Kitchings believes blended philosophies will give Virginia a “unique offense”

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Des Kitchings (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Football coaches are always looking for an edge, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to research and preparing for an opponent, especially a new opponent with new coaches, new players and new ideas.

Fans may not be aware of how detailed coaches get, not only in on-field preparation, but the research side of the equation. Virginia’s opener against Richmond today is a perfect example.

No one outside of UVA’s inner circle knows exactly what the Cavaliers’ offense is going to look like until it’s unveiled in the game, but UR coach Russ Huesman is certainly going to make a strong guess. Huesman said he and his staff have studied film of Tony Elliott’s Clemson offenses, of Des Kitchings’ offensive looks at NC State, South Carolina and the Atlanta Falcons.

No doubt there’s more film study from more teams in Elliott’s and Kitchings’ backgrounds, but you get the picture.

What we expect is that both Virginia and Richmond will come out with up-tempo offenses that won’t give fans time to catch their collective breaths between plays. But what will those offenses look like other than pace?

Everybody will be guessing, even the coaches.

“I think everybody’s going to see what my background is running the wide zone, in terms of running, so I’m sure from NC State to Atlanta, but you can go back to Vanderbilt and Air Force, I’ve always been a wide zone guy,” Kitchings said. “There’s no secret. We’re going to run the wide zone.

“Now, [opponents] are going to wonder, what is Coach Elliott and [Kitchings] going to do together, because Coach Elliott has been more of a gap-counter guy. So people are going to try to figure out how [Virginia] is going to attack. Will it be more zone or more gap-counter? Well, the mystery is still there.”

Just because UVA intends to run the ball more doesn’t mean that Kitchings and Elliott are overlooking the offense’s strength, a record-breaking passing game featuring quarterback Brennan Armstrong (see related story on Armstrong on the verge of breaking more Cavaliers records) and a fleet of dangerous wide receivers.

Just remember, today’s game incorporates much of the short passing game as part of the running attack, substituting screens and short passes for sweeps and tosses to the edge.

Kitchings has a running background, but he loves throwing the football.

“That’s what I’m really excited about with some of these guys, and you have to try to like really slow down, like, ‘OK, you can’t get too happy … you can’t be the kid in the candy store and try to do everything,” Kitchings said. “Let’s be good at some stuff, master it and then go from there. Let these guys just play fast.”

How did Virginia’s offensive staff, with such varied backgrounds, blend into one style of play?

“We’ve known each other for a long time and all those years competing against each other, even though we were competitors, there was always conversation because [Elliott] was interested in, ‘Why zone?’ Right? I was really more interested learning about the gap scheme.

“So this opportunity presented itself for us to work together and we’re excited about kind of meshing and exchanging ideas, bouncing things off each other and putting together an offense that’s unique to Virginia.”

Ah, there’s a clue. An offense that’s unique to Virginia. It will be interesting to observe this afternoon. Richmond’s defensive staff will be watching closely, trying to figure out just how unique and how to stop it.

Meanwhile, it works both ways. Call it “Rudzinski vs. Udinski” in terms of UVA’s defense trying to get a handle on Richmond’s offense.

Virginia defensive coordinator John Rudzinski and his staff have been breaking down a lot of VMI video. That’s where UR offensive coordinator Billy Cosh, quarterback Reece Udinski and wide receiver Jakob Herres terrorized the Southern Conference with Cosh’s version of the “Air Raid” passing game.

Cosh and his staff have studied a lot of Air Force video of when Rudzinski built one of the nation’s most respected defenses the past few seasons. Richmond doesn’t expect a lot of changes from Rudzinski’s approach, but coaches always find a way to add some unexpected twists to their schemes.

For fans, it should be a game within today’s game to see how these guys play chess on Scott Stadium’s gridiron and make adjustments throughout the contest.

Wide zone or gap counter? Blitz or no blitz? Pass or run? It should be fun.