Virginia has had its share of struggles offensively this season, a big contributing factor to the Hoos' 2-6 start to the season.
I had a chance to catch up with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to get his thoughts on what has gone wrong, and what Virginia focused on during its bye to prepare for the stretch run, beginning Saturday against NC State.
What was your No. 1 priority to fix on offense during the bye week?
Bill Lazor: I thought we had a really nice week as far as putting pressure on them. We made it a difficult week of practice, did a lot of blitz drill, a lot of two-minute drill, things you can do to put the most pressure on the quarterback. It isn’t often in the game that you might go 20 or 25 plays in a row being blitzed and having to handle a blitz, but that’s what we did in practice and you just feel like when you put a quarterback under those kinds of extreme conditions, it’s like you’re baking them in the oven, you’re putting them under fire but that’s how they grow. That’s how they turn into quarterbacks. I thought we had a good week of doing that. We made a couple mistakes we’ll learn from but at the same time, I saw our quarterbacks grow in that area. As we look at where we are at this point in the season, we know our No. 1 issue is turning the football over. That certainly leads to not scoring as many points as we’d like to, so we tried to deal with that.
How much has the quarterback change impact the consistency of your offense?
BL: There are a lot of changes that have been going on this year, but there aren’t any excuses for not playing as well as we’d like to play. Coaches and players are very focused on what their job is and Coach [Mike] London and the staff, we’re making what we believe are to be the best decisions for the team so I don’t think we can look back and just say it’s that. The guys that are playing, whether it be from injury or earned playing time or rotation -- whoever is on the field is who we feel is the best.
Why has the run game been up and down this year?
BL: We’ve had some really good weeks. I think two weeks ago, we played Maryland. They come into the game as one of the top rush defenses in the country and I thought we ran the ball well enough to win that game. When you look at the first half of the game against Wake Forest, we did not run the ball in the first half at all. So it has been up and down. We’re trying to stay true to what we think we’re good at. We do play a number of different running backs, and I’ve got to make sure I’m putting each of the running backs in to do the things he does well. I feel confident that the young guys we’ve had play on the offensive line are ready to go now. Wake Forest will be a blip on the screen. The rushing offense you saw two to three weeks before that will end up being who we are the rest of the season. I feel we’ve developed that and we’re on track.
How much have injuries at receiver impacted your passing game?
BL: Tim Smith returning to us shows why he is a key component to that group. When we looked at the kind of production we had last year and the big plays down the field, Tim was involved in a pretty high number of those. In the bye week as we looked at our explosive plays for the small amount of time he played for us, he gets a large portion of plays for us also. He’s the only player in that group who’s a junior or above so when Tim’s missing, they’re all freshmen and sophomores. It makes a difference, even to how the other guys play. Getting him back was very important for us. I think he’ll be productive going forward. I’m really excited about the future. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the present and all these young receivers have to no longer be young receivers. We’ve really got to produce right now. It can be an exciting group because they’ve got some speed and some ability to make plays.
Did you see an increased sense of urgency this past week, because you guys need to win out to become bowl eligible?
BL: I don’t know if it was as much about how our record is or just getting back to the basics or fundamentals, giving guys an opportunity to compete in practice. I think the No. 1 thing you’ve got to teach players at this level is that it doesn’t take a losing streak to make you motivated to practice. You need to come out every single day and be intense about getting better. You need to teach them to have a little bit of anger, to set a standard in practice that’s going to be good enough to use that to win in the game. That’s our job as coaches. We all know some guys get it faster than others and some have it inside of them and some you have to teach that. But I know this: An old coach taught me a long time ago a streak starts with one and so we’re hoping to start a new streak. But we have to be focused on that one game and that’s where we’re focused right now.