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Virginia vs. NC State: What the Cavaliers need to focus on going into Week 5

If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

NCAA Football: Louisville at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s cut to the chase: we’ve become a team who relies on their quarterback more than (I think) we should. I’ve come to terms with that. Bryce Perkins is going to run the ball a lot. He’s going to leap over defenders. He’s going to do what he’s going to do because truthfully, he’s our best offensive player. Plus when Olamide Zaccheaus is only targeted once in the first half, which is more a matter of play calling than any decision Perkins is making, I can’t really fault him for taking matters into his own hands.

Granted, things did turn around for Virginia vs. Louisville last week when the team made use of Zaccheaus and other offensive weapons aside from Perkins, but I’m just going to leave that one for offensive coordinator Robert Anae to mull over.

Don’t get me wrong, we still won so I’m not saying Perkins doing his thing didn’t work, I’m just saying that last week it seemed to be more a matter of coaching as opposed to something in Perkins control. So, rather than harp on our QB to use his receivers and backfield more, here are a few other things the team can do before traveling to North Carolina.

Here’s what Virginia should focus on going into Week 5:

USE HUNTER PEARSON

I’m sorry A.J. Mejia, but field goals are going to be important this weekend. After Mejia missed another against Louisville, the coaches finally decided it might be time to switch things up and see what Pearson can do. The true freshman did what the team needed and proceeded to go 2-for-2 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points. So, while special teams as a whole did improve from Week 3 to Week 4, Mejia unfortunately is still struggling. The coaches should give Pearson some more attention in practice this week and maybe a few extra reps to get him ready for this weekend.

ANTICIPATE A TOUGHER OPPONENT

NC State will open their ACC slate against Virginia this weekend. The Wolfpack (3-0) will be a tougher test of conference caliber than Louisville presented Virginia last week.

Louisville has struggled without Lamar Jackson. We knew that, but we really saw it this weekend. Louisville sits at 2-2 and is a middle of the pack team in the ACC – at best. I’d even argue they’ve descended to the bottom of the totem pole. But NC State has certainly not. Although they haven’t played any tremendous teams, they did notch a Week 1 win over JMU, who won the FCS Championship in 2016 and was the runner up in 2017. I understand that they’re no Alabama but the Dukes are not a bad football team and NC State played well against them.

...AND PREPARE THE SECONDARY ACCORDINGLY

Virginia’s secondary had their best showing of the season last week but again, it was against Louisville. Defense should get some additional eyes on them this week so they can play as well against N.C. State’s offense. It’s asking more of them, but from what we’ve seen I think they’re up for the challenge.

N.C. State receiver Kelvin Harmon will be tough for Virginia’s secondary to tackle, plus QB Ryan Finley is a threat all over the field. Add in that senior running back Reggie Gallaspy is coming off of his best game of the season with 81 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the fact that the Wolfpack passed 500 yards of offense for the second straight game in their victory over Marshall last week and it’s easy to see that the Cavaliers will have their work cut out for them.

This week the team should focus on playing receivers and running backs more similar to those we saw at Indiana as N.C. State will be tougher to control than the Cardinals offense. The other thing to consider is that there’s less film of this year’s N.C. State team to help Bronco Mendenhall and the ‘Hoos get a read on this week’s opponent. The Wolfpack was slated to take on No. 12 West Virginia in Week 3, but Hurricane Florence had other plans. The only teams Mendenhall has to go off of are JMU, Georgia State and Marshall – three wins N.C. State had over programs that all play vastly different football than Virginia.

GET READY FOR ANOTHER ROAD GAME

This one is a focus on mental preparation as opposed to any particular plays or units. Road games are always tough, and terrible weather conditions made the ‘Hoos last one even worse. Virginia is 0-1 on the road this year after falling to Indiana on the road and another away game means an extra challenge. Virginia will face a tougher team in a tougher atmosphere this weekend, and the team should be ready for that. Plus, N.C. State, aside from being a little bit of an unknown still this season, is also a team the Cavaliers haven’t played since 2012. Granted, good things happened the last time Virginia traveled to Raleigh to take on the Wolfpack (the team walked away with 33-6 win) so maybe the team will have some good vibes going into the weekend. Either way, the fact that Virginia is facing a team it’s not super familiar with in a stadium that isn’t Scott should be accounted for.