There were plenty of reasons to knock former Virginia coach Mike London, who repeatedly mishandled the Cavaliers’ quarterback situation, often botched late-game clock management, and generally just didn’t win as often as recruiting rankings suggested he should.
Yet, give London and his staff some credit for figuring out how to get running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell involved in the offense, even when he played behind a suspect offensive line that struggled to produce running lanes.
That’s a challenge Bronco Mendenhall hasn’t met in his first two games as Virginia’s head coach. Something has to change if the Cavaliers are going to have anything but a very long, very painful season.
Mizzell can run a 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds. He’s one of the most physically gifted players in the ACC; last season had nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage, 721 of those receiving.
However, the senior tailback has barely been a part of the Cavaliers’ offense in the two losses to Richmond and Oregon. So far he’s rushed 17 times for 55 yards and caught six passes for 35 yards. Much of that production came on two second-half scoring drives Saturday night in Eugene after Oregon more or less had the game in hand.
Perhaps those two series, one of which culminated in a four-yard touchdown run for the Virginia Beach product, will be the start of something bigger as the Cavaliers prepare for their next two games at Connecticut and at home against Central Michigan.
If the Cavs are going to make anything out of this season, with a daunting ACC schedule looming, they’ll need to grab victories in the next two weeks.
They will need much more from Mizzell to do so.
Virginia looked much better against the 24th-ranked Ducks than it did in the season-opening loss to FCS-based Richmond. Kurt Benkert completed 20 of 39 passes for 193 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions despite often running for his life against the Oregon pass rush. His second interception was inconsequential — he simply hoisted ball down the field hoping to make something happen on UVA’s final possession.
The running game gained some steam with Albert Reid carrying 15 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Jordan Ellis picked up 46 yards on just two carries.
The Cavaliers need to see those players continue to produce while Mizzell also gives them yardage both as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher.
Mizzell went for more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the Cavs’ four victories last season, as well as close losses to Miami and Louisville. Last season, the Cavs were successful getting Mizzell the ball in position to make moves, whether on handoffs or as one of quarterback Matt Johns’ favorite receivers. So far, it doesn’t seem that Mizzell and Benkert have the same level of familiarity. The East Carolina transfer has a stronger arm and more of a desire to look down field or roll put when in trouble.
If the Cavaliers’ running game can continue to improve as it did from Week 1 to Week 2, perhaps Mizzell will become more of a focal point in the new UVA offense.