Bill Lazor’s intellect is obvious. Talk to him, check his references, read his credentials. The guy didn’t struggle to pass English 101 at Cornell.
Unlike Lazor, the closest thing I’ve gotten to the Ivy League is walking through Harvard Square and watching Princeton play basketball. That said, I believe Virginia’s second-year offensive coordinator may be overthinking the Cavaliers’ schemes.
Specifically, given Virginia’s personnel, I’d argue that Lazor, an All-Ivy quarterback in 1993, is calling too many passes.
Not that the Cavaliers’ run-pass ratio is jarring. Virginia has 282 rushing attempts and 255 passes, that 47.5 percent pass ratio is actually less than last season, when the Cavaliers threw 51.4 percent of the time.
But that team started an experienced senior, Marc Verica, at quarterback. Verica was no Andrew Luck, but he was certainly more advanced than this year’s Virginia quarterbacks, sophomore Michael Rocco and true freshman David Watford.
The run-pass issue was especially evident in Saturday’s 28-14 loss to North Carolina State.
The Cavaliers rushed for 91 yards on 18 first-half carries, a solid 5 yards a pop. Tailbacks Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson each had four or more carries, and even Rocco contributed with a diving 12-yard scramble for a first down.
Trailing 14-7 at intermission, Virginia started its first series of the third quarter at its own 37 and promptly threw on seven of its next nine snaps. This included a baffling three-and-out, all passes, after Rodney McLeod’s interception of Mike Glennon gave the Cavaliers possession at their own 47.
Keep in mind that entering the game N.C. State’s defense was allowing an ACC-worst 4.7 yards per carry. Keep in mind that entering the game Rocco ranked ninth among ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency.
So after running on 18 of 31 first-half snaps, Virginia ran on 15 of 37 in the second. That’s 35 passes and 33 runs for the day.
I understand the need for balance and don’t expect Lazor to morph into Woody Hayes Jr., but Saturday he seemed too Don Coryell.
After the game, Lazor said he had hoped the Cavaliers’ first-half running success would open up passing lanes in the second. Coach Mike London said N.C. State brought an eighth defender near the line of scrimmage to stuff the run, leaving its cornerbacks in man-to-man pass coverage.
What are the strengths of Virginia’s offense? Start with the line, anchored by future pro tackle Morgan Moses. Then look at the backs, where Jones, Parks and Richardson are a formidable and versatile trio. The question marks are quarterback and receiver, where senior Kris Burd is the only proven commodity.
That doesn’t sound like a team that should be passing more than Stanford, Baylor and Wisconsin.
Sure, blowout wins cause teams to pass less, but with marquee quarterbacks in Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, you’d expect those offenses to throw far more than Virginia.
They don’t. Stanford is passing on 45.1 percent of its plays, Baylor 43.5 percent and Wisconsin 44.3 percent.
The most striking call Saturday came early in the fourth quarter. Virginia trailed 21-14 and, after a Corey Mosley interception of Glennon, faced fourth-and-3 at N.C. State’s 33. Watford, the embodiment of the dual threat quarterback, lined up in the shotgun, the perfect time for a read option behind a capable line.
Instead, Lazor called for a pass. The Wolfpack blitzed a defensive back off the corner, hurrying Watford into an incompletion that didn’t come close to the intended receiver, Jones, in the right flat.
Hey, it’s all Monday-morning quarterbacking, typical after a defeat. Lazor’s resume is impeccable – his former NFL bosses include Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren – and prior to Saturday, Virginia was averaging 433.8 yards per game. The Cavaliers haven’t been that productive since the 1990 squad led by Shawn Moore, Herman Moore and Terry Kirby averaged a staggering 501.5 yards.
That’s what made Virginia’s 249-yard output Saturday, its lowest since 2009 against Miami, so jarring. Lazor and the Cavaliers should, and probably will, do better.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP