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From The Upper Deck: Hoos unable to hang with Oregon

Despite the loss, Virginia showed signs of life against Oregon. Can the Hoos keep improving?

NCAA Football: Virginia at Oregon Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports

Before Virginia’s game this weekend, I thought it was unlikely that fans would learn a whole lot from how the Hoos played against Oregon. The talent gap was so large between the two teams, I thought, that the game would ultimately turn into a throw away. I was wrong.

Virginia wasn’t able to pull the upset, but its performance against Oregon raised some interesting questions about the future. Here’s what I took away...From the Upper Deck.

1. Benkert looks like the real deal. Two games are in the books and it certainly looks like Virginia has a legit weapon at quarterback. While his performance on Saturday wasn’t as efficient as his debut, Kurt Benkert ran the offense well and kept the team moving. On the day he was 20-39 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He showed good mobility out of the pocket and even scrambled a few times, gaining 24 yards on three runs. The playbook opened up a bit and there wasn’t as much dink and dunk as we saw against Richmond. Benkert did struggle with accuracy, however. He’ll have to improve in that capacity, but after two games he’s provided more solid production than any UVA quarterback in recent memory.

2. Can the secondary tighten up? While we didn’t see the pitch and catch bullpen session that Virginia allowed against Richmond, the secondary continues to be an area of weakness. In this particular game, Virginia’s defensive backs struggled to keep Oregon’s receivers in front of them and to make tackles in the open field. Two long plays stick out in particular: first the secondary was beat over the top by Oregon’s Devon Allen for a 77 yard touchdown. It looked like Allen just ran right past the Virginia defenders. To be sure, Allen finished 5th in the 110M Hurdles at the Rio Olympics, so his performance wasn’t surprising. However, given that, the secondary needs to do everything it can to not let a player like that get a step. Second, minutes later, the Ducks struck again when Royce Freeman bounced a run to the outside and ran almost untouched for an 85 yard touchdown. The second level of the defense was almost non-existent, punctuated by a bad angle taken by the last defender, cornerback Myles Robinson. Oregon has more speed than anyone Virginia will face all season, but there’s still cause for worry. It’s not a good sign that in two games the defensive secondary has been beaten with two different attacks.

3. How does the team respond? The final score might not indicate it, but this was a much better Virginia effort than we saw in the opener. The Hoos responded in the face of a superior opponent and a hostile environment, which should leave fans optimistic. Most notably, the running game came to life. After being held to a disappointing 38 rushing yards against Richmond, the Hoos ran for 193 yards against the Ducks. Albert Reid’s 126-yard effort was particularly good to see. From the opening whistle the Hoos were committed to the run, and it paid off. Taquan Mizzell added 10 carries for 48 yards and Jordan Ellis had a nifty 7.7 ypc on his 6 chances. While it was only one week, and there aren’t really moral victories, this was a different team than the one showed up a week ago. It bodes well for the season ahead. If Virginia can continue to improve, it could still achieve quite a bit this season.

Virginia is back on the road next week as it travels to New England to take on the UConn Huskies. After beginning 0-2, it’s almost a must win if this team wants to go bowling in December.