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Virginia vs. Duke: What the ‘Hoos need to focus on going into Week 7

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If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia took down Miami–one of the ACC’s top teams–this weekend at home. It brings Bronco Mendenhall within two wins of another bowl game berth and brings the Cavaliers to 2-1 in conference contests, but, to be blunt, it wasn’t the greatest football. From either squad. The Hurricanes, despite tallying 339 total yards, only scored one touchdown. It was a game of field goals and offensive struggles, more a battle of secondary’s than a well-rounded, fun-to-watch, good-old-fashioned football game. With only 231 total yards and a touchdown to match Miami’s, it was three field goals to the Canes’ two that gave Virginia the win (s/o to Brian Delaney there). Both teams struggled with interceptions, but it was the Cavaliers crew on defense that did a little more with those turnovers to bring home a victory.

We’ll all take the W, don’t get me wrong, but there’s still plenty for the team to focus on before taking on the Duke Blue Devils down in Durham on Saturday.

MAKING SMART PLAYS

Both teams struggled here, but as Virginia prepares to take on a talented Duke team on the road, this is especially important this week. There were four interceptions to only three points in the first 16 minutes of the game, with Bryce Perkins throwing three interceptions in the first half. He went just 12-of-21 for 92 yards with an additional 61 rushing yards on Saturday, with his third interception setting Miami up for a 47-yard field goal. Miami’s defense didn’t perform their best, but they still put up a tough test which is something Virginia should expect to see again in Durham. They might even see a more staunch Duke secondary than what Miami showed last weekend. The Blue Devils defense dominated Georgia Tech’s offensive line last week, meaning Virginia’s offense needs to focus on finding ways to give Perkins more time in the pocket to find playmakers like Olamide Zaccheaus and Jordan Ellis. The team will need points if the ‘Hoos want to take down Duke. The Blue Devils have tallied 192 points through six games, including one loss to Virginia Tech.

The biggest thing here is going to be making smart plays, something Virginia struggled with in Week 7 despite coming out with the win. Perkins will be pressured again, but he’ll need to respond with fewer interceptions and more yards this time around. Winning a game with just one touchdown is probably not something the team will be able to easily repeat in Durham, so figuring out how to hold up against a strong defense a little better than Virginia did last week is key going into this weekend.

Moral of the story, focus on: fewer turnovers, fewer interceptions, smarter plays, and scoring more points.

PROTECTING PERKINS

This goes with the note above. If Perkins’ offensive line can limit sacks (last week Perkins was stuffed four times for a loss of 26 yards), Virginia’s rising star quarterback will have more time to get the running game going again in Week 8 and make said smarter plays in the air. Jordan Ellis shined for Virginia, scoring the team’s only touchdown and going 4.7 yards per carry on 18 touches against a defense that was known for it’s ability to stop the ground game. If Perkins had been able to make a few better plays, get sacked a few less times, this might not have been such a close call and Jordan Ellis could’ve really gone off. The longer Perkins has, the more time he also has to find Zaccheaus, Dubois or another one of his receivers to get some momentum going there.

GIVE BRIAN DELANEY MORE REPS

Brian Delaney had exclusively been a kickoff guy going into Saturday’s game. A.J. Mejia and Hunter Pearson had been handling placekicker duty, until this week. And after what Delaney did for the team, those two have lost their starting slots. Delaney went 3-for-3 on his first three collegiate field goal attempts. The sophomore sent a 46-yarder sailing through the posts–Virginia’s first 40+ yard field goal since 2015 and the longest since 2014. He had an excellent debut but should get a little more attention this week if he’s going to takeover as the ‘Hoos go-to field goal guy.

KEEP DOING WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING ON DEFENSE, PEOPLE

If I were Bronco, I’d let these guys continue doing whatever they did going into last weekends game… just maybe do it some more. Virginia out-turnover-toweled the turnover chain owners themselves, using an impressive defensive performance all around to secure the win. Safety Juan Thornhill had himself a day, Tim Harris looked like he was finally back in true Tim Harris form and Malcolm Cook made his way back onto the field. Zane Zandier led the team with nine tackles followed by Charles Snowden and Chris Peace–it was a beautiful day for the team’s defensive box score. So let’s make sure we do it again!

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones played well under pressure against Georgia Tech last weekend. Virgnia’s secondary shined last week, but they did so against a struggling Miami offense. Miami’s QB situation was a hot mess, but that won’t be the case at Duke. Defense is going to need to repeat what they did last weekend again this week, but (oddly enough) it might be a little tougher. On the road and facing a team with a consistent playmaker under center, defense needs just a little extra love in practice to prepare for Saturday’s road game.