Winless isn’t exactly where Hoos fans hoped this team would be after three games heading into the season, and certainly not after the team dominated the first half last week against UConn. Fortunately for the Cavaliers they return home this weekend and look to knock off a pesky Central Michigan squad who comes in 3-0, including an upset “win” over nationally ranked Oklahoma State. A win could provide some much needed momentum heading into the conference season. Here is what we’ll be watching for...From the Upper Deck.
- Well, hello there Mr. Brown - Coming into the year, there was a lot of chatter about how Andrew Brown was ready to make good on his lofty recruiting ranking. It was said that the third year is a tailor-made defensive end in Coach Mendenhall’s 3-4 defensive system. In the opener, Brown totaled seven tackles, though all were made beyond the line of scrimmage, while against Oregon he was a non-factor with only one tackle. However, against the Huskies he made a home in the backfield probably giving quarterback Bryant Shirreffs nightmares even days after. Brown not only got his first sack of the season, but contributed 3.5 tackles for 11 yards in lost yardage. And frankly, it was a surprise it wasn’t more, as Brown seemed to beat his man with relative ease. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and the beast we’ve all been waiting to see has been unleashed.
- Stay in control with the penalties - After week one, I lauded Virginia for committing zero penalties in their game against Richmond. Coach Mendenhall didn’t necessarily see it the same way, stating that he doesn’t mind penalties as it shows his team is playing with an edge. I can certainly see his point as an offsides here or there means a guy feels confident he can jump the snap count, or a hit that might be a fraction after the whistle shows the player wasn’t going to let up. But 10 penalties for 91 yards probably isn’t what Coach is talking about. Two personal foul calls (one for a late hit out of bounds, the other a face mask) from All-American Quin Blanding probably isn’t what Coach is talking about. Three pre-snap penalties that are completely unnecessary probably isn’t what coach is talking about. And finally, a pass interference call on the Huskies’ game tying drive 13 yards downfield on 3rd and 20 probably isn’t what Coach is talking about. The good thing is, those mistakes are fixable. Let’s just hope they’re fixed sooner rather than later.
- Manage third down - The key to sustaining drives against any opponent is to stay within down and distance in order to keep third downs manageable. Last week we highlighted the Virginia defense’s effectiveness in getting off the field on third down, yielding only three third down conversions in 13 tries. This week, we turn to the offense and identify a stark contrast in Virginia’s third down efficiency last week punctuated by their success (or lack there of) on first and second downs. On their first three drives, which saw UVA jump out to a 10-0 lead, the offense faced six third downs. The average yards to gain was 4.3. It’s no surprise that the Cavaliers converted on four of them. Compare that to Virginia’s final nine drives of the game, the Hoos faced an average of third and nine and only converted on one of 12 chances. In the first three drives Virginia’s longest third down test was third and seven. Compare that to the final nine drives where they faced third downs of 10 (twice), 14, 15, and 20. If Virginia’s going to win on Saturday, they have to give themselves reasonable chances to keep drives alive, and that starts with getting it done on downs one and two.
Kickoff is at 12:30 EDT from Charlottesville. For those who can’t make it to Scott, we’ll be here holding it down in the game thread and watching on RSN (with ESPN3 subject to blackout). Be sure to check back on Sunday to see how things played out From the Upper Deck, and most of all GO HOOS!