Virginia vs. Liberty — A breakdown

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Against Liberty, sophomore safety De’Vante Cross will be a crucial part of the secondary.

Kate Currie | Cavalier Daily

After falling to Pittsburgh last week, the Cavaliers look to rebound against non-conference and in-state opponent Liberty. The game marks the last home game of the season for Virginia and will serve as Senior Day, where 27 seniors will be honored at the game. The Cavalier Daily sports staff takes a look at some key players and keys to the game that could help the Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) defeat the Flames (4-4) at Scott Stadium Saturday afternoon. .

Players to Watch:

Virginia running back Jordan Ellis

Early in the season, senior running back Jordan Ellis looked as if he could carry this Virginia offense. Against Richmond, he exploded for 146 yards, and against Ohio, he put up 171 yards. However, his production has died down — against Pittsburgh, he had 46 yards on 10 carries. As a team, Virginia had a net of 44 rushing yards against the Panthers. The Cavaliers can’t put up those kind of numbers and get the offensive success they need. 

“Our run game can't just be Bryce [Perkins] on zone read pull and then quarterback scramble,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “That can't be the majority of the yards. That can be complementary, but it has to come off of run game execution off our core plays. Right now it's shifting in reverse order.” 

Virginia needs Ellis to step up and help the team re-establish a more consistent running game.

Virginia safety De’Vante Cross

While at Virginia, sophomore safety De’Vante Cross has done a little bit of everything for the Cavaliers. He was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback, but he has not played at quarterback for Virginia. Instead, Cross played wide receiver, cornerback and special teams last year, demonstrating his versatility and willingness to help the team wherever it needs him. This season, Cross prepared to play exclusively at wide receiver. He played there until the Miami game, when he was moved to free safety, replacing junior free safety’s Chris Moore as sophomore free safety’s Joey Blount’s backup after Moore had a season-ending injury. 

Cross’s athleticism and high school experience at quarterback allow him to be adept at reading coverages and making plays. Against Pittsburgh, Blount also went down with what looked to be a serious injury, and Cross was forced to play a larger role. In the Liberty game, he will be a crucial part of a secondary tasked with limiting Liberty’s high-power passing game.

Keys to the Game:

Contain Liberty’s quarterback

In three of the four games the Flames have won, they have collected over 350 passing yards, including a 472 passing-yard game against New Mexico. Their starting quarterback, junior Stephen Calvert, is averaging 316 passing yards per game and has a 55.9 percent passing completion rate. Limiting the threat of Calvert will force Liberty to run the ball more. Considering the Flames are averaging 153.5 rushing yards per game, compared to 323.9 passing yards per game, it’s clear that they are more comfortable passing. Virginia senior outside linebacker Chris Peace — who has nine quarterback hits this season — can be especially crucial for the Cavaliers as they contain Calvert and Liberty’s passing game.

Get the run game going

Virginia’s success is dependent on getting its run game going. In the Cavaliers’ wins, they have done well rushing the football, and in their losses, they haven’t been able to establish a consistent ground game. Virginia averages 201 rushing yards per game in its wins and just 108 rushing yards per game in its losses. The importance of establishing the running game was especially apparent in Virginia’s loss against Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers’ offense was stagnant, and they picked up just 44 yards rushing, a season low. Running the ball is what makes Virginia dangerous, opening up the field for the likes of senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois to make plays. Early-down inside run plays will make Liberty’s defense vulnerable on the outside, and junior quarterback Bryce Perkins should be in good position to tear apart a defense that allowed a whopping 777 yards last week against UMass in a game that was decided in three overtimes. Establishing a solid running game will also allow Virginia to control time of possession, limiting Liberty’s potent offense.

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