Virginia Offensive Preview
With the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub, there were questions to whether Marques Hagans could lead Virginia’s offensive attack. Early results have returned with a resounding yes. Hagans may not only have filled Schaub’s shoes, but made the Cavalier attack more dangerous. The versatility he has added to the backfield has opened numerous options for the Cavs.
Virginia is outscoring its opponents by an average of 33 points. The first four games have been all but over by halftime. A slow start could be disastrous for Clemson on Thursday. In the first half this season, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents 120-13. This has given the offense a large comfort zone to work with in the second half.
There is no secret what Virginia will try and do on offense. They are going to try and establish the run early and often. On the ground, the Cavaliers are averaging 284 yards rushing. Five players are averaging over 5 yards a carry with at least 15 attempts. This is a credit to what may be the best offensive line in the ACC. Wali Lundy is the leading rusher with 399 yards and ten touchdowns. Lundy is a power back that will run right at you. However, there was some speculation that he may not be 100% this week. Groh is very tight lipped on injuries stemming from his pro-background. The second string rusher is Michael Johnson. Johnson is a slasher back, and he may be the fastest running back in the ACC. From a matchup standpoint, Johnson is the type back that has typically given John Lovett’s defense problems. You cannot fall asleep on Hagans back in the pocket. Much like the Tigers have seen all year, he is more than capable of tucking it and running. Hagans actually has the Cavaliers longest run from the line of scrimmage this season, 59 yards.
Elton Brown is the anchor of the line. Brown has also been used as a short yardage run stopper on defense. D’Brickashaw Ferguson is a massive tackle that will present a problem for the Tiger’s pass rush. Center Zac Yarbrough is the smallest at 6-4 276 pounds. It could be very difficult to get pressure on Hagans behind this offensive line.
The passing game still remains somewhat of an uncertainty for Virginia. They will rarely just let Hagans drop straight back. More often than not, Hagans will boot leg out or run the quarterback waggle. This has allowed Hagans to be more comfortable throwing the football. He has completed 76.1 percent of his passes. Virginia has actually had more of a vertical game under Hagans than they had under Schaub. Hagans is averaging slightly over 14 yards a completion. Per game, Hagans has thrown for 192.5 yards. The uncertainty lies in with the amount of success Virginia has had running the football it has made things very easy on Hagans throwing the football. If you contain the run, Hagans has not proven in previous years he can beat you with his arm.
Hagans main receiving targets are Heath Miller and Alvin Pearman. Heath Miller is an All-American canidate at tight end. He may be the very best tight end in the country. He possesses great hands and has a knack for finding the open spots in coverage. Miller will not forget the pass he dropped in the end zone after the hit by Jamaal Fudge last year in Death Valley, which ultimately saved the game for Clemson. Pearman is a very versatile threat. He will line up everywhere on the field. Groh likes using him out of the backfield, but a lack of depth at receiver has pushed Pearman into a bigger role at wide receiver.
The special teams have been disappointing for Virginia this season. They are only averaging 30.2 yards per punt. Connor Hughes, who was almost automatic last season, is three for six on field goals this season. This could be an interesting development to watch as both teams have struggled kicking field goals, but Cole Chason has been solid punting for Clemson. Marquis Weeks is a very dangerous returner that Coach Bowden has acknowledged. Look for Jad Dean to continue to put kickoffs deep into the end zone.
So far this season, Virginia is nearly doubling their opponents yardage. This will be a very stiff test for the Tiger’s defense. Traditionally, good tight ends and mobile quarterbacks have hurt Clemson. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers can reverse history on Thursday night.