By Jerry Ratcliffe
Scattershooting around Virginia’s athletic program before kickoff with Syracuse …
Should the Cavaliers land the nation’s No. 4 point guard, Elmark Jackson, he would be the highest-ranked player during the Tony Bennett era, if not before, since the “star” rankings and position rankings became a thing. Presently, that honor goes to current commitment, Elijah Gertrude, a shooting guard from Jersey City, N.J., who is rated the No. 36 overall player in the nation by various recruiting services. Gertrude edges out former Cavalier Kyle Guy, who was No. 37.
Or, what if UVA gets Ohio State decommitment George Washington III, who has the Cavaliers on his list of five schools? Jackson has Virginia in his top five.
Certainly either, or both, would boost UVA’s recruiting class of 2023 rankings by the three major national recruiting services, On3, Rivals and 247Sports.
Presently, none of those three are giving the present class a lot of love. Rivals ranks UVA’s class as the 28th-best in the country at the moment, while 247 has the Cavaliers No. 21, and On3 has the Wahoos No. 31. None of those are even close to being No. 2 in the ACC behind Duke, which is ranked No. 1 nationally with five, 5-star commitments. Only On3 has Duke ousted from No. 1, and has the Blue Devils behind Kentucky and Michigan State.
On3 has Carolina at No. 7, Florida State at 18 and Louisville 24. Meanwhile, 247 has Louisville No. 17 and Notre Dame 25, not giving the ACC much love at all. Rivals has Louisville at No. 13, UNC 15, FSU at 24, followed by Pitt 26 and UVA 28.
We all wondered how long it would take former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall to miss coaching football. He sold his ranch in Charlottesville to former UVA All-American Chris Long back in the spring and moved back out west where Bronco has been training for a triathlon.
He started a podcast called “HeadCoachU,” and said on it recently that he is ready to coach again. Mendenhall shocked the college football world when he resigned only days after a season-ending loss to Virginia Tech.
In typical Bronco fashion, he said on the podcast: “I have paused, reflected, renewed and am ready to coach again. It just seemed to me that this is the perfect time to set up the infrastructure to relaunch with more clarity, more purpose, more passion and more perspective than we could have without pausing.”
Mendenhall also said, “I am drawn to programs that have been struggling and maybe help them improve. I look forward to recapturing the hearts and minds of young people and helping them develop.”
Most people familiar with Mendenhall believe he would be best-fitted for a program somewhere in the western portion of the country, and there are two programs — both struggling — who fired their coaches early this season: Arizona State and Nebraska.
While it can’t be ignored that Syracuse gave up more than 400 yards through the air to Purdue in last week’s 32-29 shootout, will UVA try to follow suit or attempt to control the clock by running the ball against the Orange?
Either way, QB Brennan Armstrong will face a challenge in recognizing what the Syracuse defense is throwing at him. Tony Elliott said this week that during a 10-play drive, Syracuse may show 10 different defensive fronts and an assortment of blitzes.
Certainly that can play havoc with Virginia’s passing game, but what does that variation of configurations do to a running game? What challenges does play-caller Des Kitchings face when trying to run the ball against all those unpredictable fronts?
I asked Elliott to elaborate on that.
“I think you have to make sure that you don’t have too many variations because you’re going to have to prepare your guys by showing them all the different looks, because it’s going to be too hard to just do a ‘check with me’ all the time and try to get into the perfect place,” Elliott said. “You’re going to have to have call-it-and-run-it’ plays, and when you have that, then the offensive line has to block whatever they see.
“So the biggest thing is the backs have to understand what kind of game this is. I call this — you’ve got to get the dirty yards — game. You’ve got to run through the smoke, kind of like NASCAR. There’s a wreck in front of you, but you’d better hit the gas and close your eyes and hope you come through on the other side. They’re going to have to have a downhill mentality and they’re going to have erasers because it’s going to be hard to expect the guys up front to be perfect with all of the movements.”
Elliott said it’s not just the alignments, because Syracuse will align one way but is constantly moving. There’s a twist (stunt) on every play.
“They’ve got the backers coming in and picking and looping and all that … I think you’re going with your base run plan. Don’t make it too expansive and prepare the guys the best you can and then capitalize too, because some of the opportunities are going to be there,” Elliott said.
With all the Syracuse movement, there will be creases, so the backs will have to have the vision, find the crease, then have eye-foot coordination to be able to make the cut to hit the crease and keep Virginia ahead of the chains.
“That’s the key,” Elliott said. “If you can stay ahead of the chains, then you can also keep [Syracuse] out of some of the exotic stuff that they get into in long yardage.”
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