After a 48-40 victory over Georgia Tech that was not quite as close as the score indicated, Virginia football aims to continue its blazing offensive success against No. 25 BYU in Provo, Utah. The Cavaliers (6-2, 4-2 ACC) have reeled off four straight victories, while the Cougars (6-2) are coming off a hard-fought 21-19 win against Washington State.
The matchup will be meaningful to Virginia for a number of reasons. First, BYU will be the first ranked team the Cavaliers have played since their 59-39 loss to North Carolina over a month ago. While Virginia has looked solid in the last couple of games, the Cougars will be a step up in competition. The game will also be somewhat of a homecoming for Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who hails from the state of Utah and coached BYU for 11 seasons before coming to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers certainly have a lot to play for going into one of the biggest games of their season.
Players to Watch
BYU sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier
The Cougars’ leading rusher has been a workhorse for BYU lately, carrying the ball 32 times to the tune of 191 yards and two touchdowns against Washington State last week, accounting for essentially all of the Cougars’ offense in the game. A large, bowling ball of a running back, Allgeier will test the Cavaliers’ ability to tackle in space, something Virginia struggled with against Georgia Tech. Expect to see a running-oriented attack from BYU, similar to what the Yellow Jackets tried to do on Saturday night. If Virginia cannot contain Allgeier for most of the game on Saturday, it may be a long night for the Cavaliers.
Virginia sophomore inside linebacker Josh Ahern
Ahern had his best game of the season so far as linebacker for the Cavaliers, totaling five tackles against Georgia Tech, including one that was heard through the entire stadium. Since senior outside linebacker Noah Taylor was injured during the game — he was seen in a boot on the sidelines Saturday night — the Cavaliers need new linebackers to step up to the challenge, and Ahern appears to be next in line. If the sophomore linebacker can put together another solid performance, the partnership between he and junior inside linebacker Nick Jackson could strike fear into BYU’s skill position players Saturday.
Keys to the game
Limit explosive opportunities
The big-play curse Virginia has struggled with came back again during the Georgia Tech game, during which two plays in particular stood out as especially problematic. First, on the Yellow Jackets’ opening possession of the second half, freshman running back Jamhyr Gibbs broke off a 71-yard touchdown run, suddenly making the game much closer than the 11-point lead Virginia had built and killing some of the momentum the Cavaliers had coming out of halftime. The second play was a 37-yard touchdown scored by the Yellow Jackets during their late attempt at a comeback. If Virginia had been able to slow down Georgia Tech’s offense just a little bit more, the score may not have been as close. In order to both keep the game in control and give its offense some rest, Virginia must limit explosive plays against BYU.
Keep running the ball
While most of the attention Saturday was rightfully on junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong’s nearly perfect passing performance, Virginia quietly put together one of its most balanced games of the season offensively. While partly because Armstrong was the healthiest he has been since the Illinois game and could run the ball more, the Cavaliers were also treated to solid performances from senior running back Wayne Taulapapa, graduate student running back Devin Darrington and senior wide receiver Keytaon Thompson. When Virginia puts 240 yards on the ground in addition to the wonders Armstrong and his receivers can achieve through the air, the Cavaliers’ offense is nearly impossible to stop. With BYU having an average rushing defense — the Cougars give up 147 yards a game — there is an opportunity for Virginia to make an impact on the ground.
Although the game is part of the non-conference slate for Virginia, the Cavaliers still have plenty to gain — such as a potential spot in the AP Top 25 — from a strong showing against BYU. Kickoff is set for 10:15 p.m. EST Saturday, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.