At First Glance: Virginia Brings New Offense and a Talented Back Seven to Bloomington for Home Opener

 The Hoosiers open up the refurbished Memorial Stadium against the Cavaliers on Sept. 8  Image: Sarah Miller

The Hoosiers open up the refurbished Memorial Stadium against the Cavaliers on Sept. 8 Image: Sarah Miller

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

The Hoosiers open up the renovated Memorial Stadium against the Virginia Cavaliers. The Hoosiers knocked off UVa a season ago in Charlottesville 34-17 behind a breakout performance by Peyton Ramsey and two big punt returns from J-Shun Harris. The Hoosiers are 1-2 all-time against the Cavaliers. IU dropped a road game 47-7 in 2009 and the return home game in 2011 34-31. IU is 7-14 all-time against ACC foes.

Week Two: Virginia Cavaliers

Date & Time: Saturday September 8, 2018, 7:30pm

Venue: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN

TV: BTN

Cavaliers at a Glance

Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall

Entering his 14th year overall and 3rd at UVa

Overall Record: 107-60

At UVa: 8-17

Cavaliers Last Season: 6-7 (3-5) Lost Military Bowl to Navy 49-7

Cavalier Returning Leaders

Passing: Lind Stone (22.2 pct. 26 yards 0 TDs 2 INTs)

Rushing: Jordan Ellis (215 att. 836 yards 3.8 YPC 6 TDs)

Receiving: Olamide Zaccheaus (85 rec. 895 yards 10.5 YPR 5 TD)

Tackles: LB Jordan Mack (114 tackles 7 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FF, QBH)

Pre-Season Predictions

Athlon’s: 7th in ACC Coastal

Lindy’s: 7th in ACC Coastal

Street & Smith’s: 7th in ACC Coastal

Phil Steele: TBA

Impact Newcomers for the Cavaliers

1. Bryce Perkins, QB- Perkins has been named the starter to replace Kurt Benkert who threw for a school-record 3,207 yards in 2017, so the shoes will be big. However, Perkins seems up to the challenge and head coach Bronco Mendenhall will try and build the offense around Perkins’ legs. Mendenhall calls him the team’s fastest player. Perkins’ brother, Paul, played at UCLA before playing the last two seasons for the New York Giants in the NFL.

Perkins found his way to Charlottesville by way of Arizona Western Community College after two seasons at Arizona State where he redshirted in 2015 and suffered a scary neck injury in 2016. In his one season in Yuma, AZ the fleet footed quarterback completed 83.3 percent of his passes for 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns while running for 353 yards and four touchdowns on 69 carries.

2. Billy Kemp. WR- Due to the lack of depth at wide receiver, the true freshman has a great opportunity to fight his way into the lineup, probably getting snaps in the slot. At five-foot-nine, he doesn’t add the size needed to be an outside receiver, but the former three-star recruit can impact a game with his speed. Coming out of Highland Springs, VA he had only one Power Five offer.

3. Taveres Kelly, WR- Kelly is another small, speedy receiver who will fight for playing time early in the season. He chose Virginia over offers from Wisconsin, Illinois and Rutgers. Before heading to UVa to start his college football career, Kelly set a personal best in the Florida State Finals 100-meter dash at 10.49 seconds. Needless to say, with his speed the Virginia staff will find a place on the field to utilize his speed.

4. Marcus Applefield, OL- The Cavaliers needed reinforcements along the offensive line after struggling to run the ball consistently in 2017, so they brought in Marcus Applefield, a transfer from Rutgers. Applefield has 27 games under his belt and is a tremendously valuable asset. Accoridng to his coach in an interview with Wahoos247, Applefield is ““A very good football player, very experienced, very mature and I was very impressed with who he is as a person. He adds immediate depth and quality of play at a position that we have an immediate need. I can’t express the value of that enough.” On a side note Applefield has also made an impact off the field as he has interned with the New Jersey State Police in the offseason.

Offensive Preview

 Olamide Zaccheaus  Image:Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports

Olamide Zaccheaus Image:Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Virginia offense is going to look very different from the one IU fans saw in 2017 when the Cavaliers attempted 66 passes and rush for only 55 yards. With the addition of dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins and a bevy of smaller, quick receivers, the Cavaliers will run more of a spread option type offense, mimicking the BYU offense from a couple years ago. Much of their success is going to depend on how much the offensive line has improved since last season when Virginia finished an awful 128th in rushing offense (93.5 YPG). Virginia returns just two starters from a year ago in their projected starting lineup, but after the lack of success in 2017 that may not be a bad thing. The line is anchored by senior right guard Jake Fieler and adding Rutgers transfer Marcus Applefield at left tackle should boost their production.

