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What to Watch: Virginia heads west to face Boise State

Sitting at 2-1, the Hoos look to finish non-conference play on a high note.

NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

After three weeks, the Virginia Cavaliers sit 2-1 as they look to square off against the Boise State Broncos in a prime-time Friday night ESPN showcase game. But the question still remains, how good is this Cavalier squad? Are they as good as the 38-18 demolition of Connecticut would suggest, or are they as bad as the team that was blasted by the Indiana Hoosiers 34-17?

As the season rolls along, it may become evident that the Huskies are one of the bottom teams in the country while Indiana may be a program on the rise. But frankly, this is all on the Cavaliers. Against UConn, they played their “A” game and against Indiana it was their “F” game. The Hoos are a team that will struggle with this as the season unfolds. If they take their “A” game to Boise, they can steal a win, but if they come out with their “F” game, it’s going to be a long night. Here are three keys to the game:

  1. Spy the QB - Through three games, for as good Virginia has been defensively, the production yielded to running quarterbacks is alarming. Opposing QBs have run the ball 41 times for 262 yards — an astonishing 6.4 yards per carry. What’s even more disconcerting is that in all three games, the quarterback led his team in carries. Some of this is by design, and Bronco Mendenhall has prioritized stopping other facets of opposing teams’ offenses, in favor of allowing a quarterback to try to beat Virginia with his legs. Against Indiana though, that plan backfired Peyton Ramsey’s success in the running game opened up the field just enough for Ramsey to find his weapons in the passing game. Unfortunately for Virginia, that game plan isn’t likely to work this week against Boise State. If he starts again this week, the Broncos’ Montell Cozart would be the best running quarterback Virginia will have faced to date. On the season he has 31 carries for 179 yards and is the Broncos’ leading rusher. Virginia won’t be able to just let Cozart get his yards; they’re going to have to game plan to stop Cozart on the ground. If, on the other hand, Brett Rypien is healthy enough to start, which is what we’re expecting, well, as we stated earlier in our preview, that may not be a bad thing.
  2. Ride the hot hand - And the hot hand is... Olamide Zaccheaus. The junior running back / wide receiver / half-back / flanker can flat out do it all. In the last two games, Zaccheaus has caught a total of 21 passes for 194 yards. But it was last week against UConn that Zaccheaus got his first carry of the season, and it’s no coincidence that Zaccheaus’ first carries of the season jumpstarted the Cavalier running game. He ended up with four carries for 47 yards to go along with nine catches for 122 yards. Zaccheaus remains one of Virginia’s best playmakers, and for the Virginia offense to build off the momentum from last week’s win, they’d be well off to just feed #4.
  3. Convert scoring chances - 56-14. In case we haven’t beaten that into you enough yet this week, that was the score the last time these teams faced off in Charlottesville in 2015. While the Broncos don’t possess the same firepower of that season, they can still light up the score board, and Virginia will need to capitalize on every opportunity it has to get points on the board. Against Indiana, the Hoos dominated the first half and much of the game for that matter. Over the course of three drives midway through the first half, Virginia’s drives ended on the Indiana 15, 38, and 4. The Hoos came away with three points on those drives and given the state of the UVA kicking game, even those points were harder than they should have been. The Hoos can’t squander chances to score in Idaho. The defense plays too well and puts offense in too good of situations for the Cavaliers to struggle scoring. If they can finish drives with touchdowns, or at least field goals, they’ll have a shot.

Kickoff is at 8 P.M. ET Friday on ESPN2. Join us in the game thread and check back Saturday to see we did. And as always, Go Hoos!