Football looks to bounce back with game against Connecticut

Cavaliers will look to beat Huskies after falling to them last year

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Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert believes this Virginia team is much improved from the team that lost to Connecticut last season. 

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

After a disappointing 34-17 loss to Indiana this past weekend, the Virginia football team will look to bounce back and avoid falling under .500 this Saturday as the Cavaliers (1-1) get ready to take on Connecticut in a rematch of last year’s showdown. The Huskies (1-0) won that contest 13-10 in Storrs, Conn.

However, senior quarterback Kurt Benkert said that in the year that has passed since the two teams last met, Virginia has become a better football team.

“I think our defense … played well against UConn last year, and the offense didn’t particularly play well, but the defense is way way better than they were last year,” Benkert said. “... Offensively, we just ... have to put things together, but we have a lot more potential on offense.”

Benkert said his week’s game against the Huskies will be important for a Virginia team that wants to head in the right direction as the season moves forward.

“I think winning this game would be huge for our season [and] put us right back on the right track,” Benkert said. “...We still have a bad taste in our mouths from last year … but I think we’re so much further ahead right now.”

Mendenhall mentioned that he believed the team played better offensively and defensively against Indiana (1-1, 0-1 Big 10) than they did against William & Mary. However, he also pointed out areas within the offense and defense that Virginia still has to work at improving in — deep throws and an efficient rushing attack.

“We're still lacking the run-game efficiency and the connection of big plays through the air,” Mendenhall said. “Those two elements right now are not to the level necessary to have the point production that we need.”

Virginia will also look to improve on special teams, where they struggled last week against Indiana — allowing two punt returns over 40 yards, one of which was run back for a touchdown. Mendenhall said the return of senior cornerback Kirk Garner from injury will be a boost for the team. 

“He was probably our better special teams player — one that is on all four special teams phases, and that will really help us,” Mendenhall said. “One player right now makes a difference, so getting him back will be helpful.”

Against Indiana, Virginia started off slowly — failing to score in the first quarter. Benkert said the team needs to improve in first-down situations by playing a little bit more aggressive. The Cavaliers had trouble keeping drives alive early on in the game.

“I think we got to find a way to run the ball better on first down … and then I just got to find a way to complete the ball,” Benkert said. “If we need four or five yards, we need to just find a way to get those four five yards.”

Virginia will take on a more rested Connecticut team, for the Huskies had their game against South Florida cancelled last week due to Hurricane Irma.

With only one week’s worth of game footage as opposed to two, Mendenhall said the team studied the way Auburn plays to get ready for Connecticut, as Connecticut’s new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was previously at Auburn.

“What I've done, at least from my standpoint as more of a defensive-emphasis coach — it’s relying some more on Auburn,” Mendenhall said. “I've seen some similarities between what UConn did in week one to what Auburn has done.”

The game between Virginia and Connecticut is scheduled to start at 12 p.m. at Scott Stadium. 

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