'Hoos putting heat on opposing QBs from all angles

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Virginia finds itself surrounded by some of the elite programs in college football at the top of the national leaders in quarterback sacks.

Ninth-ranked Florida leads the country with 16 sacks as a team. Three teams are tied for second with 14 total sacks -- No. 1 Clemson, No. 6 Ohio State and the 21st-ranked Cavaliers.

"I think the catchphrase right now is havoc, which is tackles for loss and sacks and disruption," UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week. "And we're doing that at a high level."

Mendenhall's first three UVA teams combined for 79 quarterback sacks in 38 games -- an average of 2.08 sacks per game. This year's team 4.67 sacks-per-game average is more than double that rate. The Cavaliers' 14 total sacks are more than half of last year's total of 26 -- which came in 13 games.

"The amount of blitzing we're doing right now, Coach (Nick) Howell's play-calling right now, is really just getting after the quarterback. The emphasis on havoc," UVA inside linebacker Rob Snyder said. "Just practicing throughout the week, just linebackers, we'll blitz 75 percent."

It began in the season opener at Pitt, when the Wahoos got to quarterback Kenny Pickett four times. Half of those came from junior safety Joey Blount -- who didn't record a sack in his first two college seasons. The Wahoos followed that with a seven-sack performance against William and Mary, then three more last Saturday against Florida State.

Led by inside linebacker Jordan Mack's four sacks -- already a career high for the senior -- 10 players have already recorded at least a half-sack for the Wahoos this fall. Defensive backs have combined for 3 1/2 sacks. Linebackers have combined for 9 1/2.

Mendenhall says part of the credit for the Cavaliers' addition heat on quarterbacks comes from the team's deeper roster, allowing the defense to be "fast and physical and disruptive." He also said it's part of the coaching staff's self-evaluation and the program's evolution -- with the goal of trying to keep the read-oriented offenses that have become so prevalent in college football off-balance.

"Havoc, or disruption, is usually something most offenses don't want to see. Because it disrupts the timing, it disrupts the recognition, it disrupts all the things that the offenses now in the RPO system are based on," Mendenhall said. "So yeah, there's an intentional effort, based on what opponent it is. But the depth and freshness of our players is helping."



 
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