On Saturday, the ‘Hoos (5-1, 2-0 ACC) are a seven-point favorite against a surging Boston College squad that is coming off an impressive 45-42 win at Louisville.
The Eagles (3-4, 1-3 ACC) put up 555 yards of total offense in the win, getting 272 yards and four TDs on the ground from true freshman tailback A.J. Dillon.
The performance was no fluke. BC has been improving over the course of the 2017 season, taking defending national champion Clemson into the fourth quarter in a tie ballgame that turned into a 34-7 loss last month, then hanging around with Virginia Tech in a 23-10 defeat two weeks ago.
Defense has been an issue for the Eagles, who give up 445.9 yards per game, 5.8 yards per play, with a particular vulnerability on the ground, allowing opponents 242.4 yards a game and 5.4 yards per rush.
This could be an area for Virginia to target early and often with its newfound proficiency on the ground. Cavs tailback Jordan Ellis is coming off a career game himself, gaining 136 yards on 27 carries in UVA’s 20-14 win at North Carolina on Saturday, and Virginia is averaging 155.5 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry over its last four games, all wins.
You can expect BC to try to grind out yards on the ground on its side as well, in part because of the success the Eagles are having on the ground and also because of the lack of success they’re seeing in the passing game.
Redshirt freshman QB Anthony Brown is completing just 51.2 percent of his pass attempts on the season, throwing for 1,009 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a 95.2 passer rating.
The Virginia defense is ranked fifth nationally in pass efficiency, with a 99.1 opponent passer rating, and the ‘Hoos harassed UNC quarterback Brandon Harris into a 7-for-18, 46-yards, three-interception performance over the weekend.
The key for UVA defensively will be throttling the running game on first and second down to put Brown into third-and-longs. Third down is another area of strength for the Virginia D, where the Cavs are ranked seventh nationally, allowing opponents to convert on just 26.8 percent of their third downs.
A key on the offensive side of the ball for Virginia will be protecting quarterback Kurt Benkert, who was sacked four times last week, after the line had allowed just four sacks total in its previous four games.
Benkert is having a stellar senior season, throwing for 1,680 yards, completing 63.7 percent of his passes, with 15 TDs, three interceptions and one lost fumble, and a passer rating of 138.2.
The receiving trio of Olamide Zaccheaus, Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone are all in the top 14 in the ACC in receiving yards – Zaccheaus with a team-best 448 yards on 43 catches, Dowling at 389 yards on 29 catches, and Levrone with 377 yards on 15 catches, for a conference-best 25.1 yards per catch.
Zaccheaus has also become a weapon in the running game, gaining 130 yards and averaging 10.0 yards per attempt on the ground.
Game Preview by Chris Graham