The Cavaliers travel to Bloomington this weekend for an early season road test against the Indiana Hoosiers. Coach London and his team come into this game with a lot to prove, having gone 0-5 on the road last season – the 1st for London as the head coach of the Cavaliers. Vegas has Virginia has a 7 point favorite over the Hoosiers, an interesting line given Indiana’s 27-20 home loss to Ball State to start their season – not to mention the 47-7 thrashing they took against UVA in Charlottesville just 2 seasons ago. In the season opener against William & Mary, UVA OC Bill Lazor ran a deliberately vanilla offense; choosing to slowly break in QB Mike Rocco while offering a steady dose of running backs in a game dominated by the Virginia offensive line. Given that the Hoosier D gave up 210 rushing yards to Ball State, I expect to see more of the same from the Cavalier offense on Saturday night. The Hoosiers also run a very fast paced offense, so the Cavalier coaching staff is even more likely to implement a controlled game plan – giving the defense ample opportunities to rest by winning the time of possession battle. That being said, I sincerely hope that the staff gives Rocco the chance to make some down field throws as UVA will need a confident QB and some big plays when it travels to Chapel Hill the following weekend. Here are some things to watch for when the Cavaliers take the field this weekend:
The Hoosiers run a no-huddle, spread offense, so expect their possessions to be quick and frenzied. It will be key for Coach Reid to get fresh players in along the line to keep the fatigue factor at a minimum for the Wahoos. Reid did a great job of managing the rotation against William and Mary and there’s no reason to think he won’t do the same against the Hoosiers. It will also be interesting to watch if defensive tackle reserves Will Hill and Justin Renfrow build on their strong performance last week. Though senior starter Matt Conrath brings leadership and experience to the DL, I imagine Hill will see the majority of snaps moving forward if he continues to show up in the opposing team’s backfield. Isn't it nice to finally have playable depth along the line! On a similar note, the Virginia coaching staff rotated in a plethora of defensive backs against William & Mary – including 4 true freshman (one of whom, Demetrious Nicholson, started and had a sensational game). Going up against a pass happy, no-huddle offense will certainly present a greater challenge to Virginia’s defensive backfield – one that struggled mightily last year. How this rotation is handled will be something to watch very closely on Saturday evening.
Speaking of which…
All eyes were on the highly touted freshman last Saturday night, and Nicholson did not disappoint. According to cfbstats.com, Nicholson is currently ranked 5th in the nation in passes defended – posting 3 defended passes against W&M, including 1 interception and 2 knockdowns. Indiana will pose a much stiffer test to Nicholson and his teammates in the defensive backfield. In particular, IU receiver Demarlo Belcher brought in a touchdown grab and 101 yards receiving last week in the Hoosier’s opener. A big (6’5), fast target – the matchup between Belcher and Minnifield / Nicholson will also be one to watch. The competition will get better week to week, and the progression Nicholson makes as he settles into his starting position will be a constant storyline this season.
The Quarterback Position
Mike Rocco had an extremely solid first outing as a starter for the Cavaliers. He made good reads, threw crisp passes and, most importantly, didn't put the ball into the opposing team's hands. The Cavaliers were also perfect in the redzone, going 5-5 inside the 20. For a first time starter, that's about all you can ask for. Most Wahoo fans are anxious to see the offense open up a little and, with the Tarheels looming, I expect to see some downfield throws against the Hoosiers in an effort to build Rocco's confidence while also avoiding a complete stacking of the box when the Cavs visit Chapel Hill. True Freshman David Watford is also expected to get some looks against the Hoosiers this weekend. He displayed a strong arm and flashes of escapability against the Tribe and it will be very interesting to see how / when he is used on Saturday night. The way Coach Lazor and Coach London manage the QBs - and the way the QBs perform - during the upcoming two week road stretch against Indiana and UNC will go a long way in showing Wahoo fans whether or not plans should be made to attend a bowl game this season. On the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers are breaking in a new QB themselves. Edward Wright-Baker had a very solid first outing for the Hoosiers, racking up 272 yards through the air with 1 touchdown. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over. Without a running game to rely on, Wright-Baker will have to do most of the work against the Cavaliers.
Redshirt freshman running back Kevin Parks' historic performance made all the headlines this week, and rightfully so. His first game as a Cavalier was nothing short of incredible, rushing for 114 yards and 3 TDs when all was said and done. True freshman Clifton Richardson also notched a score in his first collegiate outing, putting his size and shiftiness on display as he routinely ran through handfuls of Tribe defenders. Seemingly lost in the shuffle, however, was junior starter Perry Jones. How he responds to the play of his running mates will be a very compelling side story during Saturday night's contest, as the staff will likely stick with their running back by committee approach and give each guy their fair share of carries. At the end of the day, I expect another dominiating performance on the ground by Virginia's running backs against the Hoosiers. I also expect PJ to play an inspired game.
What? Virginia suffered no serious injuries in their home opener? You must be kidding me! Alas, it's true - and it just may be the greatest victory of week 1 for the Cavaliers, besides the obvious W. Indiana, however, did not fare so well against Ball State in their opener. Unfortunately, starting weakside linebacker Leon Beckum and starting right tackle Josh Hager both suffered knee injuries last week and will be unable to go this weekend against the Cavaliers. This could create a huge problem for the Hoosiers, as they will start freshman Cody Evers along an offensive line that struggled against Ball State and while also losing a key cog in their defense - which is already very short on depth at the linebacker position. Look for Virginia's constant rotation of defensive tackles to get a ton of pressure on Indiana QB Edward Wright-Baker and for the Virginia offense to exploit the middle of the field with quick slants to their speedy freshman wideouts as well as more looks to the tight ends. These injuries will cost Indiana.
* Note - I'm knocking on wood while writing this.
If UVA loses this game, it will be because they are careless with the football and commit a bunch of turnovers. With the gameplan likely to still be on the more conservative side, I have high hopes that this will not happen on Saturday night. More compelling, however, will be watching to see if the Virginia defense can continue their trend (okay, 1 game trend) of generating turnovers and putting the offense in scoring position as a result. As previously mentioned, Virginia's defensive should be able to rush Wright-Baker into making some poor decisions, which could mean more opportunities for big plays to be made by Virginia's linebackers and talented secondary.
The Cavaliers should be able dominiate the trenches on both sides of the ball and I expect the running backs to put up another round of big numbers. Hopefully the coaching staff opens up the playbook just a little bit and Rocco gets to show off his arm a little as well. I'd also like to see the freshman kick/punt returners make a big play. Did you know that UVA hasn't won a road opener since 2005 - which also happens to be the last time the Cavs got off to a 2-0 start? Those forturnes will be reversed this weekend.
Virginia 41 - Indiana 13. Wahoowa!Back to the Virginia Cavaliers Newsfeed