Welp. It appears the Virginia football team won’t go undefeated this season.
The Hoos dropped their first game of the season Saturday, falling 34-17 to Indiana. UVA controlled the first 20 minutes of play before succumbing to a double shot of an all-too-familiar lethal cocktail: poor special teams play, impotent offense, and an inspired performance from an opposing backup quarterback.
All in all, it was a deflating afternoon that left Cavalier fans drowning their sorrows.
Here’s who stood out:
Stock rising: Virginia’s secondary.
Last week, I told Cavalier fans to temper their optimism for the UVA secondary until the extent of the Tim Harris injury became clear. Harris is unfortunately done for the season, but it looks like the secondary will be able to weather his absence. Juan Thornhill got the nod at cornerback against Indiana and provided the highlight of the day: a diving interception in Indiana territory.
Thornhill has moved between corner and safety throughout his career, and his versatility could help steady the back line in Harris’s absence. Bryce Hall, Quin Blanding, Brenton Nelson, and Chris Moore also acquitted themselves well. In total, Virginia limited Indiana to 197 passing yards one week after the Hooisers put up 420 yards against Ohio State. It’s early, but UVA is allowing only 135 passing yards per game this season.
Blanding is the only senior of the group, which could be the strength of the defense for the foreseeable future.
Stock rising: Inside linebacker Jordan Mack.
Though we’d like to keep him in the center of the UVA defense forever, it’s a sad fact that Micah Kiser will run out of eligibility this fall.
But life after Kiser looks a tad brighter after watching Jordan Mack. Mack racked up a team-high 16 tackles yesterday in only his second game at inside linebacker. The Georgia native has moved inside rather smoothly, though some bumps in the road should be expected at some point. Mack is only a sophomore, and his continued growth and development will be crucial.
Stock falling: Virginia’s kick and punt coverage.
Woof. With Virginia leading 3-0 in the second quarter, the kick and punt coverage teams gave up back-to-back big returns that lead to Indiana touchdowns. The result? Indiana took a 17-3 lead into halftime. Things got worse in the second half, as the punt return team gave up a touchdown to seal the loss in the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to know exactly what happened in each instance, though STL’s unofficial eagle eye Paul Wiley suggested that true freshman Germane Crowell Jr. was the culprit.
So far Germane Crowell’s contribution to #UVa football has been 2 missed tackles that opened up big punt returns— PMW (@pmwcville) September 9, 2017
It’ll be interesting to see what Virginia does going forward. Bronco Mendenhall shuffled personnel on special team after the Pitt game last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put more starters out there again. But after the dreadful Anthony Poindexter and Larry Lewis special teams coach administrations, it sure would be nice to get this part of the program turned around.
Stock falling: Quarterback Kurt Benkert.
This one might be a little unfair. After all, Benkert has the unfortunate...um...fortune to play behind Virginia’s offensive line. And the Virginia offensive line is still...um...developing. But Benkert missed too many throws on Saturday to be let off the hook. After an “efficient” effort against William and Mary, Benkert went 39-for-66 Saturday for only 259 yards. That’s what we would call “inefficient.”
Benkert missed Warren Craft in the end zone in the second quarter, forcing Virginia to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. And missed most, if not all, of his downfield attempts. It wasn’t a great effort from the guy who might be the best offensive player on the team. The Virginia offense might have a plethora of problems, but Benkert has to be more accurate for the Hoos to have a chance to win in ACC play.