Within 48 hours of the Virginia football team’s Orange Bowl loss, a reader emailed The Daily Progress with an interesting comment.
“I have been watching UVa football for 50 years!” Steven Rhoades wrote. “Bryce Perkins deserves all the praise he is getting — but so do his receivers. On television, I will frequently hear commentators say ‘He should’ve had that one, he got two hands on it, it was right on the numbers’ or whatever when criticizing receivers, but it was never about Virginia receivers. Yes, they made some spectacular plays but more remarkable was that they NEVER seemed to drop passes that they should catch.”
The point was attention-grabbing, but never dropping a pass? That seemed far-fetched. After a little research, however, the numbers backed up Rhoades’ points.
Pro Football Focus tweeted that UVa wide receiver Hasise Dubois led the FBS in targets without a drop. The Cavaliers threw to Dubois 110 times, and he didn’t drop a single pass.
Matthew Edwards, a football data analyst at Virginia, tweeted that the Cavaliers led the NCAA with the lowest drop percentage of any FBS team.
It was a special season for Virginia receivers, and the Cavaliers rarely let quality throws hit the ground.
Marques Hagans’ position group performed at an incredible level in 2019. The Cavaliers hope to replicate that success without Dubois and Joe Reed in 2020.
That won’t be easy. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, the Virginia program thrives on development. Dubois is a perfect example of that.
“I remember sitting in his home right when I was named the head coach, and I don’t think either one of us knew what we were getting in for,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the Orange Bowl. “But who he’s become, it just is every critical moment where a play has to be made or a ball has to be caught, there’s Hasise, and he usually not running by anybody. He’s usually covered and there’s the contested throws, the contested catches. It’s how our team is. Nothing has come easy.”
Dubois snagged 24 receptions for 219 yards and one touchdown in his first two seasons at UVa. The stellar wide out reeled in 24 receptions for 352 yards and three touchdowns in his final three games at UVa.
Those performances came against the best of the best, with Dubois posting those numbers against Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida.
“Hasise has a rare confidence about himself that’s hard to crack,” Hagans said. “He loves to compete. He loves the big stage. He’s got a toughness about him that brings confidence to people about him. Every time the ball is thrown, you just know it’s gonna be caught.”
Part of the increased contested catch rate and low drop rate can be credited to Hagans and his mindset. Developing the receivers required changing the way they viewed contested catches. Instead of viewing jump balls as 50-50 balls, he wants players to see them as 90-10 balls.
“50-50 is like you’re leaving it up to chance,” Hagans said. “90-10 is like you’re going to get it.”
Hagans also changed “high-pointing” the ball to “rebounding” the ball. He believes this attitude encourages receivers to box out defenders and secure catches “above the rim.” The simple reframing of plays gave the 2019 Virginia wide receivers tremendous confidence.
Hagans mentioned that Reed shared that confidence with his peers. He raved about Reed’s ability to compete, and Reed serves as another great example of development. Reed was always a talented kick returner, but he took a massive leap forward as a receiver in 2019.
The speedster came into the season with 52 career receptions at Virginia. He added 77 receptions for 679 yards and seven touchdowns in his final season. He showed tremendous growth as a route runner and receiver.
With both Dubois and Reed graduating and attempting to make NFL rosters, Virginia’s receiving room takes a hit. Add in the loss of Perkins at quarterback, and it’s fair to wonder what level of success Virginia’s pass-heavy offensive style can achieve in 2020 against a tough schedule.
When discussing the team’s early signees, Mendenhall named wide receiver as the No. 1 position of need.
“In terms of volume, that’s still an area to be addressed,” Mendenhall said.
He suggested that another recruit or two may be added to the class at the receiver spot.
Luckily for the Cavaliers, they feel they have a player in rising senior Terrell Jana, who can become the No. 1 receiving threat and the leader of the position group.
Jana finished 2019 with 73 receptions for 886 yards and three touchdowns. Of his 73 receptions, 49 came in the final half of the season.
As the year progressed, Jana improved. He’s yet another example of a player developing in UVa’s system.
With little proven experience behind Jana, the 2020 team expects to lean on development and Jana’s leadership to help the inexperienced receivers take a major step forward.
“He’s got a natural ability to be out in front and do things the right way,” Hagans said. “Guys kinda gravitate to him … confidence is a dangerous thing. When he first started he didn’t have it, but you’ve watched it grow and mature over the years. Each day he just comes to work and gets better and better and better. We’re gonna be a much better group next year because we have him back.”