Virginia D faces another huge challenge with Florida, Trask

orange bowlThe Virginia defense is as ready as it can be for the Florida offense. Thanks to Clemson.

Trevor Lawrence is a skilled dropback passer, like Florida’s Kyle Trask.

Both the Tigers and Gators have multiple weapons in the passing game.

If there’s one thing that makes defending against Florida a little easier, it’s the lack of a Travis Etienne for Trask to hand the ball off to.

That, and the fact that Trask isn’t a threat to take off and run the ball himself.

Lawrence surprises you with his ability to run the read-option.

Don’t get too excited, though, about what Trask and Florida don’t have.

What they do have is a quarterback who was fourth in the SEC in pass efficiency, a 6’6” tight end in Kyle Pitts who will be a matchup nightmare along the lines of Rob Gronkowski at the next level, a 6’5” speedster at wideout in Trevon Grimes.

And Dan Mullen, an offensive wizard, at the controls.

“I mean, each week you analyze schematics and things like that, and there’s a heightened level of stress with each scheme that you play against. I think it comes down to what you do well with the players that you have, and then what are the complements to it that make it hard. So, it’s really difficult to, like hone in on one thing, and I think that’s the mark of a good scheme, where all options are available, stress laterally, vertically, all those things are present. So yeah, they do a good job. They do a really good job,” Virginia defensive coordinator Nick Howell said Friday.

What makes Florida particularly challenging is that it’s not predicated upon one guy.

Trask has eight targets with at least 20 catches on the season, which means, to Howell, “the focus is on really defending the whole entire field versus a guy.”

“It’s been rare where you go into a game and you say, man, we can just do this or do that,” Howell said. “There’s so many complements to the plays that they run. These guys do a really good job of spreading the ball out and making that a challenge, for sure.”

Linebacker Charles Snowden is glad the matchup comes in a bowl and not the regular season.

“They do a good job of throwing a lot of things at you, and so I think that’s one benefit of playing them in a bowl game is we have more time to kind of get ready for all of that rather than trying to get ready for it in four or five days in a regular week,” Snowden said.

It will be paramount for the UVA defense to get pressure on Trask, who bad news alert on that front: the Florida offensive line only gave up 24 sacks in the regular season.

This will force Howell to be creative. Virginia is among the top teams nationally in getting to the quarterback, ranking seventh in the country in sacks in 2019, but what you see out of Florida is that they’re not going to let you get to Trask with your defensive line.

It’s going to take a mix of stunts, linebackers up the A gap and off the edge, safety and corners being used to come in from different angles.

“We kind of just don’t send edge rushers on our D-line. We do a lot of shaking and moving. You never know who’s coming on any given play,” Snowden said. “We have a lot of athletic guys who can beat the block and get to the quarterback. Even if we’re not sacking the quarterback, we’re trying to get in his face, hitting him after the throw, getting our hands up and knocking balls down. We have good DBs on the back end that allow us to send a little bit more pressure, too.”

Snowden is being generous in his assessment of the Virginia secondary there.

The defensive backfield hasn’t been the same since the loss of preseason All-America corner Bryce Hall and safety Brenton Nelson.

Four of Virginia’s past five opponents have thrown for 300+ yards. Only two of the first eight even threw for 200+, for comparison.

That is what it is. The young secondary needs help from the guys up front to shorten plays, so, there’s your game plan.

“Obviously, being able to get as much pressure as we can to help out our DBs behind us and everybody in between, I think it’s going to be good for us,” linebacker Zane Zandier said.

This is as big a challenge as Clemson, certainly, but Howell feels like his guys are up to the challenge.

“We’re not going to walk in and shy away from anybody,” Howell said. “The result is not always the result that you’re going to get, but our guys are trained to play with an edge, and that’s who they are, and that’s what has gotten them – we didn’t get to this point by not playing with an edge. But a lot of those games we won. If you look at a lot of the games we’ve won over the past couple seasons, those are close football games. That’s courage. It takes courage to step up and make a play in a big-time situation. The hope is that we play with edge in this game. I want to play with edge every game.”

Story by Chris Graham

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