On Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers open the 2018 campaign against the Richmond Spiders and with it begins another season of from the upper deck. Each week, I’ll bring you three keys to the game from the perspective of a guy in the cheap seats. There’s no sideline experience here, no detailed breakdown of X’s and O’s. Just some college football talk about what I’ll be looking for, from the upper deck.
1. Win in the trenches – Any time a Power Five school faces an FCS squad you should expect a mismatch in size. Sure, FCS teams can have a couple of talented, big, physical players but not to the same degree as a Power Five School. And with that size discrepancy, Power Five schools should be able to out-physical their FCS foes. However, that hasn’t been the case the last two years for the Hoos. Both Richmond and William and Mary the last two years have played a more physical brand of football in their visits to Scott Stadium. This season, look for that to change. Especially on the defensive line. While the unit has question marks heading into the season, they don’t lack for size. Eli Hanback and Richard Burney provide solid size at 6’4, 300 lbs and 6’4, 280 lbs respectively while nose tackle Jordan Redmond is a mountain of a man in the middle at 6’0, 320 lbs. The news out of the off-season training camp was the bulk being built under Director of Football Development and Performance Shawn Griswold. So it will be intriguing to see if that translates to a more physical product on the field.
2. Run the Ball – Eight. That’s the number of games in which the Cavaliers failed to amass over 100 yards rushing in a game. In fact, it got so bad at the end of the season that Virginia ran for only 90 yards—combined in the last three games of the season. As well as Kurt Benkert played, the offense was just too one dimensional. That should all change this season. With Jordan Ellis back, Olamide Zaccheaus roaming the flat, and Bryce Perkins under center Virginia should finally be able to employ the read-option Robert Anae had success with at BYU. The key is obviously Perkins. While Benkert could move, he looked way too skittish out of the pocket when receivers were covered. You can’t blame him though with as many injuries he had in his career. Enter Perkins who will give Virginia the running threat from under center they desperately lacked with Benkert. Even if Virginia isn’t a running team, they have to have a running game to keep the defense honest.
3. Be consistent — What plagued Virginia most last season, and for the last several seasons to be honest, was a lack of week to week consistency. They could play like gang-busters one game (or even one quarter) and then fail to show up the next. No more was that on display than against Boston College with the Hoos coming off a four game winning streak and getting beat out of the building 10-41 or in the Military Bowl being outscored 49-0 after running the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. However that was to be expected when the Hoos’ starting lineup featured the widest talent gap of any team in the ACC. On one hand you had All-American talents Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser and a record-setting quarterback in Benkert. While on the other hand, the Hoos played 17 true freshman on the season. This year, the top level talent might not be as stellar, but the experience gained a season ago and the growth they’ve likely achieved in the offseason will even out the talent disparity and hopefully bring a more balance effort to the field this year.
It all begins Saturday at 6:00 PM from Scott Stadium. If you can’t make it to Charlottesville, the game will be televised by the ACC Network. Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn for all you pre and post game content. And as always, Go Hoos!