TOBIN: Don’t get too excited just yet
For once, Virginia football didn’t play like Virginia football this past Saturday. The Cavaliers didn’t fall to an FCS team in an embarrassing fashion. The defense didn’t get its lid blown off and give up over 40 points. The coaches didn’t completely mismanage the clock and rush their placekicker up to miss a chip-in shot.
Finally, Virginia didn’t disappoint its fan base, scoring an impressive first victory of the season over Central Michigan.
But does this mean Virginia is all-of-the-sudden in for a magical season that culminates in a trip to a bowl game? Absolutely not.
With the ACC being unusually strong this year, the Cavaliers will not have a “gimme” for the rest of this season. Two of Virginia’s final eight games come against ranked opponents — No. 3 Louisville and No. 14 Miami — and three of their last eight come against teams — Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Wake Forest — that are knocking on the door of the AP Top 25. Put simply, the road ahead is certainly not an easy one for Virginia, and it begins this Saturday in Durham, N.C.
Shortly after the Cavaliers’ win over Central Michigan, I was thrilled to see that Virginia’s conference opener would be against Duke, a 1-2 team seemingly lacking any spark. The Blue Devils couldn’t muster more than 14 points in each of their past two games. I thought Virginia would have this matchup in the bag, continue on a two-game winning streak and carry on their momentum throughout conference play.
Yet, naïvely, I had jumped to this assertion too soon. Not being able to figure out
how to turn on the Florida-Tennessee game, my friends and I decided to watch Duke take on Notre Dame following the Virginia victory.
Not only did the Blue Devils look good — they looked hungry. Starting out the game in a 14-point hole, Duke fought back to erase the deficit and take a 28-21 point lead heading into halftime. From there, even as they saw their seven-point lead turn into a seven-point Notre Dame lead, the Blue Devils kept their composure, winning the game by a score of 38-35.
With a 1-3 record, Notre Dame certainly isn’t as dangerous of a team as it has been in years past. This doesn’t mitigate the impressive nature of the Blue Devils victory, though. Heading into the game, Duke was a three-touchdown underdog. Yet, after the game, Virginia’s week five opponent walked out of South Bend with a three-point victory.
Yes, Virginia has a lot of momentum after its 49-35 victory over Central Michigan. Kurt Benkert, in throwing for a program-record 421 passing yards and five touchdowns, finally lived up to his pre-season hype. The defense appeared energized, recording three sacks and one interception, and remained firm to end the game. Most importantly, although Virginia squandered a 28-0 lead, the Cavaliers remained poised and pulled out the victory.
But Duke has perhaps even more momentum heading into this game. Despite the differences in record, Notre Dame is arguably a better team than Central Michigan. Additionally, while the Cavaliers had the luxury of playing at home, Duke proved their resiliency on the road. This upcoming Saturday, the roles will be reversed. Considering Virginia has a 17-game road losing streak that stretches back to November 2012, this game spells trouble.
Despite pulling the game out versus Central Michigan, it is important not to forget that the Chippewas garnered 35 points and threw for over 400 yards. It would be wishful thinking to say that the Cavalier offense will always roll on all cylinders like it had Saturday. Without a strong defense, the Cavaliers will not only be in trouble against a burgeoning Duke offense, but stronger ACC attacks as well.
After Duke, the schedule only gets more difficult for the Cavaliers. On Oct. 15, Virginia will take on Pittsburgh, a team that has averaged 36 points per game. The following week brings the reigning ACC Coastal Division champion North Carolina to town. Then comes in No. 3 Louisville, a team that dismantled then-No. 2 Florida State Saturday by a score of 63-20.
In the final four games of the season, Virginia has Wake Forest on the road, No. 14 Miami at home, and then Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on the road to finish the season. The fact that a solid Georgia Tech team is Virginia’s easiest remaining opponent is a testament to the schedule’s difficulty.
The bottom line — it’s hard to see the Cavaliers winning more than two of their final eight games. Saturday’s win was nice, but it’s not indicative of the team’s performance for the rest of the season. Don’t get your hopes up.
Ben Tobin is a weekly sports columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TobinBen.