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Virginia at Indiana: what the ‘Hoos need to focus on ahead of Week 2

If I were Bronco Mendenhall...

NCAA Football: Richmond at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Caron here ahead of Virginia’s first road game at Indiana. Each week, I’ll be going through the tapes to lay out a game plan for the upcoming week. Actual head coach Bronco Mendenhall should probably take a look at this column each week before he plans out his practice, because while I haven’t made it to the College Football Playoffs yet, I’m also still undefeated.

The Virginia Cavaliers won their home opener this weekend versus in-state FCS foe Richmond. They finished Saturday night with 42 points to the Spiders 13, giving the Hoos some hope to start the season. While the overall performance was an impressive start, there’s always work to be done. The long weekend is over and now the team has to prepare for their first Power 5 opponent: Indiana.

Here’s what the Cavaliers could improve on going into Week 2:

Special teams — the kicking unit needs some work.

Sophomore Brian Delaney kicked off seven times for six touchbacks, which coach Bronco Mendenhall said “was a real bright spot.” I’d agree. But A.J. Mejia and the kicking unit didn’t look as bright.

“Special teams I would say were neutral,” Mendenhall said after the game. “Not necessarily a plus, not necessarily a minus, but a starting point.”

He added: “I am not concerned about the kicking unit, I am just not settled with where we are.”

Mendenhall not being settled is probably a good thing considering that A.J. Mejia’s 35-yard field goal attempt banked too far left to secure some extra points for the ‘Hoos, which isn’t a great sign considering field goals have been problematic for this program so far under Mendenhall.

As a freshman, Mejia’s longest field goal was just 38 yards and he missed all four of his 2017 attempts from 40 or more yards. He went three-for-three from the 30-39 yard range in 2017, so Saturday’s showing was definitely unexpected. The Cavaliers are going to need whatever extra points they can get over the Hoosiers next weekend, so Mejia should get some special attention before the team heads to Bloomington.

Perkins should also get a few extra reps in on the Hoos passing plays

Perkins was 13/24 on passing completion, and while he didn’t have a bad night when it came to passes, his numbers didn’t necessarily wow either. The run game was strong, as we saw with Jordan Ellis, but the pass game could use some improvement.

The short passes were there, but Perkins didn’t look too comfortable in any of his plays that didn’t involve his running backs or his own legs. A deep passing game would help Virginia to keep teams from stuffing the box to stop the run and open up more opportunities for his star wide receivers, senior Olamide Zaccheaus and junior wideout Hasise Dubois, to shake things up.

The biggest thing for Virginia to focus on for Week 2: preparing for a much tougher opponent

Not to knock Richmond here, but they’re no Indiana. The Spiders were an FCS opponent without the size, strength or the talent of a Power 5 team. The Hoosiers, on the other hand, are a different story.

Virginia’s O-Line looked good against Richmond and proved to have enough depth to survive even when starting right guard Jake Fieler left the game in the first half for a little. And even though we looked better than last season, Indiana means an entirely different caliber of defense – their wildly young secondary still made some big plays happen last week in their season opener at FIU. The Hoosiers came home with a 38-28 victory and only allowed 327 yards by the Panthers, who turned the ball over three times including one pick-six (something we also saw against Richmond) and couldn’t ever establish a rhythm offensively, either in the run or the pass, in the face of Indiana’s defense.

This isn’t to say IU’s secondary was good, because they struggled to defend the ground game on Saturday. But, the fact that they struggled there means we should expect them to focus there this week, especially ahead of hosting Virginia under QB Bryce Perkins. A renewed focus on defense means Virginia should spend a little extra time preparing for an improved backfield in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have the talent to pose a much more daunting threat to Virginia and Perkins than the Spiders did.

“Those linebackers are going to come a little bit more downhill, but I don’t think there’s anything we can’t handle. I think, if anything, we will benefit from it,” senior offensive tackle Marcus Applefield said of what to expect at IU.

Plus, the Hoosiers handled the Hoos, 34-17, last season in Charlottesville, Va., in a season where they were projected to do much worse than they are this year.

If I were Bronco, that’s what I’d have my team focusing on this week. Indiana is a tough opponent anywhere, but especially on the road. Virginia will need all hands on deck and all units working well to return home 2-0.