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And now: UVA football has expectations

The media had UVA seventh, and dead last, again, in the ACC Coastal, in the preseason. That’s called having no expectations.

uva footballNow with the Cavs flying back home from a trip to Boise with a 42-23 win over the Broncos, suddenly there are expectations.

Virginia (3-1) has the stat profile of a successful team. For instance, one turnover in four games, total. That’s elemental to winning games consistently, valuing the ball.

Winning on the road, check. And winning at Boise State isn’t just winning anywhere. This is a program that has won 104 of its last 111 at home.

Virginia’s win Friday night on the blue turf snapped a 32-game non-conference home winning streak for Boise State, which approaches games against Power 5 teams the way fat people on diets approach a cheat day at a pizza buffet.

It’s very much a good thing that the win comes before a bye week, because this one is the kind of win that can be followed up by the proverbial letdown, particularly for a program that hasn’t had a recent track record of winning these kinds of games.

The bye week will allow the win to sink in, and sometime early next week, it will be time to get back to work.

And when it’s time to see the ‘Hoos again, on Oct. 7 at home against Duke, in Virginia’s ACC opener, it will come with a whole different set of, yes, expectations.

Last week, the storyline going into the game with UConn was that UVA was favored, and may only be favored one more time this season, maybe at home against Boston College on Oct. 21.

Now, Vegas and the ESPN Power Index may move a couple more games in Virginia’s direction, and let’s be honest, is there a game on the eight-game conference slate that you don’t think UVA at least has a shot in?

Maybe Louisville on the road, but even the Cardinals look vulnerable right now, after getting toasted at home by Clemson last week, and remember that UVA has played Lousiville well the past three years, winning in 2014, losing on the road late in 2015, and then losing that heartbreaker at home in the final couple of minutes last year.

A team that blows out Boise State on the blue turf is more than capable of being competitive in the ACC.

Depth could be an issue, certainly. As good as things look right now, a lot hinges on the ability of quarterback Kurt Benkert to stay healthy, because the backup is true freshman Lindell Stone, who UVA fans want to see be the quarterback of the future, as in, taking his first snaps in a live game this time next year.

Benkert has a nice thing going with his wideouts, Andre Levrone, Doni Dowling and Olamide Zaccheaus, and offensive coordinator Robert Anae has strategized the use of the multitalented Zaccheaus well, similar to the way he used Taquan Mizzell last year, getting Zaccheaus touches out of the backfield, on jet sweeps and in the passing game out wide and in the slot.

The defense hasn’t looked this good in years. Boise State ran for 30 yards on 24 attempts Friday night, and had two series end after failing to convert second-and-one, third-and-one and fourth-and-one.

Special teams is still an issue for coach Bronco Mendenhall to try to work on. A late second quarter kickoff out of bounds helped facilitate a quick-strike scoring drive for Boise State, and the punt team allowed a garbage-time block.

Shore up the special teams, continue to lock down opponents’ ground games, and keep Benkert healthy at the point of the offensive attack, and this Virginia team could be playing at the holidays for the first time in what seems like forever.

There’s where the expectations are now, anyway, for a program and a fan base that isn’t used to playing meaningful football games in the fall, and now has several to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Column by Chris Graham

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  • Socratease745

    I suspect the Hokies’ coaches watched this game, and they ended up looking like Apollo Creed’s trainers after seeing how hard Rocky punches.

    • Anthony Afterwit

      I’m sure they were watching, but I’m guessing they’re thinking about Clemson this week, not UVa.

  • Lige

    Where can I find the preseason column you wrote about how awful this team was going to be this year ? I believe you had them down for maybe 1 win and suggested UVa just end the football program. Could you repost for entertainment purposes ?

    • A simple Google search will turn the column up in a few milliseconds.

      Share your preseason column looking ahead to the 2017 season when you can. I’d love to see your crystal ball in action and be able to grade it out. (It’s easy to be an Internet tough guy when you don’t have to put anything on the record, isn’t it?)

