The first win in the Bronco Mendenhall era was a long time coming (three weeks later than expected, to be exact). Now the Hoos look to start the ACC season strong as they travel to Durham to take on the Blue Devils. The road hasn’t been kind to Virginia, with the Hoos going winless since early November 2012.
Duke comes in high off an upset win over Notre Dame, but they only stand 2-2 having dropped games to Wake Forest and Northwestern. A win would go a long way to Virginia’s slim bowl hopes, but more than that prove that the program is heading in the right direction. Let’s see how they can make it happen...From the Upper Deck.
- Limit Big Plays - While at this point in the year it sounds cliche, Virginia has to avoid giving up big plays if they’re going to prevail. UVA has been susceptible all season to giving up big plays for touchdowns, including touchdown runs of 55 and 85 yards to Richmond and Oregon and touchdown passes of 77 and 85 yards to Oregon and Central Michigan. While it’s important to limit big plays any week, it’s more important against this Duke team. In their two wins this year they have produced touchdowns of 50 yards and 55 yards (against North Carolina Central), as well as 32 yards and 64 yards (against Notre Dame). Duke had no big touchdown plays in either of their two losses. Duke thrives on the quick strike, so limit that and the Hoos are in a great position to win.
- Play a complete game - So far this season, Virginia has yet to play a complete game. In the opener, neither the offense nor the defense were particularly outstanding. Against the Ducks, the offense was locked and loaded, but the defense struggled (Oregon will do that to anyone). Then against Connecticut, the defense was stout, but the offense kept the team from running away. Furthermore, they jumped out to a 10-0 lead only to be shut out the remainder of the game. The on/off button was again in effect against Central Michigan as the Hoos came out guns blazing to a 28-0 lead, only to see the Chippewas come back to tie. Fortunately, Virginia turned the switch back on and ultimately prevailed 49-35. Now enter the Blue Devils. In two of the last four years against Duke, Virginia has held a lead at halftime only to be shut out in the second half en route to a loss. Back in 2013, they led 22-0 at half time and lost 35-22. Much of that is likely due to the adjustments made by the Duke coaching staff, and the hope is those adjustments will be matched by the new Coach Mendenhall and crew, but this team can’t shut it off for a long stretch of time if they have any hopes of winning.
- Air it out - Last week, Benkert lit Scott Stadium on fire with his school record 421 passing yards. It was a performance that Cavalier fans were waiting for all year. The biggest change? Benkert began to throw downfield more. With Benkert’s arm strength and ability to throw on the move, it makes sense to push the ball downfield, even when you have a good pass catching running back available like Taquan Mizzell. Against Central Michigan, Benkert averaged 9.8 yards per attempt compared to 7.8, 4.9, and 5.6 in losses to Richmond, Oregon, and Connecticut. Perhaps it’s because the offensive line is giving him more time to allow his receivers to get downfield, or perhaps the playbook is being opened just a little bit more. Either way, it’s a good sign and one that should continue for the Cavaliers.
Kickoff is at 12:30 PM ET from Durham and will be televised by the ACC Network. Join us in the Game Thread, and as always, GO HOOS!