ACC All Access: Getting big plays isn't Virginia's problem, but getting in the red zone is

For Virginia’s offensive coaching staff, the ultimate conundrum has presented itself with maddening frequency throughout the season.

How do you make big chunks of yards and explosive big plays translate into points? U.Va. offensive coordinator Bill Lazor hasn’t figured it out yet.

U.Va. (2-5 overall, 0-3 ACC) enters Saturday’s game against Wake Forest tied for eighth in the nation among Football Bowl Subdivision programs in offensive plays that have gone for 20-plus yards (40). The Cavaliers are tied for second in the nation in 20-plus yard pass plays (34).

Those are the encouraging numbers. The problem is U.Va. hasn’t done an awful lot with those big gainers.

U.Va., which is 51st in the nation in total offense (423.1 yards per game), is 10th in the ACC and 88th in the nation in scoring offense (23.1 points per game). Though it’s scoring at a fairly average 81.8 percent clip inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, U.Va. has had issues getting to the red zone in the first place.

Only Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) and Maryland (both with 16 red zone trips) have had fewer ventures inside the opponents’ 20 than U.Va. With just 22 red zone opportunities, U.Va. ranks 80th in the nation (tied with Virginia Tech among others) in the category. Florida State has the most red zone chances with 45, scoring on 41 of them (91.1 percent; second in the ACC).

Since points have been so scarce for U.Va. this season, it’s worth taking a look to see what has happened on the Cavaliers’ non-scoring drives. It’s been a struggle, as evidenced by the fact 75 percent of U.Va.’s non-scoring drives have failed to even cross midfield (44 of 59 drives).


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Has Lazor's play-calling been a problem for U.Va.? Not in the eyes of coach Mike London.

“Well, I support my coaches,” London said. “That’s important. I know that the plays that are called are called to be successful. What happens when they’re not successful, then everyone knows it. 

“I think that Bill on a couple of occasions, if he could, maybe he would do it over again, but these guys go into the game with the best plans available, best options, best opportunities. They look great when they work. When they don’t, they’re up for discussion. As I said, I support the coaches.”

It certainly doesn't help that U.Va. has had trouble holding onto the ball this season, and the defense hasn't given the offense many chances to start drives in advantageous situations. U.Va. is last in the ACC in turnover margin (minus-1.86 per game) and no team in the conference has thrown more interceptions (11). U.Va. also has just four takeaways - only one team in the nation has fewer takeaways (Buffalo with three).

If motivation holds the key to U.Va. getting inside the red zone more often, Wake Forest should be able to provide a little spark.

No team in the ACC is worse at stopping opponents from scoring once they’ve reached the red zone than Wake Forest, which has given up a touchdown or field goal to opponents 24 of 26 times (92.31 percent) they’ve gotten inside the Demon Deacons’ 20. Only 12 teams in the nation have surrendered a worse scoring percentage on opponents’ chances inside the red zone.

Since Phillip Sims took over U.Va.’s starting quarterback job two weeks ago heading into what would be a 42-17 loss at Duke, U.Va. has scored on five of six red zone trips (three touchdowns), but it hasn’t crossed midfield on 17 of 23 non-scoring drives (74 percent).

Sims may have a full complement of offensive weapons at the skill positions around him for the Wake Forest game. London said Thursday that running back Perry Jones (mild concussion against Maryland) has practiced all week and will play Saturday. U.Va.’s injury report listed wide receiver Tim Smith (lower extremity) as probable for the game, but right tackle Morgan Moses (unspecified injury) is questionable.

 “It’s very frustrating,” said Sims regarding his team’s inability to put points on the board. “As a quarterback, scoring points is your job. That’s how you stay around. You don’t produce, the offense doesn’t produce, somebody else goes in. End of story. To not score points is very frustrating, because you know at the end of the day that’s your job. If you realize that you’re not putting up points, you know that somebody else is going to get the opportunity to do it. It’s something I’m frustrated with, and (I’m trying) whatever I can do in my power to correct and get some points on the board this week.”     


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