Things are generally happy in Charlottesville today as the Virginia Cavaliers celebrate their 42-13 win over the visiting Richmond Spiders to open the 2018 season. Here are the things we’ll be toasting during the celebrations—and the things that might drive us to drink.
What Went Well:
UVa looked like the team that was going to win the game
UVa football got off to a strong start last night with a largely comfortable win against Richmond. It was the type of result that fans were looking for to start year three of Bronco Mendenhall’s career in Charlottesville. That is, UVa looked like a Power 5 team largely dominating an FCS opponent. That statement alone is a telling one, considering the state of the program over the last decade and the results the team has had in similar season openers over that stretch. It’s nice to relax a little bit as fan, yeah? Did anyone really relax when the lead jumped to 25 on Ellis’ third quarter TD? I sure did. Maybe that was naive...or maybe we have reasons to have hope again.
Bryce Perkins, Jordan Ellis, and a monster running game.
Everyone knows this season’s success really relies on the performance of quarterback Bryce Perkins. Having a mobile QB like Perkins lets the UVa coaching staff run their preferred type of offense and provides the type of big play threat that can quickly change a game’s momentum. For instance, what if you started off your first game of the year by derailing a nice looking drive with a 70 yard pick-6 interception return? Hypothetically...that would be a deflating way to see your team start the season, particularly if this were against an FCS level in state opponent that had beaten you in your house a couple seasons prior...right? Well, in this completely off the top of my head example, what would be the easiest way to shrug off that early embarrasment, get a stadium and team excited again, and serve notice to your hopefully overmatched opponent that you’re not screwing around anymore? Probably something like converting a third-and-long by running straight by the whole damn other team for a 36 yard touchdown. That’d work well.
Really, the running game encompassed the overall situation for UVa’s night. Two guys rushed for over 100 yards (joining Olamide Zaccheus’ 100+ yards receiving). An ACC team should have a roster of guys that are bigger, stronger, and faster and it should consistently be able to grind out enough yards to successfully keep the ball, score enough points, and limit the amount of time your bigger, faster, stronger, defense has to spend preventing the other team from scoring. UVa did just that. The team totaled 301 rushing yards on 48 attempts - 6.3 yards per carry so says the box score and my powers of division. The Hoos racked up 25 first downs, converted 9 of 15 third downs, and their one fourth down attempt of the game. They held possession for 38 minutes compared to Richmond’s 21 and overall just looked like the superior team on the field—like the team that was imposing its will on the other—like a team that was going to wear down the other team—like a Power 5 team should look like in their season opener. Things looked nice.
Jordan Ellis’ two touchdowns essentially put the game away by stretching the lead to 18 and 25 on either end of halftime, but the way he looked running the ball really set the tone for the game. Ellis ran with impressive strength, often moving the pile for extra yards, often requiring 3+ Spiders to eventually bring him down. A lot of this success for Ellis (and Perkins, for that matter) can be attributed to the offensive line, of course, and the big fellas showed time and time again that the Hoos were going to be able to dictate what they wanted to on the ground last night. Like I’ve been saying: it was nice to see the team come out and look like the kind of team we’ve hoped for. Let’s continue to hope that this continues on the road next week.
What Didn’t Went Well:
By nature, these Didn’t Went Wells are going to sound nitpicky, as anyone looking for a better result for the Hoos last night had unreasonable expectations. Still: things weren’t perfect and there are a few things that look like really clear concerns for the team moving forward.
The defensive line looked okay
Okay! Okay is usually good. Okay is sometimes GREAT when we’re talking about UVa Football. We’re Okay! The defensive line looked...okay...last night. Not strong. Not bad, mind you. Just okay. We need them to look better against an FCS opponent. Playing okay against Richmond could very easily turn into playing less than okay against Indiana and really really not okay against Miami and the like. Are we arguing semantics here? Of course we are. Hence having “Didn’t Went Well” in the title—we love idiotic semantics.
Yes, Richmond only managed 34 yards of total rushing. Yes, the defense forced QB Kevin Johnson into 2 INTs and held him to zero TDs throwing or rushing, but if there’s one thing this article is focused on besides purposefully poor grammar, it’s the eye-test. Last night’s eye-test told me Johnson had plenty of time to throw the ball and he often turned that time into some long gains through the air. I wouldn’t say UVa’s defense performed poorly last night, but we’re going to need more pressure from the D Line. And we’re going to need more depth on the D Line. Hopefully Dylan Thompson, Cassius Peat, and the hastily experienced group of true and redshirt freshmen provide some of this.
Perkins didn’t look great throwing the ball...except when he did
The touchdown to Dubois was a GREAT throw, in my humblest of opinions. But there were a handful of throws of Perkins that looked less than great. I’m willing to forgive a lot of this as shaking the rust off and learning to work with your new team in your first live action...but the eye-test showed me last night that the offensive line and Perkins together looked a whole lot more comfortable when he or Ellis were running the ball than they did trying to execute passing plays down the field. Truly, this is exceptionally nitpicky, but 13/24 isn’t a strong completion rate and really, I just got the impression that we’re going to see some struggles against better competition - particularly when Perkins is up against a defense he can’t just decide to run by on every whim. Maybe such a defense doesn’t exist...but I think we’re going to want to see more impressive execution in the passing attack. Still, LlamaDay got his 100+ yards and a score and Dubois’ TD was really nice...so don’t @ me.