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UVA Football News and Notes: Bronco on special teams, pass rush, injury updates

uva footballVirginia had to burn two timeouts in the first quarter because the punt unit had 10 guys lined up in formation, which, one of those is bad enough, two is beyond unacceptable.

And then things got worse.

Taiyon Palmer broke through untouched and blocked a Nash Griffin third quarter punt. The defense was able to wrest the ball back on a De’vante Cross INT in the end zone, but, man.

“It was a missed assignment” a frustrated Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. “The operation time was fine. What was even more frustrating is the punt wasn’t, they did not have a punt block on, it was just a return. They had two edge rushers, but one of the edge rushers, there was an assignment mistake on that edge rusher, and he came hard enough to block it. The ones they actually came after, where they tried to block it, they didn’t get any pressure. And surprisingly enough, the one they don’t come after, we have an assignment mistake.”

Let’s see, there was also the kickoff from Brian Delaney that sailed out of bounds after the Lindell Stone-to-Tony Poljan TD pass that cut the State lead, once at 24-0, to 24-14 with 2:08 to go in the third, setting up the Pack at their own 35.

And then the two kick returns that didn’t get to the 20.

On the positive side: Griffin completed a pass to Nick Jackson on a punt fake on the third quarter TD drive.

Delaney made his extra points.

Not much else went right.

“We just need to be significantly better in all phases,” Mendenhall said. “I think we’re off to a slow start with our special teams collectively, and that’s affecting field position right now.”

‘Backers need to get to the QB

The pass rush was a strength of the Virginia defense in 2019. The ‘Hoos ranked third in the ACC with 46 sacks a year ago, and the pressure defined everything as to how the defense went about doing its job across the board.

The 2020 unit is 14th in the ACC with seven sacks through three games, and the D registered a big fat zero in the loss to NC State on Saturday.

“Our outside backers have to be more productive. That’s just where we are. Our defense thrives on production from those two positions, and to this point, while they’re both playing solidly and capably, the impact on the game isn’t to the level that we would like it to be, what we expected to be. So we need more production I guess is probably the bottom line there,” Mendenhall said, not mincing words.

That’s Noah Taylor and Charles Snowden that he’s talking about there – the giant (Taylor is 6’5”, Snowden 6’7”) book-ends in Virginia’s 3-4 front.

Snowden has yet to record a sack in 2020, and Taylor has 1.5 – though to be fair, Taylor has been used more often in pass coverage this season, dropping back into coverage on 70 of the 109 snaps involving passes that he’s been in on through three games, and Snowden is just getting fewer snaps.

Through three games, the senior has averaged 50 defensive snaps per game, and he was on the field for just 38 of the 70 NC State offensive snaps on Saturday.

“After games one and two, we felt like Charles needed a little bit more rest. And in terms of the season coming, it just, the volume we were putting on him, as well as special teams and how hard he practices, it looked like he was going to lose ground rather than gain ground over the course of the year. It wasn’t his performance that didn’t have him playing more. We just have to manage him and his workload because he tries so hard,” Mendenhall said.

Taylor was used more in pass coverage last week, Mendenhall said, to try to account for the loss to injury of senior safety Joey Blount.

“Noah Taylor is a very versatile player. And so that then had him become a secondary-ish type of player last week more than a rush player. And that influenced his production up front. So those are contributing factors,” Mendenhall said.

That all said, Mendenhall feels “those two positions can and need to be at a higher level.”

Injury updates

Mendenhall said Blount should be able to go this week, and that wideout/returner Tavares Kelly Jr. is “too early to say” in terms of his possible availability.

“I’ll get an update from the trainers probably tonight, tomorrow. So probably probable is what I would say. If I’m going from a doubtful-probable, probably be the probable category,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall had talked last week about getting veteran O lineman Bobby Haskin back for last week’s game, but Haskin’s status is still up in the air.

“He is still getting stronger, and that will certainly change,” Mendenhall said. “Practice certainly influences that, but not quite as far or as fast as we were thinking but growing in capacity daily. So, I think that will look significantly this week just as I am watching.

Tailback Shane Simpson left the game after suffering an apparent hamstring injury on a third quarter run that ended with him losing a fumble in plus territory.

Mendenhall said the injury was part of the reason that Simpson didn’t return.

The coach said today that it appears Simpson will be available this week.

Story by Chris Graham

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