Taulapapa

Virginia running back Wayne Taulapapa (21) breaks the tackle of Duke cornerback Leonard Johnson (33) during a game last season.

Few Division I college football teams ran the ball with less success than Virginia last season. The Cavaliers tallied a respectable 28 rushing touchdowns, but they only rushed for 121.2 yards per game. About 55 of those yards came from quarterback Bryce Perkins, now a member of the Los Angeles Rams. With its starting quarterback gone, Virginia likely needs improvement from its running game. The quarterback running game will still be a piece of UVa’s offense, but losing Perkins makes the same level of rushing success at the quarterback position tough to replicate. On the plus side, UVa’s offensive line is deep and experienced. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae likes what depth and experience could mean for the running game. “I think with those two things, the run game will have a bright prospect,” Anae told the media in April. The running back room needs to step up in 2020.

Returners

The main returning contributors are Mike Hollins and Wayne Taulapapa. The latter found the end zone an impressive 12 times, but averaged just 4.1 yards per carry on 116 attempts. Taulapapa proved his worth in short-yardage situations, but improvement is needed for the rising junior to become a workhorse running back. Hollins, on the other hand, showed nice flashes as a freshman, but lacked the consistency and reliability of Taulapapa. Hollins could very well be the future at running back, but he’s inexperienced and needs more consistent play to earn regular carries. Both players are talented and bring with them solid ability. They’re a good tandem, although neither proved to be a dominant running back last season. With expected improvement along the offensive line however, both key returners could be due for big seasons. At fullback, senior Jamari Peacock brings physicality as a blocker. He’s valuable, especially in short-yardage situations.

Departures

P.K. Kier, Lamont Atkins and Seneca Milledge are all gone, leaving the Cavaliers with an absence of running back depth. It’s likely Hollins and Taulapapa would have received the majority share of the workload in 2020 regardless, but losing three running backs makes a mark. Milledge’s speed would have also been valuable as a kick returner, but the Cavaliers will march on using other options to return kicks.

New additions

The Cavaliers added Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker Jr. to the running back room. UVa hopes the Virginia native will receive a waiver to become immediately eligible for the 2020 season. Walker Jr. brings a blend of speed and size to the running back position. He immediately brings game-changing athleticism and ability to a position group in desperate need of a playmaker. If given a waiver, Walker Jr. will compete for carries immediately. “We’re thrilled that Ronnie Walker has chosen to join our football family,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a Twitter video. “He adds a dynamic element as a ball carrier that allows big plays. We know big plays equal scoring and scoring equals wins.” It’s safe to say the Cavaliers like what they added in Walker Jr.

2020 outlook

Adding a talented transfer like Walker Jr. helps take the pressure off players like Hollins and Taulapapa. They don’t need to have banner seasons with Walker Jr. also in the mix. While the two are needed, adding a third quality running back allows the other two players to fill into their roles. Taulapapa acts as a reliable option with tremendous goal-line experience. Hollins and Walker Jr. both possess the ability to become dynamic running backs at the ACC level. The three-headed attack could become critical to the success of Virginia’s offense.

Few Division I college football teams ran the ball with less success than Virginia last season.

The Cavaliers tallied a respectable 28 rushing touchdowns, but they only rushed for 121.2 yards per game. About 55 of those yards came from quarterback Bryce Perkins, now a member of the Los Angeles Rams.

With its starting quarterback gone, Virginia likely needs improvement from its running game. The quarterback running game will still be a piece of UVa’s offense, but losing Perkins makes the same level of rushing success at the quarterback position tough to replicate.

On the plus side, UVa’s offensive line is deep and experienced. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae likes what depth and experience could mean for the running game.

“I think with those two things, the run game will have a bright prospect,” Anae told the media in April.

The running back room needs to step up in 2020.

Returners

The main returning contributors are Mike Hollins and Wayne Taulapapa. The latter found the end zone an impressive 12 times, but averaged just 4.1 yards per carry on 116 attempts. Taulapapa proved his worth in short-yardage situations, but improvement is needed for the rising junior to become a workhorse running back.

Hollins, on the other hand, showed nice flashes as a freshman, but lacked the consistency and reliability of Taulapapa. Hollins could very well be the future at running back, but he’s inexperienced and needs more consistent play to earn regular carries.

Both players are talented and bring with them solid ability. They’re a good tandem, although neither proved to be a dominant running back last season. With expected improvement along the offensive line however, both key returners could be due for big seasons.

At fullback, senior Jamari Peacock brings physicality as a blocker. He’s valuable, especially in short-yardage situations.

Departures

P.K. Kier, Lamont Atkins and Seneca Milledge are all gone, leaving the Cavaliers with an absence of running back depth. It’s likely Hollins and Taulapapa would have received the majority share of the workload in 2020 regardless, but losing three running backs makes a mark.

Milledge’s speed would have also been valuable as a kick returner, but the Cavaliers will march on using other options to return kicks.

New additions

The Cavaliers added Indiana transfer Ronnie Walker Jr. to the running back room. UVa hopes the Virginia native will receive a waiver to become immediately eligible for the 2020 season.

Walker Jr. brings a blend of speed and size to the running back position. He immediately brings game-changing athleticism and ability to a position group in desperate need of a playmaker. If given a waiver, Walker Jr. will compete for carries immediately.

“We’re thrilled that Ronnie Walker has chosen to join our football family,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a Twitter video. “He adds a dynamic element as a ball carrier that allows big plays. We know big plays equal scoring and scoring equals wins.”

It’s safe to say the Cavaliers like what they added in Walker Jr.

2020 outlook

Adding a talented transfer like Walker Jr. helps take the pressure off players like Hollins and Taulapapa. They don’t need to have banner seasons with Walker Jr. also in the mix. While the two are needed, adding a third quality running back allows the other two players to fill into their roles.

Taulapapa acts as a reliable option with tremendous goal-line experience. Hollins and Walker Jr. both possess the ability to become dynamic running backs at the ACC level. The three-headed attack could become critical to the success of Virginia’s offense.

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