Game Preview: UVA faces UConn in key early-season clash

UVA football, for once, isn’t an underdog as it prepares for a weekend FBS opponent.

uva footballThe Cavs (1-1) are 10-point favorites with UConn (1-0) coming to town for Saturday’s noon kickoff at Scott Stadium.

The Huskies have only played one game because their scheduled game last week with #22 South Florida was canceled due to Hurricane Irma.

Week 1 saw UConn have to rally in the fourth quarter to eke out a 27-20 win over FCS opponent Holy Cross, which led 20-7 at the half.

The Crusaders, picked fourth in the Patriot League preseason poll, outgained UConn 447-438, and forced two Huskies turnovers while also dominating time of possession (33:11-26:49).

UConn was able to get its running game going, getting 130 yards and three touchdowns from redshirt freshman Nate Hopkins.

Backup quarterback Bryant Shirreffs came in off the bench in the second half to lead the offense on three touchdown drives, completing nine of his 13 pass attempts for 124 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of action.

A former two-year starter, Shirreffs had lost his job to junior transfer David Pindell in his first camp under new UConn coach Randy Edsall.

Shirreffs is listed as the starter on the depth chart heading into the weekend, with Pindell, who was 19-of-28 passing for 154 yards in his time under center against Holy Cross, the backup.

The top target for the QBs is 6’2” junior wideout Hergy Mayala, who had 106 yards on nine catches and a touchdown against Holy Cross, after catching 23 balls a year ago.

Also watch out for 6’3” redshirt freshman wide receiver Keyion Dixon, who had five catches for 38 yards.

The UConn defense got burned by the pass in the Holy Cross opener, surrendering 358 yards through the air, though the ground defense was solid, allowing the Crusaders just 89 yards on 26 attempts.

This could be an issue for Virginia, which has run for 147 yards total in its first two games, and is averaging just 2.6 yards per attempt on the ground.

Another issue for Virginia will be protecting the quarterback. Kurt Benkert was sacked just once last week in the 34-17 loss to Indiana after William & Mary had gotten to him three times in UVA’s 28-10 win.

UConn registered two sacks in its win over Holy Cross.

As long as the Cavs O line can keep Benkert upright, you can expect to see him show some effectiveness through the air. Benkert, a redshirt senior and second-year starter, has thrown for 521 yards and four touchdowns through two games, completing 62.9 percent of his passes.

Virginia has gone back-to-back games without committing a turnover this season, breaking a streak of 42 straight games in which the team had committed at least one turnover, dating back to 2013.

The UVA defense has been solid in all phases, ranking fifth in the ACC in total defense, allowing 274 yards a game.

Senior safety Quin Blanding leads the ACC in tackles with 24, with senior linebacker Micah Kiser tied for second at 21.

Story by Chris Graham

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