What a difference a week makes. Virginia righted the ship Saturday in a 38-18 win over UConn that wasn’t as close as the score suggested. To be sure, the Huskies aren’t nearly as tough of an opponent as Indiana, but it was heartening to see the Cavaliers fix many of the ailments that had plagued them against the Hoosiers. Here’s who stood out:
Stock Up: Kurt Benkert - We took the senior quarterback to task in this feature last week, and he responded with authority. Benkert broke a school passing record with 455 passing yards. He completed 75% of his passes. He had touchdown passes of 30, 42, and 73 yards. And three of his wide receivers - Doni Dowling, Andre Levrone, and Olamide Zaccheaus - had over 100 yards receiving on the day. Simply put, this was Benkert’s best performance as a Wahoo.
Stock Down: Virginia’s ball security - I’m nitpicking here, but it’s hard to come up with too much to be upset about with Saturday’s effort. Still, Virginia gave up its first turnover of the season on a Benkert interception. The Wahoos also fumbled twice, though they recovered both fumbles. Dowling fumbled on a catch and run in which he chose to fight for an extra 5 yards instead of going out of bounds. While we appreciate his fighting spirit, it was an ill-advised choice that could have cost the team.
Virginia has recovered 4 of its own fumbles this season. UVA has also had an interception and a fumble overturned by penalty. At some point, luck might run out.
Stock Up: Micah Kiser - It’s hard to adequately describe how impressive Kiser was Saturday. The senior All-American candidate made plays all over the field. He showed great ability in the pass rush and in chasing down ball-carriers. Kiser has had some virtuoso performances during his career, but I thought yesterday was the best game of his career. Kiser finished with 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and a fumble recovery. He was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his effort.
Stock Down: Playing Starters Deep In The Game - Virginia had the game in hand in the fourth quarter, so I was disappointed to see a lack of substitutions, especially on defense. The Cavaliers gave up two late touchdowns to UConn with most of their starters still in the game. So why not play some of the freshmen whose redshirts have already been burned? Next year’s team will be without players like Kiser, Quin Blanding, and Andrew Brown. It would make sense to get youngsters like Zane Zandier, Joey Blount, Matt Gahm, and Germane Crowell some playing time to prepare them for their future roles.
Stock Up: Olamide Zaccheaus - The junior from Pennsylvania had 225 all-purpose yards and was a nightmare matchup for the Huskies’ defense. “O” helped spice-up Virginia’s previously-moribund rushing attack with 4 effective jet sweeps. He added 9 catches for 122 yards, AND he subbed in for Joe Reed on kick returns. He was an absolute menace out there. After the game, Bronco Mendenhall said that this was the best his staff has done at getting Zaccheaus in the various spots where he could help the team. Here’s hoping we see more of that creativity.
Stock Up: Brenton Nelson - After walking on in 2016, the redshirt freshman safety earned a scholarship in the off-season. And he paid dividends on that investment Saturday. Nelson had a crucial interception of UConn quarterback Bryant Sherriffs in the first quarter. He also had two impressive pass breakups. Nelson’s emergence at safety has allowed Juan Thornhill to return to cornerback following the injury to Tim Harris. And the UVA defense is better for it.
Bottom Line: Saturday’s win was the most convincing win of the Bronco Mendenhall era. It marked the first time Virginia dominated an FBS opponent since a 30-13 win over Miami in November 2014. It was EXACTLY the type of win UVA needed after the disheartening loss to Indiana. The Wahoos will face much better teams than UConn going forward. For one Saturday, they looked like they were headed in the right direction.