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What to Watch: Virginia Cavaliers on the brink of bowl eligibility

The running games for both teams loom large as the Hoos host Boston College

NCAA Football: Virginia at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been said a lot this week, but guess what, the Virginia Cavaliers are 5-1. Let me repeat, the Virginia Cavaliers are 5-1. Virginia now has a prime opportunity to become bowl eligible this week, but it won’t be without a fight. Coming to town this weekend are the Boston College Eagles. Sitting at 3-4 and coming off an upset win over Louisville, the Eagles arrive in Charlottesville as a desperate team. With five games remaining, and two against Florida State and NC State, this is likely a must-win game if Boston College is going to go bowling. They’re also a physical team, so nothing is going to come easy for the Wahoos. Here’s what I’ll be looking for.

  1. Stop AJ Dillon - Where did AJ Dillon come from? He ran for 120 yards against Central Michigan, but before his 272 outburst against Louisville, his highest run total for the year was 58 yards. The freshman is supremely talented and will give defensive coordinators nightmares for years to come. And that starts this week with Bronco Mendenhall and the Virginia defense. The overall statistics for the Hoos’ defense are impeccable, but if there is one area where they are weakest, it’s in the run game. Against the pass, the Cavaliers rank 10th in FBS, but against the run they are just 53rd. Last week against North Carolina, the Tar Heels were inept in the first half trying to pass the ball, but had great success in the second half with Michael Carter running for 149 of his 157 yards in the second frame. Before that, Virginia gave up 207 yards on the ground to UConn in a game that Virginia controlled from start to finish. The Wahoos can be run on, and AJ Dillon is the exact kind of back that can make it a long day for the home team.
  2. And Jon Hilliman too - As good as AJ Dillon was last game, Jon Hilliman is still the starter in the Eagles’ backfield (though that could change). The junior has rushed for 359 yards on the season and ran for 122 yards against Notre Dame earlier in the year. But this key is less about Hilliman and more about the Boston College passing game, or lack thereof. The Eagles come into the game ranked 115th in the country in passing offense. Even without two very capable running backs, they’d be looking to keep the ball on the ground. Couple that with Virginia’s stifling pass defense and it’s not likely this game sees a lot of throwing.
  3. Run the ball as well - Fair warning, this game could be really ugly. Stout defense and slow persistent offense. BORING. Wait, this is UVA, NOT BORING. Expect the score to be low, offense to be slow, and the defenses to be physical. It will be a game that will make Wahoo fans feel as if they’re sitting in John Paul Jones Arena. In all seriousness, while Kurt Benkert and the Wahoo passing game have been tremendous all season long, this game should belong to Jordan Ellis, Daniel Hamm, and Olamide Zaccheaus. The Eagles rank 121st in rushing defense surrendering 242 yards per game on the ground. While the passing game has been Virginia’s bread and butter, Jordan Ellis is coming off a career high 136 rushing yards, and the run game has looked better during the team’s four game winning streak. After running for only 55 yards in the loss to Indiana, the Hoos have rushed for an average of 155 yards per game since, a total that would be good for 76th in the country (a vast improvement from 101st if you include the first two games of the season). Given the defense they’ll be playing, look for Virginia to make a concerted effort to keep the ball on the ground, control the clock, and let the defense be the difference.

Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by the Regional Sports Network and ACC Network Extra. It’s Homecomings in Charlottesville, so Scott Stadium is the place to be. If you can’t make the game, join us in the Game Thread, check back on Sunday for your post game, and as always, Go Hoos!