Thin secondary focus for UVA Football during bye week

uva footballIf UVA Football is going to play a game in the Queen City in early December, it’s going to take some rearranging of the deck chairs this week from Bronco Mendenhall and his staff.

For a while this season, it was the offense that couldn’t keep up with the defense. Now it’s the defense, with a secondary decimated by injury, that is having the hard time pulling its weight.

It is what it is, but also what it is is, well, there’s some writing on the wall that doesn’t read all that well.

North Carolina QB Sam Howell throwing for 353 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago isn’t any reason for alarm, in and of itself.

Howell has thrown for 2,472 yards, 26 TDs and had just five passes intercepted this year.

His QB rating is 153.0, fourth-best in the ACC.

His rating against UVA in the 38-31 ‘Hoos win was 199.5, but, again, no reason for alarm, not necessarily.

But then Georgia Tech QB James Graham had a career day against the UVA secondary a week later.

Graham came in having completed 43.2 percent of his passes, and the Yellow Jackets were last in the ACC, and 124th nationally, in passing offense.

So when Graham threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Ahmarean Brown two minutes into the game, yeah, not good.

Graham threw for 228 yards, completing 15 of his 22 pass attempts, with two TDs and one INT.

This translated to a passer rating for the day of 176.5, for a guy whose season-long passer rating is 114.5.

Virginia, thankfully, has a bye this week, opportunity to lick wounds, and for coaches to scheme up ways to shore up the pass defense.

The next game is a non-conference game with Liberty, and before you sleep on that one to look ahead to the finale with Virginia Tech on Black Friday, well, don’t.

Because doing so overlooks how well Liberty played in Charlottesville last November, in what turned into a 45-24 loss, but felt like anything but a three-touchdown win.

It also overlooks how good Liberty is at throwing the ball.

Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert has thrown for 2,941 yards and 23 TDs, with three INTs, in 2019, completing 61.5 percent of his passes, with a 158.4 passer rating.

Liberty also has a bye this week, and is 6-4 this season.

Yes, that includes losses to woeful Syracuse and Rutgers in their only Power 5 games, but there was also a narrow 31-24 loss at BYU last week that no doubt has Mendenhall’s attention.

As does Calvert, as does wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden, a 6’4”, 220-pound senior who has 1,244 yards receiving on 64 catches this year, and is a sure-fire NFL prospect.

What you don’t want to have happen is you have to fight for your life with Liberty next weekend with a short week thereafter to prepare for Virginia Tech.

That one is likely a winner-take-all for the trip to Charlotte.

I don’t know what Mendenhall and his staff can do this bye week to try to account for the losses of Bryce Hall and Brenton Nelson.

It’s not like you can just go to the waiver wire or sign a couple of guys from your practice squad.

Maybe a redshirt or two needs to get burned, maybe depth at wide receiver gets moved over to the defensive side.

Maybe you scheme differently, go more with blitzes to try to get the ball out of the QB’s hand quicker.

Maybe you just ride it.

The ride is a bit bumpier than we’d like it to be, no doubt.

Column by Chris Graham

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