UVA football midterm grades: Is an A possible?

UVaHelmet_1A critic of Mike London commenting on Augusta Free Press this week pointed to the anemic offensive efficiency rating for the UVA offense in the ESPN Football Power Index. Yikes, yeah, 89th in the country among the 128 FBS teams. That’s bad, beyond bad.

And that’s with two 500-yard total offense games and an average through six games of 397.7 total yards per game, a roughly 10 percent improvement over 2013.

Even with the improvement, it’s still a third-tier offense.

What else does the ESPN FPI have to say about the Cavs? Good things about the defense, rated the 12th-most efficient D in FBS.

The Index has Virginia ranked 41st overall, and fifth among the 14-team ACC, just behind Virginia Tech (#38) and just ahead of Miami (#43), Pitt (#44), Duke (#45) and Georgia Tech (#47).

Meaning that with the offense as a millstone around this team’s neck, almost certainly responsible for the 28-20 loss to UCLA (current ESPN FPI #9) by virtue of surrendering not one, not two, but three second-quarter pick-sixes in what turned out to be a 28-20 loss, this team is still 4-2, tied for first in the ACC Coastal Division, and in the thick of the race for a berth in the ACC Championship Game in December.

So much for the critic making his point that London hasn’t done his job getting things turned around in year five. Barring a total collapse in the second half of the season, the Cavs will win seven or eight games, compete for a division title well into November, go bowling in mid to late December, after which London will be turning his attention to signing day in February.

Which gets us to the midterm grades. Some will be happy, others will need to get a signature from mom or dad.

Offense: C+ I’m grading on the curve here. The line, a big question mark heading into the season, is doing its job, allowing just five sacks and clearing enough holes to allow the running game to put up 177 yards on the ground per outing, which puts UVA middle of the pack, seventh, in the ACC. Quarterback play has been the big hindrance. Pass efficiency is ninth in the ACC, the lowlight among the numbers being the nine interceptions thrown by QBs Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns. Still, this unit is producing so much more than the 2013 Cavs that you have to lean a little in the positive direction at the midway point, and assuming growth by Lambert and Johns in the second half, the offense should at least be able to hold its own.

Defense: A- That’s a cautious A- there. With the #12 defense in the country in the efficiency ratings, it would be easy to push the grade to a solid A. The rushing D is second in the ACC in sacks (23), is giving up 91.5 yards per game, also second in the ACC, and has forced an ACC-leading 19 turnovers. The pass defense is average (seventh in pass defense efficiency), so there’s your room for improvement.

Special Teams: B- The ESPN power numbers have the UVA special-teams unit at 59th nationally, slightly above average. Kicker Ian Frye has been virtually automatic, 12-of-13 on field goals and 22-for-22 on PATs. Punter Alec Vozenilek is averaging 44.0 yards per kick, but punt coverage has been an issue, with the Cavs giving up an ACC-high 5.8 yards per return, and Vozenilek had a punt blocked last week in the 24-19 win over Pitt. UVA is leading the ACC in kick-return average (26.9 yards per return) and is fifth in kickoff coverage (40.9 yard net average per kickoff). Actually, the more you look at these numbers, the more you might begin to think that a solid B is more fair, but I’ll stick with B-.

Overall grade: B The 4-2 start is reason for optimism for a program that had won six games total in 2012 and 2013, but there’s a feeling that the Cavs left at least one more win on the field. The second half is tougher, and that’s saying something, given that the first half featured games against three Top 25s, but games against #1 Florida State, #22 Georgia Tech, defending Coastal Division champ Duke and Virginia Tech on the road and home games with preseason Top 25 UNC and 2014 Coastal Division preseason favorite Miami loom. A B-grade team would go 3-3 against that lineup; a B+ team finds one more win in there and plays in the ACC Championship Game.

– Column by Chris Graham

         
 

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