Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall felt better about his team’s performance in a loss to Indiana after watching film of the game, and he’s anticipating the improvement will only become more obvious going forward.
The Cavaliers (1-1) finish a three-game homestand to start the season Saturday against Connecticut (1-0).
Mendenhall said he saw more consistency from the offense and defense in the 34-17 loss . And although generally steady quarterback Kurt Benkert had an uneven outing, he’s generally more accurate when throwing downfield than he was against the Hoosiers.
Struggles in the running game haven’t helped loosen defenses, but the Huskies may afford Virginia an opportunity to finally get some production going on the ground. Connecticut allowed 447 yards in its 27-20 victory against Holy Cross .
A solid running game and passing game go hand-in-hand, Mendenhall said.
“Until we run the ball efficiently and make some of those down the field shots, that makes us one-dimensional, and that’s where we currently are,” he said. The Cavaliers are averaging just 73.5 rushing yards per game.
The Huskies, whose game against No. 22 USF was postponed last week because of Hurricane Irma, beat the Cavaliers 13-10 last season. They rallied from a 20-7 deficit against the Crusaders of the Patriot League in their opener.
The time since has been used almost like an extension of preseason camp, coach Randy Edsall said.
“We would have loved to play, of course, but I thought we took really good advantage of the opportunity that was presented to us,” he said. “It allowed our guys to have some extra time to get some bumps and bruises healed up, but also gave us time to get out and practice. … I think we got better at all the things we worked on.”
Some things to watch from when Connecticut visits Virginia:
LOOKING DEEP: Benkert is usually on target with deep passes, but his longest completion against Indiana covered just 20 yards. The Cavaliers use a lot of underneath passes, too, but until they show the ability to make a defense pay for stacking the line by connecting downfield, their running and short passing games will struggle.
TURNOVERS: Virginia has now fumbled twice in each game, but recovered all four and has no turnovers. The Huskies fumbled twice in their opener and lost both. Takeaways are always huge, especially in a close game.
HUSKIES OFFENSE: Mendenhall said he’s relying on tape of Auburn’s offense as well as what UConn did in its opener because offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was an understudy to Tigers coach Gus Malzahn. The Huskies used two quarterbacks in their opener, switching from David Pindell to Bryant Shirreffs, who led three second-half touchdown drives. Shirreffs, a fifth-year senior, was the starter until late last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cavaliers continue to struggle. They allowed two long punt returns last week, including one for a touchdown, and failed on a fake field goal try. Freshman A.J. Mejia later kicked a 22-yarder, his first.
TACKLING MACHINES: Linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding have ranked 1-2 in tackles in the ACC in each of the last two seasons, and they do again this year, but neither had led the team in tackles in a game. OLB Malcolm Cook led with 13 against William & Mary, and ILB Jordan Mack paced the team with 16 against the Hoosiers.
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