      • Lige

        I’ll share…My preseason prediction was that your preseason prediction was a load of crap. You were the crystal ball genius with the tough guy attitude that had UVa giving up on even fielding a football team. It was insulting to the team, coaches, fans and university and it was wrong. You’re pretty sensitive for a tough guy.

        • Well, good for you. Again, you have nothing on the record, or even a real name, so your accountability is zero.

          I’m totally transparent about how I vote in preseason and postseason media lists, posting my projected order of finish for teams in the preseason and also individual position-by-position lists, preseason and postseason.

          After your comment from a few minutes ago, I tried to use the Googler to see how fellow writers had this season pegged, out of curiosity, since I could hardly have been the only guy to foresee another train wreck, given that the final tally at the ACC Kickoff had Virginia finishing seventh in the Coastal, and I wasn’t the only voter.

          I could only find one among the media that regularly cover UVA: David Teel from the Daily Press, who also had UVA seventh in the Coastal.

          Streaking the Lawn’s preview had UVA seventh, as did Athlon, Bleacher Report and ESPN.

          The commentary to the effect that UVA should give up on fielding a football team was obvious hyperbole, and didn’t come in the article, but rather in the comment section, and if you’re going to judge what I have to write on the article plus the comments, you also will see in the comments that my feeling then was that Mendenhall would get things turned around, and my crystal ball on that was Year 6 for when that would happen.

          I think out loud. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. I don’t hide from the instances where I’m wrong, and I don’t jump and down too strenuously when I’m right. I do sign my name to everything, and suffer the criticisms of people who don’t, but such is life.

          • Presuming a line of rebuttal: no, 3-1 against a weak non-conference slate, and not to diminish the win at Boise State, but this isn’t your father’s Boise State, in a manner of speaking, isn’t “getting things turned around.”

            “Turned around” is when UVA football is back to where it was back during the George Welsh years, when the fan base could rely on winning seven games a year (back when you were only guaranteed 11), before it was decided that seven, eight and the occasional nine weren’t good enough.

            This team could win six, seven, shudder I say this out loud, because I’m such a blithering idiot, but maybe even eight this year, assuming Benkert stays healthy, and the ACC teams on UVA’s schedule continue to play down to the level that we’ve seen from them so far.

            Next year will be a challenge (losing Benkert, Kiser and Blanding). Year 4, you have Stone as hopefully a redshirt sophomore in his second year as a starter, and the young guys on D are upperclassmen. Maybe Year 4 is a seven- or eight-win year.

            Year 5, with Stone back for a third season at QB, should be interesting. Continue that pattern, and Year 6 is interesting.

          • Lige

            Now that I can agree with. We still have a long ways to go but they are showing improvement which is really what counts right now. I’m aware most people had us finishing near the bottom of the ACC and I don’t have a problem with that.Your column ticked me off a little because it just had a nasty tone to it that just left no hope. You made some valid points in the column but the suggestion that we would be better giving up football in your later comments or that not even Nick Saben could turn it around was just outrageous to me. Your 6 year prediction is one I could agree with, although I believe year 5 could be sweet if Stone is the real deal.

          • Admittedly, I was letting frustration get the better of me with that column, and the frustration was as much about the Marvin Zanders issue than anything else.

            Not that Zanders is the next coming or anything, but the decision by the admissions folks not to admit him is a reminder of how tough it is for whoever is the football coach at UVA to build a program.

            That’s the behind the scenes on my thinking on just give up on football, if we’re not going to be serious about it.

            I don’t want the ol’ alma mater to compromise its academic mission or anything, but I think we can be a bit more realistic in terms of some of these type decisions.

            I like what I’m seeing so far this year, and honestly, if things turn south, and they could, if the injury bug hits the wrong guys, I’d already consider this progress, even if it doesn’t end up in a bowl game.

            Glad I was wrong a month ago. As much as it might not seem to be the case, I live and die UVA football as much as anybody else!

            Thanks for writing and for keeping my feet to the fire.