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What to watch for against William & Mary

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Starting up front...

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NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night’s home opener for the Virginia Cavaliers comes against a familiar opponent in more ways than one. William & Mary is one of UVA’s longest-tenured opponents, with 36 meetings between the two teams dating back to 1908. More relevantly, perhaps, this will be the second game for W&M head coach Mike London, who led the Hoos from 2010-15.

London’s return to Scott Stadium figures to be an emotional one, as the Cavaliers (1-0, 1-0 ACC) look poised to make the most significant leap forward over the course of a single season to date under Bronco Mendenhall. And since Virginia is a five-touchdown favorite, it’s fitting that the first of this week’s keys to victory is based on the biggest drawback in last week’s season-opening 30-14 win at Pittsburgh

Protect Bryce Perkins

Not just in the context of this week’s game, but for the entire season as a whole, it’s imperative that UVA’s dynamic signal-caller has enough time to work his magic in the pocket or even in the open field as a runner. Perkins was under pressure for well over one-third of his drop backs against Pitt and was sacked three times, though he did have a respectable game — 20-34 for 181 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions through the air and 18 carries for 44 yards. The Cavs made their hay on the defensive side of the ball and can be expected to do so again against the Tribe, but if the offensive line improves on a week-to-week basis, then Perkins will doubtless have more time to establish a rhythm with his veteran receiving corps.

Shutout?

Last year (under a different coaching staff before the retirement of Jimmye Laycock), W&M averaged less than 14 points per game, got shut out twice, and scored 10 or fewer points two other times. Brennan Marion has been London’s offensive coordinator for three straight years dating back to when London was the boss at Howard University in ‘17 and ‘18, and London’s 11-10 record at HU can largely be owed to a renewed offensive prowess (33.6 points per game in 2018, for example) that seemed to be missing during his six years in Charlottesville. The Tribe scored 30 against lowly Lafayette in Week 1, and are certain to run into a much greater threat on that side of the ball on Friday. Watch out, however, for dual-threat freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis, who ran for 127 yards on 16 attempts last week.

Take care of the ball

Mendenhall has three benchmarks he uses to indicate a team’s performance and likelihood of victory — if you score at least 24 points, have one more takeaway than giveaway, and have an average starting field position of five or more yards better than your opponent, you stand about an 85% chance of winning the game based on those numbers alone. Combine those goals with his defensive background as a coach, and it should come as little surprise that as Virginia’s turnover rate has drastically improved, their results have as well.

The idea this week is just like last week: no turnovers. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Because I probably don’t need to remind you what happened the last time UVA had a ton of turnovers against W&M.