AH: With a new coach in the former BYU manager, Bronco Mendenhall, what are the expectations for the Cavaliers this season? Is the remaining talent left from the Mike London era enough to put together a respectable season?
CD: Man, how things change in a week. I am more aware than ever (and so is the coaching staff, according to Coach Mendenhall after the Richmond game) that this team needs a lot of work. The biggest thing is changing the mindset of the players and building that winning mentality. This is a team that has underachieved for more than a decade now, and undoing that takes time. There were times Saturday where you could almost see the panic in the actions and body language of the players as they reverted to bad habits. I thought this team could make a bowl game, and they still can of course, but the defense and running game need to improve dramatically.
Talent wise, there are still some good (and very good) players on this team. The respectable season question is a good one, because I fully expect Coach Mendenhall to get improvement out of these guys over the course of the season, but the schedule doesn't look fun. It's hard to see any "guaranteed" wins looking forward. That being said, I know I have a very loose definition of what would constitute a respectable season. If we're 2-10, but show improvement on both sides of the ball, limit turnovers, and play smart (but just get beaten), I'm oddly ok with that.
AH: Who are the big names that Oregon fans should look out for?
CD: Offensively, Virginia QB Kurt Benkert actually had a pretty good game against the Spiders, going 26 of 34 for 264 yards and a touchdown. We lost WR Doni Dowling to injury partway through the game, and Andre Levrone was limited coming in due to injury, but I like Olamide Zaccheaus (Oz) to really make an impact. He missed the first half due to a 'team rules' suspension, yet still finished with 75 yards and a TD. He had zero rush attempts, but as the Hoos look to revive last week's anemic running game, he should play a part there, as well.
On the defense, Quin Blanding is always a guy to watch, but I am excited to see more of Jordan Mack. He only had three tackles, but the first year put a lot of pressure on the QB, something the Hoos will need to do against Oregon. The defensive line will need to really step up, led by DE Andrew Brown, to shut down (or attempt to slow down) Royce.
Oh, and our punter, Nick Conte, is LEGIT. My guess is you'll be seeing a lot of him.
AH: Both sides of the ball struggled for UVA against Richmond last weekend. On offense, do you think the struggles would be fixed if Matt Johns were starting at quarterback instead of Kurt Benkert?
CD: No, I think Benkert did a pretty good job overall. The stats I mentioned before were nice to see for a debut (his first start since high school, mind you), and hopefully they will unleash him a little more against y'all. Johns is a great dude and a good QB, but I think the arm strength Benkert has, his familiarity with the offense (attempting to be ) run by Virginia, and tales of his ability to escape pressure make him the right guy. He was sacked a couple times on Saturday and had an INT, but his throws were pretty solid and seemed comfortable for the most part. I would really like to see more attempts downfield and more exciting attempts on offense, but the youth and inexperience of the offensive line is limiting.
AH: How do you think the UVA defense will match up with the fast paced and athletic offense of Oregon?
CD: Gahhhhhh. Not well? Coach Mendenhall said he overloaded the defense with too much for their first turn out of the gate, so maybe a more simplified 3-4 defense will help the guys with their assignments, but damn. Y'all define "fast". The defense last week overran some sacks or backfield tackles that looked oh-so-easy from the stands, but they were getting some good penetration at times - just not converting. I think the key is going to be trying to get to Royce and slam the box. Try and make Prukop throw the ball downfield and put pressure on the receivers.
Let's just say that the timing of this matchup is possibly the worst when looking at morale. Just lost to an FCS team? LET'S GO TO OREGON!
AH: Could the Cavalier rushing attack possibly pose Brady Hoke's defense issues?
CD: If they play like last week? Gosh no. If Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell can get back to where he was last season and Albert Reid and Oz get more productive touches (and the O line can do any blocking out front) that would be just delightful. The running backs were a group I would have listed as a strength for the Hoos last Friday. After a meager 38 yards against Richmond...ehh. They are definitely better than last weekend showed, but I need to see some real aggression and power from them.
With Oregon's vulnerable secondary, having a balance between the run and the pass will be huge for Benkert and being able to set up some deep balls in the game. If nothing is going at the line and the run game is just shut down by Oregon's line, the secondary will have a little easier day sitting on routes.
AH: What is your prediction for the game on Saturday?
CD: Ok, so I am going to stick by my ludicrous "whee the season is starting and I'm so excited anything can happen" podcast prediction last week where I said UVA came into Eugene off of a win with a nothing to lose attitude and sheepishly say Virginia comes away with a 37-35 win by a field goal late in the game.
I can also see it going 45-17 Oregon. You know, either or.