Oregon is favored by by 24.5 points over Virginia on Saturday.
That’s a lot of points.
The truth is, expectations are tremendously low for Virginia fans heading into the weekend. Most realize that what they saw last week was just Week 1 of a long rebuilding process, and that although it was a letdown, not all hope is lost.
So the STL staff got to thinking. We know there’s not really such a thing as a moral victory, but aside from a win at Oregon, what’s are we hoping to see this week that would give us a little hope for the rest of the season? Eric kicked things off for us.
Eric Hobeck: I'm not sure how much better the defense can look against Oregon after Richmond walked all over them, but that's probably the main thing for me - just a consistently better performance even if Oregon puts up more than 37. I'm reasonably optimistic about the offense taking shape behind Benkert's arm, but if the turnaround is going to start at Oregon (win or lose), it starts with the front seven. For their timing and spacing to get to a competitive level, it'll take a lot of in-game reps, and as we've learned from Coach Mendenhall, the only two ways to do something are "right" and "again.”
Danny Neckel: Well, not getting blown out by 30 or more would be nice. The two main things to shore up will be defensive execution and offensive turnovers. While Oregon’s offense will have a talent and speed gap over the Cavalier defense, it would give me hope for the rest of the season if the defense was beat only physically, not mentally. If that side of the ball can show strides towards grasping the new system then there is still hope. Meanwhile if the offense avoids giving the game away with 4 or more turnovers again, then there is hope UVA will be competitive in the game and other games going forward in the season.
Brian Leung: A decent defense would be nice, but I’m not sentencing Virginia’s defense based on how they perform against Oregon. Instead, I’d like to see Benkert continue to be consistent in his passing game, so that we see his Richmond numbers weren’t a fluke, and I’m hoping we see the playbook open up a little bit more for him. I’d like to see him move around a bit on some designed plays.
Brian Haluska: First of all, this week will determine whether the defense's performance against Richmond was a minor pothole, or a deep rut. If the defense can put up a bit more resistance, then I think there's hope for constant improvement on that side of the ball throughout the season. If the defense puts in another "barely there" performance, it is going to be pretty clear that there are deeper issues that are going to be very difficult to fix in 2016.
Matt Trogdon: We now know how good this team is: it's very not good. But that doesn't mean it can't improve over the year. I'm anxious to see if there's better player development under this coaching staff during the season than we saw with the last staff. I'm also curious to see how Virginia’s young guys perform. They played 17 guys last Saturday that had never played in a college game. This Saturday will be their first chance to show what they learned from the Richmond debacle.
Caroline Darney: Has anyone mentioned defense yet? Yeah, ok, ummm...I'm going to go with the overall attitude of the team. Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote a great piece on the attitude of the sidelines and what Coach Mendenhall noticed. This team is under immense amounts of pressure, put on them from fans, the coaches, but more importantly, themselves. This is a team that has the weight of over a decade of mediocre football hanging over them, most of which they weren't even on the team for. That all needs to be let go. The rebuilding will take time, and the "take your RV back out west" or "same old stuff" comments are so unhelpful. It's incredibly difficult mentally -- I would assume — to lose to an FCS team (albeit a good one) at home, to open the season that was supposed to show how had you've been working...only to follow it up with a trip out to one of the football powerhouses. I just want to see more confidence. The rest will come, but you have to change that culture of losing that the players clearly panicked and reverted to.
Haluska: Back when I taught wilderness survival in the Boy Scouts, we taught that there were 7 key things you needed to survive. The very first item on the list was a “positive mental attitude.” It sounds silly, but it is so true. The majority of this Virginia roster has had their positive attitude beaten out of them over the last few seasons, and Mendenhall's biggest challenge is clearly to try and get it back. That's why he showed video of the sideline after the Richmond game, and compared it to his final game at BYU. Virginia cannot act cocky, because they certainly don't have the right to do so, but I want to see them stand up and fight when the going gets tough.