Much like UConn in 2016, Virginia struggled. The Cavaliers were just 2-10 in the first year under Bronco Mendenhall, who surprised many by leaving BYU to come to Charlottesville. Like the Huskies, who endured a six game losing streak to end the season, Virginia lost its final seven games.
But that is ancient history. Thus far in 2017, Virginia has beaten William and Mary 28-10 and last week lost at home to Indiana 34-17. In the loss to the Hoosiers, quarterback Kurt Benkert threw the ball 66 times. That’s because the Cavaliers could not run the ball. The thought is once again Saturday, they will try and establish the running game even though they run a spread offense like UConn. The difference is Virginia will go into a huddle and not run the fast paced offense that is now the Huskies style.
Defensively, the Cavaliers play five defensive backs, like UConn. They have a destructive player at each level of the defense. Defensive end Andrew Brown spent much of last season’s game in the UConn backfield. He is coming off what Mendenhall says was the best game of his career in the loss to Virginia. Linebacker Micah Kiser led the ACC in tackles this season and has 21 tackles this season. And safety Quin Blanding was second in tackles in the ACC last year and has 24 stops in two games.
By all accounts, the UVA special teams have struggled. And like UConn, they haven’t run a kickoff return back for a touchdown in forever. Their streak is 300 kickoff returns with taking one to the house. UConn’s, if you’re scoring at home, is now up to 234.
A couple of keys for UConn include converting on third down. UVA’s first two opponents were only 5 for 26 on third down. UVA hasn’t turned the ball over this season, forcing a couple of mistakes, especially early, would plant the seed of doubt in the minds of the Cavaliers and their fans. And I think UConn needs to make some big plays in the passing game to open up the running game .
UConn struggled on the road in the last three years, losing 14 of 16 games. Maybe that’s one reason they are 10 ½ point underdogs on Saturday. I don’t see that. I think it’s a closer game than that.
Our coverage begins with Bob Joyce and the UConn Football Magazine. Then Wayne Norman, Ken Sweitzer and I have the play by play starting at noon. We hope you join us.