The Virginia football team is off to an 0-2 start after losses to Richmond and Oregon. Of course, most of TheSabre.com staff picks last week saw the defeat to the Ducks coming. What about this week, though? Does UVA get its first win for Bronco Mendenhall as a Hoo and his 100th overall?
The answer to that question could be found in what has really been the theme of the week since the trip to Oregon: progress. The Cavaliers say they took some important steps against the Ducks and that they gained confidence by winning the second half even though the score was well out of reach at that point. In fact, the players and coaches remain confident in a breakthrough coming at some point for the team … it’s a matter of when not if in their view.
That brings us to UConn. The Huskies aren’t a top 25 juggernaut or a team of speed demons like Oregon. They aren’t from a Power 5 conference. They aren’t overly intimidating at the skill spots. On the flipside, the defense has been stout for the past two years – that’s how the program made a bowl game last season – and even scored a touchdown last week on a fumble return. And the players are viewed as big and physical in UVA’s scouting report.
Plus, there’s the little matter of the streak. Virginia hasn’t won on the road since November of 2012!
What does all of that mean? It’s so early in the Mendenhall era, that it makes it tough to gauge the Cavaliers. UVA fans know that it worked at BYU, but there’s no proof of it yet in orange and blue. Do the Hoos still have resolve? Are they applying the lessons learned to future success? Do they still believe in all the offseason work? Can they win on the road?
This week certainly seems critical to the rest of the season as far as bowl hopes go, but it’s not a make or break deal for the long-term turnaround. So who does the Sabre staff like?
Virginia can win if … the defense gets some stops. In the first two games, the defense has allowed 81 points or 40.5 points per game. Richmond scored points on 7 of 12 possessions and touchdowns on 3 of 5 red zone trips. Oregon scored points on 7 of 12 possessions and touchdowns on 4 out of 5 red zone trips. Simply put, that isn’t good enough. The Hoos face a team this week that doesn’t score many points and is not very efficient in the red zone. If they can’t stop the Huskies, they may not win.
Virginia can lose if … sacks, drops, or turnovers remain an issue. In the two losses so far this season, the Cavaliers have allowed 9 sacks, dropped numerous passes (including a touchdown at Oregon), and committed 6 turnovers. Any of those things can be drive killers. The offense has shown that it can score points in the second half, but has struggled to get going early in games too. More drive killers and another slow start can lead to another loss.
And the winner is …
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: The Hoos break through this week and put an end to a whole lot of talk: can’t win on the road, can’t win quickly with Bronco Mendenhall, can’t win this season … yada, yada, yada. Bottom line? Hoos will run the ball better and finish drives better than the Huskies. VIRGINIA 34, UCONN 23. Season to date: 1-1.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: I really think players started believing in the second half against Oregon. No question, there is still a long way to go – giving up big plays, getting off the field on third down, learning assignments, and depth concerns come to mind. However, I think the team is gaining confidence. The Cavaliers will be better for having played in a hostile atmosphere against a team with a lot of speed. I think the Hoos continue to build off of their second half play against Oregon and get a win against an average UConn team – a team Bronco Mendenhall saw last season at BYU and has beaten twice. VIRGINIA 28, UCONN 24. Season to date: 1-1.
Sabre analyst Greg Waters: Virginia’s game against Richmond was a learning game for coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff and an adjustment game for players. I’m confident if that game were played in October, the outcome would be different. Fortunately, UConn does not pose the offensive explosiveness threat that UVA’s first two opponents offered. The Huskies are a smash mouth run game that may help mitigate some of the Hoos troubles with misdirection. The passing game can be effective but the offensive line’s ability to protect the QB will be paramount. I see a couple of two-point conversions in this one for the Hoos and a close two-point win. VIRGINIA 22, UCONN 20. Season to date: 1-1.
Sabre analyst Ahmad Hawkins (check out The Ball Hawk Show podcast!): UVA will yet again face an offense that has a mobile quarterback in Bryant Shirreffs and it will face a very imposing offensive line too. The Cavaliers will demonstrate an ability to make quicker adjustments during the game and limit defensive breakdowns en route to a hard fought first win of the season, though. VIRGINIA 28, UCONN 17. Season to date: 0-2.
Sabre meteorologist BadgerHoo: A beautiful, mild afternoon. It’s comfortably warm but not too warm with temperatures mostly in the mid-to-upper 70s during the course of the game. Important road win for the Hoos. VIRGINIA 28, UCONN 24. Season to date: 1-1.
So what about you? Who wins? Share your prediction and score in the comments section too – get the winner and the score exactly right and win 1 month on the EDGE!