Senior Jordan Ellis is back to handling the running back duties after leading the team in rushing yards with 836 on 215 carries. While 836 yards and six touchdowns are nothing to sneeze at, Ellis was not very efficient, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Ellis can also be a threat to catch the ball out of the back field as he hauled in 22 passes for 137 yards and another score. Behind Ellis is sophomore PK Kier who only carried the ball six times for 32 yards in limited action.

The Cavaliers second leading rusher a year ago was WR Olamide Zaccheaus (2nd team All-ACC according to Athlon Sports), who ran for 182 yards and a score on 27 carries. Zaccheaus is also Virginia’s returning leader at wide receiver as he caught 85 balls for 895 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Joe Reed, also Virginia’s best return man (2nd team All-ACC), is back and provides a little bit of size at six-foot-one. He caught 23 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Senior tight end Evan Butts provides a big target at six-foot-four and has 494 career receiving yards to go along with six touchdowns. Freshmen Tavares Kelly, Billy Kemp, Shawn Smith and Darnell Pratt should provide some depth along with sophomore Terrell Jana.

Defensive Preview

 Jordan Mack is ready to lead the UVa defense  Image: Ryan M. Kelly, Getty

Jordan Mack is ready to lead the UVa defense Image: Ryan M. Kelly, Getty

The Cavaliers lose an elite playmaker on every level of their defense in 2018. Gone are former All-Americans safety Quinn Blanding and linebacker Micha Kiser and NFL draftee lineman Anthony Johnson. Replacing those three stars will be a tall task, but the Cavaliers do have some depth in the back seven to make up for those losses. Linebacker Jordan Mack (3rd team All-ACC) returns after dishing out 114 tackles, including seven TFLs and three sacks. At the other linebacker positions are seniors Chris Peace (68 tackles 10.5 TFLs) and Malcom Cook (46 tackles 4 TFLs). They provide experienced playmaking abilities and should be able to fill the shoes of Kiser.

In the secondary, Virginia returns players who accounted for 11 of the team’s 15 interceptions. Senior Juan Thornhill (63 tackles 4.5 TFLs 4 INTs 2nd team All-ACC) will move back to his natural free safety position due to the depth at corner. He is a solid replacement for Blanding. At strong safety will be sophomore Brenton Nelson (64 tackles 2 TFLs 4 INTs 2nd team All-ACC). This ball hawking combination will make it difficult for the Hoosier passing attack. On the corners of the defense, Virginia will have veterans Bryce Hall (47 tackles 3 TFLs 1 INT) and Tim Harris. Virginia’s secondary should have more than enough depth to make up for the loss of Blanding.

Where the Virginia defense could be vulnerable however is up front as the Cavaliers have to replace the top five linemen from 2017. Virginia runs a 3-4 for defense and in order for that scheme to work well they need a strong presence at nose tackle. Eli Hanback could be the answer there after having a solid sophomore campaign making 58 tackles including 5.5 TFLs. At the end positions will be sophomore Mandy Alonso (also the backup at NT), who had a solid freshman season making 14 tackles and junior Richard Bruney who is transitioning from tight end. Depth will be an issue as Alonso also is the backup NT and freshman Tommy Christ is listed as Bruney’s backup.

Special Teams Preview

The difference in this matchup in 2017 may have been on special teams, as the Hoosiers rode two long punt returns by J-Shun Harris, a great day from Griffin Oakes and a stop of a UVa fake field goal to a 34-17 win.

 Joe Reed can cause problems on special teams  Image: VirginiaSports.com

Joe Reed can cause problems on special teams Image: VirginiaSports.com

Virginia has an all-conference returner in Joe Reed who took two kicks back for scores in 2017 while averaging nearly 30 yards a return. Look for Virginia to try out one of the explosive freshmen at punt returner since they lose Daniel Hamm who averaged 4.5 yards per return last year.

Virginia’s kicking game has some question marks as place kicker A.J. Mejia only connected on 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts and did not record a touchback on his lone kickoff. On the flip side, the Cavaliers can feel confident in their senior punter Lester Coleman who averaged 43.7 yards per punt, even though Harris burned that unit twice, once for a touchdown and another that set up a score.

2018 Preseason Previews