augusta free press news

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