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Virginia’s Bye Week: What the ‘Hoos need to focus on before Miami

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If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

Virginia v North Carolina State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Last week was not so fun for Virginia. The Virginia Cavaliers fell to the N.C. State Wolfpack 35-21 in a game that was a hot mess all across the board. Virginia’s offense struggled as the Wolfpack shut down the team’s run game, limiting both QB Bryce Perkins and RB Jordan Ellis—two of Virginia’s best offensive weapons — while N.C. State had a field day on the ground against Virginia’s secondary. This isn’t to say everything was bad. Special teams had a pretty solid day, Perkins and senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus got the ball moving a bit to keep the Cavaliers in the game and we saw a few guys step up when needed (looking at you Tavares Kelly, Joey Blount and Germane Crowell).

Yes, there were a few controversial rulings on the field that probably didn’t help things but to be fair—N.C. State played some good football under the leadership of one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Considering all of the above, there are clearly some areas where the team could spend a little extra time this bye week, especially with Miami coming up in Week 7.

So, without further ado, here’s what the ‘Hoos should focus on this week:

THE SECONDARY

I understand Bronco’s boys were without both of their starting inside linebackers in Jordan Mack and Malcolm Cook (boo injuries) and that they lost Brenton Nelson at the safety slot mid-game. But considering that Mack will likely be sidelined for six weeks, the secondary needs to figure out how to adjust before we take on Miami. The Hurricanes had their way with UNC last week (the Tar Heels are terrible at football, I know) but regardless they’re probably the second best team in the conference behind Clemson.

We saw sophomore outside linebacker Charles Snowden find success again with a team-leading 11 tackles, but truthfully he didn’t look as impressive as he did against Louisville and the rest of his line struggled. Maybe it was N.C. State’s stronger O-Line, but the ‘Hoos will probably see something similar against Miami so it would be good to focus there this week. Snowden did have three solo tackles in Raleigh but he can’t do it all on his own.

SPEAKING OF SECONDARY… DEFENDING THE GROUND GAME

The team’s were pretty even on the passing yards front, with Perkins tallying 258 to Ryan Finley’s 257, but State was able to stop Virginia on the run. The Cavaliers only amassed 93 rushing yards, while the Wolfpack earned 176. True freshman Ricky Person re-energized the Wolfpacks’ run attack and finished the day with a career-high 108 yards on the ground. The Cavaliers struggled to contain Person’s explosiveness, especially with the team’s losses defensively. Miami running back DeeJay Dallas is another talented freshman Virginia will have to take care of off the bye week if they want a win over Miami, so, let’s ramp things up here the next week or two.

O-LINE

Perkins is pretty quick. We’ve seen it week after week – he’s shifty and can move on the drop of a dime, he’s not afraid to run the ball and he’s fast enough to evade opposing defenders most of the time. So for him to be sacked four times, all in the second half, means our O-Line needs to work on their strength and their stamina. A) We don’t need the turnover chain coming out in Scott Stadium, that’s for sure and b) we don’t need to be losing yards again because Perkins isn’t protected. Plain and simple.

FINALLY: FIGURING SH*T OUT IN THE FIRST HALF

For the second week in a row, we saw two totally different teams come out for Virginia in the first and second halves. At State, Virginia gave up 20 points in the first half while only posting seven of their own. It wasn’t as drastic as the differences we saw against Louisville, but still. The Cavaliers need consistent success if the team wants to bring home enough wins in the second half of the season to make a bowl game.

The Wolfpack scored 10 points in a 52-second span to end the first half because Virginia’s secondary couldn’t stop anything at that point. But then, aha! A magical second half rejuvenation—only this time it was too late. State’s lead was too large and their defense too strong for Perkins to lead a successful comeback. Even after the team trailed 27-7 then 35-14, Perkins connected with Ellis for 7-yard touchdown run with 3:08 left in the 4th quarter and then recovered the onside kick, but alas, it wasn’t enough. If the team that showed up in the second half had played the whole game, we might be singing a different tune today.