Caroline Darney from the UVA SB Nation site, Streaking the Lawn, was kind enough to answer a few questions about UConn Football’s upcoming opponent. You can check out the UConn depth chart for the game here and also our recommendation for what we’d like to see from the offense right here.
1) While losing to Oregon on the road certainly isn't anything to be embarrassed about, the loss to Richmond obviously must sting. Surely there are some positives, though, from this 0-2 start?
Absolutely to all of the above. Losing the opener was rough, but I saw significant improvements against a significantly better team in Oregon by week two. While Richmond is a VERY good FCS team, there's never a good excuse for losing (especially at home) to them. I think we saw a lot of reverting into bad habits in that first game, as well as some struggles with adjusting to Coach Mendenhall's new defensive schemes. Against Oregon, there were still some issues on the defense (giving up long third down conversions, missing tackles), but it seemed as though they were playing better under a simplified defense.
Offensively, seeing the running game get rolling at Oregon was the best positive in my book. I considered the ground game a big advantage for the Hoos before the season with Smoke Mizzell and Albert Reid. Then they got 38 yards in the first game. Most of my worries over that stat were quelled when Albert Reid went HAM on the Ducks to the tune of 126 yards (a career best) and a touchdown on 15 carries. Add in a healthy Jordan Ellis who is a strong runner back from a small injury preseason, and I'm feeling much better about that aspect of Virginia's game. Additionally, Olamide Zaccheaus has been huge in the passing game with 122 yards on eight receptions in 1.5 games (didn't play the first half against Richmond).
2) Is this a Virginia team undergoing the start of a rebuild process or is there a belief that a solid season can be salvaged given the talent on hand?
Can I say both? The loss to Richmond made it abundantly clear that this coaching staff is conducting a complete overhaul of the program. I think we all knew it deep down, but that game really showed how far UVA has to go. The improvements between week one and week two make me optimistic, and I do think that it's possible to salvage a respectable season. As long as the team that takes the field against Virginia Tech for the final game of the regular season has shown drastic improvement on technique and skill from the first game of the season, I'm honestly not that chafed over the record. That said, the ever-elusive bowl game would be VERY welcome.
3) How did the quarterback battle play out and is it settled?
It is settled, yes. Kurt Benkert is the guy, and I'm happy with him. He's thrown three interceptions over the first two games, but he's 46-for-73 (63%) with 457 yards and five touchdowns in two games. Benkert won the starting spot over Matt Johns due to his strong arm, familiarity with the offensive schemes, and ability to move when the play breaks down. He's been sacked a lot (nine times), but the offensive line is a little thin and inexperienced. I would like to see more designed run plays for him. They did it a couple times at Oregon with some success, so I'm interested to see if there end up being more of them going forward. The return of the running game will definitely help Benkert open up the passing game, even if it's on short routes.
4) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the offense? How about the defense?
On the offense, I'm going to say the strength right now is momentum in the run game. It was great seeing Reid hit the gaps and his ability to cut downfield and see where the play was developing. Jordan Ellis was a machine with not a lot of carries, but he was efficient. I like what they've got going. Weakness has to be the line. They haven't really been able to give Benkert the time needed for a long pass play to develop.
Defensively, let's go with the strength being they are starting to click with the scheme. Weakness? Not yet fully clicking with the scheme. Like I said, there was definite improvement last week and the guys are emotionally more invested and amped both on the field and on the sidelines so that's good to see. There were still some missed tackles, especially when we do finally get pressure on the QB then can't complete the sack play.
Oh, I have to shout out our punter, Nick Conte, for being a badass. He's averaging 45 yards a punt on seven punts with four downed inside the 20, one touchback, and two fair catches.
5) Are there any guys on either side of the ball who have been unexpectedly impressive so far this season?
Defensively I've really liked the play of first year Jordan Mack. He has nine tackles in two games with two for a loss and one forced fumble (that we didn't recover...damn). On the offense, I'm going to go with the receiver duo of Hasise Dubois (his name is so awesome) and Warren Craft. Combined, they've added seven receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown so far this season and are a good option after guys like Doni Dowling and Keeon Johnson.
6) What is your prediction for the game?
Virginia has struggled on the road, not having won outside Scott Stadium since 2012, but I think the guys are hungry (and I'm the eternal optimist), so I'm going to say UVA takes this one 31-21.