Up-tempo. I'm talking less than 20 seconds between snaps...
...which means the band and the home PA is going to struggle with timing on the "THAT'S ANOTHER CAVALIER... FIRST DOWN!" It's going to seem like a shit show until they get used to the speed at which we're ripping off plays.
Of course, that assumes we're picking up first downs. Not a totally safe assumption. Often, especially early in the season, the offense is going to sputter.
I think the thing that's going to be striking to a majority of casual fans is just how SPREAD-OUT this spread is going to be. We're going to flood the field with receivers, and they're going to be running everywhere, on and off the field, it's going to seem really chaotic.
The offense could be a bit weird, as its strength (running backs) is directly undermined by its weakness (offensive line depth). I don't yet have a really good grasp on what that means... other than to think we'll probably try to keep the power running to minimum.
Given a potentially shaky o-line, expect to see Benkert on the move a lot. I think we'll feature a good amount of designed roll-outs, bootlegs, that kind of thing. And short stuff like screens to the backs, quick slants, square-ins, comebacks, and curls. The key is going to be getting the ball out of Benkert's hands quickly and/or moving the pocket to buy extra time. Again, this is not going to be a power running offense.
I do think we'll be attacking the flat as a matter of priority. It's a high-percentage area of attack, and that's where our two best weapons - Smoke and Oz - are most easily able to make plays. It's where we can find the most synergy between our semi-mobile quarterback and our best receiving weapons.
That's not to say that we won't stretch the field vertically, because I think we WILL go deep on a fairly regular basis. David Eldridge is the kind of savvy, natural-born deep threat that Virginia has lacked in recent years. Along with Eldridge, guys like Doni Dowling, Andre Levrone, and Warren Craft could make some hay in the intermediate to deep passing game. True frosh Joe Reed is another gifted burner who is poised to get some playing time early in the season.
My main concern is protection --- can the line keep Benkert clean long enough for these guys to get deep? Can Benkert buy enough of his own time in (and out) of the pocket? Will the run game be productive enough to set up play action? Questions that will need to be answered within the flow of each game.
The run game... Hm... Well, we'll have the four backs (Mizzell, Hamm, Reid, Ellis) rotating liberally. We'll attack defenses up the middle, but not until after they've been spread sideline to sideline by the short passing game. So I think the pass will be used to set up the run. We've got to connect on some productive dink-and-dunk plays early in games in order to be able to get the running game on track.
One of the big talking points in the ramp-up to the season opener has been the '70-70' goal. As in, 70% completion rate for the quarterbacks, and 70 total receptions for each position group -- 70 total catches for the backs, 70 total catches for the X, 70 total catches for the Y, 70 for the Z, and 70 for the H. That's... 70 x 5... 350 total receptions spread out across the five skill positions on offense. 350 receptions divided by 12 is 29.167 receptions per game. 350 receptions at a 70% completion clip is 500 attempts. That's 41.666 attempts per game. So, yeah, this is a passing offense, people.
We're going to be passing, and passing a lot. It's an up-tempo pass-happy spread. America, fuck yeah.
There's already a ton of stuff out there you can read on this, most recently this magnificent piece from Inside the Pylon. Therefore, I won't spend a ton of time on discussing defensive strategy. Instead, I'll try to tell you what I think I know about our personnel, and how it fits together and will (should?) function in Bronco's system.
(Go ahead and pop open the depth chart for the Richmond game.)
With Donte Wilkins at nose, Micah Kiser and Zach Bradshaw at mike and buck, Quin Blanding at free and Kelvin Rainey at sabre, the absolute strength of our defense is right up the middle of the field. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the weakness of the defense is on the perimeter, outside the hash marks. Reason being, we have inexperience by the truckload at the defensive end, outside linebacker, and cornerback positions. Across the six starting spots - LE, RE, SLB, WLB, FC, and BC - zero are returning starters. Zero have even really seen any meaningful snaps, unless you count Andrew Brown's cup of coffee as a misfit in Jon Tenuta's 4-3 scheme and/or the chance that Tim Harris has to get healthy and play most of the snaps at boundary corner. Otherwise, we're looking at a pure baptism by fire for these young guys.
- RE Steven Wright and Eli Hanback, both redshirt freshmen
- OLBs Cory Jones and Chris Peace, both sophomores (Malcolm Cook should return soon, hopefully, and he'll provide a major boost)
- Field corner Juan Thornhill is a soph
- Thornhill's backup, Bryce Hall, is a true freshman
- Boundary corner Myles Robinson is a soph
It's a lot of inexperience.
That said, I don't think it's crippling. Brown should really emerge this season, and begin realizing some of his immense potential. He's a perfect fit at 3-4 DE. Malcolm Cook had a ton of preseason buzz as the breakout player of the year. Tim Harris should be back to 100% soon enough, and is a good fit in the boundary role.
Meanwhile, the young guys listed in the bullet points above have bubbled up into key roles for a reason. It's fair to expect good play out of at least some of them!
To attack us, teams are going to go at these young guys on the perimeter. They're going to run wide and throw it deep, to test our outside linebackers and cornerbacks. In a way, this plays right into the teeth of Bronco's "illusion of security" scheme. So we'll really see if Xs and Os can trump Jimmys and Joes.
My hunch is that Bronco's mad genius on the defensive side is going to buoy this unit at somewhere around "average" all season. We have some difference-making playmakers in Wilkins, Kiser, Blanding, and Cook... and we just need those dudes to make plays.