dec. 13.

I was among the reporters who spoke that day with Olusegun Oluwatimi, who had just been named a second-team All-America at center, and was at the introductory press conference and was made available by the UVA media-relations staff to speak with the media.

Oluwatimi had already put his name into the transfer portal, and what he had to say to reporters that day led me to believe that, yeah, he was already gone in his mind.

“I’m in a stressful time. Got to make a decision coming up. See what’s happening next year. I’ve got to respect Coach Elliott’s time, and then I got to respect other schools’ time and their scholarship situations,” Oluwatimi said.

A reporter asked Oluwatimi his impression of Elliott.

“He’s a great dude. Definitely a great dude,” Oluwatimi said.

Quick, short, to the point.

Of his decision to enter the transfer portal: “There was a lot that went into that decision. And I just kind of felt it was the right decision for me. I spoke to Coach TJ (offensive line coach Garett Tujague), I spoke to Mendenhall, and they were they were all for it,” he said.

But Oluwatimi wouldn’t announce his decision to transfer to Michigan for another two weeks, on Dec. 27, at the end of a whirlwind 36-hour period that also saw Virginia lose left tackle Bobby Haskins to Southern Cal and left guard Joe Bissinger to SMU.

Right tackle Ryan Swoboda announced his decision to transfer to Central Florida another two weeks later, on Jan. 12.

Each of these decisions came after Elliott had announced his decision to retain the offensive line coach, Garett Tujague, which seemed at the time a part of an effort on the part of Elliott to try to lure the linemen to stick around.

For perspective on what the four guys who left meant to the O line last year:

  • OIuwatimi played 910 snaps, had a 79.4 Pro Football Focus grade, and allowed 20 QB pressures (three sacks) on 630 pass dropbacks (3.2 percent).
  • Swoboda played on 787 snaps, earning a 70.3 PFF grade, and allowed 32 QB pressures (five sacks) on 549 pass dropbacks (3.4 percent).
  • Haskins was on the field for 654 snaps, had a 65.7 PFF grade, and allowed 27 QB pressures (three sacks) on 440 pass dropback snaps (6.1 percent).
  • Bissinger had 389 snaps, with a 59.7 PFF grade, and allowed just six QB pressures on 261 pass dropback snaps (a team-best 2.3 percent).

The unit as a whole ranked 35th nationally in pass blocking and 31st in run blocking in 2021, per PFF.

The mass exodus left Elliott and Tujague with one returner who played anything resembling significant action in 2021, tackle Jonathan Leech, whose time was limited to 83 snaps in 2021.

The O line, a position group of strength last year, has been a glaring weakness in 2022, which is most obvious when you look at the pressure being put on QB1 Brennan Armstrong.

In 2021, Armstrong was pressured on 26.3 percent of his pass dropbacks – a total of 150 of his 571 dropbacks overall.

In 2022, BA has been pressured on 38.1 percent of his dropbacks – 141 of the 370 dropbacks overall.

Meanwhile, the guys who transferred out are doing well at their new schools.

  • Swoboda has a 78.6 PFF grade in 660 snaps at Central Florida, allowing 17 QB pressures (three sacks) on 303 pass dropbacks (5.6 percent).
  • Oluwatimi has a 76.9 PFF grade in 579 snaps at Michigan, allowing four QB pressures (zero sacks) on 241 pass dropbacks (1.7 percent).
  • Bissinger has a 68.4 PFF grade in 499 snaps at SMU, allowing six pressures (zero sacks) on 271 pass dropbacks (2.2 percent).
  • Haskins has a 66.9 PFF grade in 451 snaps at Southern Cal, allowing 17 QB pressures (zero sacks) on 265 pass dropbacks (6.4 percent).

The UVA O line hasn’t put up similar numbers in 2022.

  • LG Noah Josey: 9 PFF grade in 227 snaps, six QB pressures (zero sacks) on 126 pass dropbacks (4.8 percent).
  • LG John Paul Flores: 60.3 PFF grade in 420 snaps, 13 QB pressures (zero sacks) in 251 pass dropbacks (5.2 percent).
  • RG Derek Devine: 56.9 PFF grade in 637 snaps, 13 QB pressures (three sacks) in 371 pass dropbacks (3.5 percent).
  • LT Logan Taylor: 54.9 PFF grade in 642 snaps, 32 QB pressures (three sacks) in 374 pass dropbacks (8.6 percent).
  • RT Jonathan Leech: 52.0 PFF grade in 519 snaps, 29 QB pressures (two sacks) in 308 pass dropbacks (9.4 percent).
  • C Jestus Johnson: 50.8 PFF grade in 175 snaps, five QB pressures (one sack) in 117 pass dropbacks (4.3 percent).
  • C Ty Furnish: 46.6 PFF grade in 467 snaps, 16 QB pressures (two sacks) in 257 pass dropbacks (6.2 percent).
  • LT McKale Boley: 45.6 PFF grade in 123 snaps, nine QB pressures (one sack) in 66 pass dropbacks (13.6 percent).

Chris Graham

I write books, two on UVA basketball, one on pro wrestling, one on politics, which is getting to be like pro wrestling more and more each day. I've finished three marathons, but I'm over that. Oh, and I'm a progressive who voted for Biden, but I'm over that, too. (We need somebody else in 2024!) Want to reach me? Try [email protected]