Virginia versus Connecticut — a breakdown

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Senior linebacker Micah Kiser will have to lead his defensive unit to contain Connecticut senior quarterback Bryant Sheriffs Saturday. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

After a 28-10 win over William & Mary to start the season, the Cavaliers were unable to build on that momentum — falling to Indiana 34-17 this past weekend. With the final match of a three-game home stand to start the season this Saturday against Connecticut, Virginia will look to avoid falling to 1-2 on the season. This week, the CD Sports staff takes a look at some players and keys to watch out for this Saturday. 

Players to watch 

Senior cornerback Kirk Garner

Virginia’s special teams failed to play at a high level against Indiana, allowing junior J-Shun Harris II to return five punts for 109 yards. These plays included a 44-yard return for a touchdown and another 43-yard return that resulted in great field position for Indiana — allowing them to score another touchdown. Earlier this week, Coach Bronco Mendenhall talked about getting Garner back this week and how he can make a difference, as Garner has missed the first two games of the season due to injury. Mendenhall called Garner one of the team’s better special teams players, and it will be interesting to see if he can provide a spark and have an immediate impact on special teams play in a positive fashion. 

Senior linebacker Micah Kiser

While the Virginia defense has looked mostly solid thus far, the linebacking corps has struggled to contain quarterback scrambles in the first two games. This flaw was exposed last week on a 29-yard touchdown run from Indiana freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey and on many late-down scrambles that moved the chains for William & Mary in the opener. Connecticut senior quarterback Bryant Sheriffs rushed for 329 yards last season, showing he can he take advantage of open holes if the Cavaliers break contain. Kiser will have to lead his unit in neutralizing scrambles to prevent Sheriffs from elongating drives with his feet, staying vocal on the line to call out holes in the secondary the quarterback can expose.

Keys to the game

Running game 

Virginia’s running game has had a slow start to the season. The Cavaliers picked up 92 yards on the ground in the season opener against William & Mary, and only 55 yards on 2.2 yards per carry this past weekend against Indiana. Virginia’s inability to run effectively forced senior quarterback Kurt Benkert to throw the ball 66 times against Indiana. If Virginia can get its rushing attack going, it may open up more passing lanes for Benkert and Virginia’s wide receivers to work with — allowing for a more effective passing attack. In addition, it would help Virginia’s offense become less predictable, making it more balanced and effective.

Explosive plays on offense

One of the most noticeable struggles the Virginia offense had last week against Indiana was its inability to make big plays. One can credit the Hoosier defense for some tight downfield coverage, but Benkert’s deep throws were far from on the money — often sailing over his receivers out of bounds. Benkert needs to push the ball down the field on Saturday if he wants to expose holes in the Connecticut secondary, as well as open up run lanes for his backs. With a big-bodied, speedy receiving core alongside him, he merely needs to give his receivers a chance to catch the ball and they can deliver.  

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