Wahoos need to fix run game over bye week

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Through the first month of the college football season, Virginia has been one of the worst teams in the country at running the football.

UVA's 107.6 rushing yards per game rank last in the ACC and 115th nationally. On Saturday at Notre Dame, the Wahoos finished with just four yards rushing -- and they were one late six-yard gain by quarterback Bryce Perkins away from finishing with negative rushing yards.

Those rushing totals are impacted by quarterback sacks. UVA has allowed 15 sacks through five games, including eight by the Notre Dame defense on Saturday. Perkins fumbled the ball away on three of those sacks, leading to three Fighting Irish touchdowns in the 35-20 Notre Dame win.

"We have to generate a run game, at a much more consistent level," UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said following Saturday's loss. "It's not only quarterback-driven, that we hand the ball off we can run the ball effectively and get yards, so there aren't as many pass attempts, which puts us in the situation that we ended up in today."

Perkins has started all 18 games for the Cavaliers the past two seasons. Saturday's game was the 11th time the quarterback led UVA in carries. The Wahoos are 5-6 in those games, including a 2-1 record this season.

Freshman Mike Hollins led the team with 11 carries against William and Mary, while second-year running back Wayne Taulapapa had a team-high 18 carries against Florida State. Jordan Ellis led the Wahoos in carries five teams last season. UVA won all seven of those games.

Since the start of the 2018 season, when UVA's non-quarterbacks have combined to hit the 20-carry mark in a game, the team is 10-0. If the Wahoos don't combine to hit that 20-carry plateau, the record is 2-6.

With Ellis (215 carries for 1,026 yards) and Perkins (212 carries for 923 yards) leading the way, the Cavaliers averaged 173.2 rushing yards per game last season. That ranked 10th in the ACC and 60th nationally. But UVA also finished last in the conference and near the bottom of the national rankings in rushing in both of Mendenhall's first two seasons as head coach -- averaging 113.6 yards (121st nationally) in 2016, and 93.5 yards (127th nationally) in 2017.

UVA has been rotating players around the offensive line all season, in search of the right mix. They had to rally from an early 17-0 hole to beat Old Dominion at home two weeks ago, and trailed by as much as 18 points in the second half this past Saturday in South Bend. Those deficits have forced the Cavaliers to lean more heavily on the passing game, which limits carries in the run game.

Regardless of why the Wahoos have gotten away from the run, Mendenhall believes it will need to be addressed in practice, during his team's bye week.

"You can win against some teams like this. You won't be able to win against teams to take over our league, or to compete at a higher level, which is where we want to go from last year's 8-5 team," Mendenhall said. "So the run game development is foundational or back story to the pass protection, which is becoming frequent and obvious of when we're going to throw it. And our inability to protect consistently is leading to the turnovers. So it's sequential."

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