Heading into the season, the popular opinion was that we wouldn’t learn much about the Cavaliers in the first two games. Richmond would surely be a win and Oregon would be well, hopefully the Hoos could keep it close. Obviously, we all know the Richmond game didn’t work out and for all intents and purposes, the Oregon game wasn’t a disaster. However, it was this September tilt with the UConn Huskies that would tell us most about how the Hoos’ season would unfold. The Huskies come into the game 1-1 after a win over Maine and then a close loss that saw a comeback bid fall just short against Navy last weekend. Should Virginia be thinking bowl game, they’ll almost certainly need this one. After two games we are just beginning to learn some things about these Cavaliers. Let’s take a look at what we’re looking for this week...From the Upper Deck.
- Get off the Field - Earlier this week, Streaking the Lawn’s Danny Neckel highlighted some of the most telling stats summing up the Cavaliers season so far. Most disturbing is Virginia’s inability to get off the field on third down. The Hoos rank worse than 110th nationally on third down conversions allowed. But it’s not just the number of conversions that is alarming, it’s the nature in which they are happening. Against Oregon, of the nine Ducks third down conversions, four of them came on greater than 3rd and 10, including the infamous 3rd and 36. There is nothing more deflating to a defensive unit than to be primed to get the ball back to your offense, only to have to trot out for a new set of downs. Luckily, the Connecticut offense isn’t as potent as Oregon’s, however if you keep giving a team chances they will ultimately hurt you.
- Contain Shirreffs and Thomas - The Huskies’ QB Bryant Shirreffs and WR Noel Thomas provide the team’s most deadly one-two punch. In two games Shirreffs has hurt opponents with both his legs totaling 127 yards on the ground and with his arm netting 401 yards through the air. 186 of those passing yards have gone to Thomas. In the passing game no other Husky has averaged more than 34 yards per game. For the Cavalier defense, the task is simple, contain Shirrefff on the ground and Thomas as his main target through the air, and that should be enough to stifle the Husky attack.
- Who is Virginia’s go to Receiver? - Last year, whenever Matt Johns needed a big play, you could bet he’d look to Canaan Severin. Not only was Severin the quarterback’s security blanket, but he was also who Johns looked to for a big play. This year, there isn’t a Cavalier wide receiver who has stepped up to become that guy. Olamide Zaccheaus leads the way with 66 yards per game and appears to be Benkert’s big play threat. In the short and intermediate passing range it’s been Keeon Johnson leading all Cavaliers with 11 catches and two touchdowns. Finally Doni Dowling has been a little bit in between. HIs eight catches for 107 yards puts him just behind Zaccheus in total yardage and his 13.4 avg yards per reception shows he gets downfield a bit more than Johnson. While none of the players have the cache of Severin (or even T.J. Thorpe) last year, they might combine to be the best trio of UVA pass catchers Hoos fans have seen in quite some time.
Kickoff is at 1:30 and can be seen on ESPN3. If you can’t make it to New England, join us here in the Game Thread. Make sure to check back on Sunday as Streaking the Lawn will have you covered, and as always Go Hoos!