This past weekend, the Virginia football team handled business in their home opener against FCS opponent the William & Mary Tribe by the score of 28-10. This breathed a sigh of relief for a team that got pummeled 37-20 last year against FCS foe, the Richmond Spiders, in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s debut for Virginia. Mendenhall made it a priority this offseason to fill in the gaps in their roster that showed major struggle in 2016, which especially was present at the offensive line. Coming into 2017, that problem still exists, but looks patched up for now, after this group’s strong outing opening holes for Virginia’s new running back. In this article, I will outline three key take-aways about the Virginia football team’s performance.
1. Quarterback Kurt Benkert Shines and Displays Poise
After struggles in numerous season openers, the Virginia football team did not look back. It was all led by quarterback Kurt Benkert, who showed that he really can be a playmaker. In the game, he went 27-39 for 262 yards with three touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. Let me repeat: ZERO interceptions. This comes as a shock for a quarterback that showed a lack of poise and comfort in the pocket, and as a result make reckless throws. This weekend, he flipped the script, getting the ball to nine different receivers and keeping the defense off balanced with his ability to move the pocket and extend plays. According to coach Bronco Mendenhall, “He’s one of the best football players on our team. We expect through his maturity and his knowledge of the game to manage that decision making appropriately, so we don’t want him taking extra shots.”
2. Defense is Stout behind captains Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding
Last season, the Virginia defense could be compared to a block of swiss cheese. HOLES ALL OVER THE PLACE. Their defense allowed over 446 yards per game, but they made it a priority to decrease this figure starting with their season opener. It all started on the pressure they brought to Tribe quarterback Tommy McKee, as he struggled to find a rhthym in his progressions. He went six for 12 throwing for 63 yards and an interception. Seniors Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding ensured that their defense was in the right position throughout the game, focusing on keeping plays in front of them, and not letting receivers blow by them from over the top. This prevented huge plays from breaking out and forced the Tribe to gain short yardage. Blanding accumulated 12 tackles on the day, while his counterpart Kiser, gained seven tackles and had Virginia’s one of two sacks. There is potential for this Virginia defense to contend in a loaded ACC conference, especially with their improved depth and another year of experience in the secondary that was exposed last year. With one of the best defensive football coaches in Nick Howell, there is plenty of room to grow for this young defense.
Promising Start by Junior Running Back Jordan Ellis
In his first career start for the Virginia football team, running back Jordan Ellis proved that he can be effective. Despite getting little push from a depleted offensive line, he was able to gain 80 yards on 20 carries and score a touchdown. He was also able to show his versatility at the position, by displaying his ability as a pass-catcher, catching two receptions for 11 yards and another score. This versatility can pay dividends for a team that has struggled to keep a clean pocket open for Benkert, and allow him to gain another option in scrambling situations. Ellis will be looked upon in the same fashion as former All-ACC honorable mention Taquan Mizzell, who has recently been claimed by the Chicago Bears. He will be looked on not only as an up and down runner, but as a receiver that can exploit mismatches against linebackers covering him.