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While UVa has struggled to produce, the Cardinals offense has been a model of consistency.
Virginia head coach Mike London has reconfigured the offensive line.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Virginia’s opponent today in Charlottesville is the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have scored a touchdown on its first offensive series in each of its first five games.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers failed to score a touchdown on any of their possessions last Saturday at Pittsburgh.
That speaks to the challenge UVa (2-2) faces when Ball State (4-1) pays its first visit to Scott Stadium for a noon kickoff.
The Cavaliers’ defense met a familiar challenge last week against a previously potent Pittsburgh offense, but it was the UVa offense that faltered in a 14-3 loss.
East Carolina (3-1) and Baylor (3-0) also have scored touchdowns on the first possession of every game, but Ball State is the only one that has performed the feat five times.
“You mention it,” UVa coach Mike London said. “It’s a fact. When you have things in your scouting report that are factual, you can’t gloss over it.
“Obviously, defensively, your job is to stop them from scoring, whether it’s the first or last possession. So, the challenge is made.”
If Ball State were scoring one touchdown in the first quarter, that would be one thing. Problem is, when the Cardinals score once in the first quarter, they don’t usually stop, having outscored the opposition 80-40 in the first period.
Almost as telling as the 80 points are the 40 points Ball State has given up.
Will the Cavaliers be able to capitalize? Virginia’s offense has scored one touchdown and a total of 10 points in the first quarter all season.
“We’ve done some personnel moves that I think might help us,” first-year offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said earlier in the week. “I’m anxious to see what we do this Saturday.”
Sophomore Jay Whitmire, a starter at right tackle in the first four games, has taken over as the starter at right guard. Eric Smith, a true freshman, will start at right tackle.
London explained that the right guard protects a right-handed quarterback from the closest defensive lineman. Against Pitt, that was defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had two sacks for 22 yards in losses.
The Cavaliers also are expected to take a look at several younger wide receivers, including 6-foot-3 true freshman Kee on Johnson, after veterans were responsible for 10 dropped balls at Pittsburgh.
Ball State and Virginia have not played previously, but the respective head coaches, London and the Cardinals’ Pete Lembo, have a history.
In 2008, when he was at the University of Richmond, London made his head-coaching debut against an Elon University squad coached by Lembo. Visiting Richmond won that game 28-10 and went on to claim the FCS national championship.
London said earlier this week that he remembered an extended conversation with Lembo about Richmond’s new Robins Stadium at a time when Elon was planning to upgrade its facilities.
Lembo, who played collegiately at Georgetown, also served as an assistant at Hampden-Sydney for one season, 1997, before going to Lehigh as an assistant and then posting a 44-14 record as head coach between 2001-2005.
He has a 19-11 record in three years at Ball State, which has a seven-game winning streak against Mid-American Conference opposition, including a 31-24 victory last Saturday over visiting Toledo.
“We forced five punts in the first half and were able to hold Toledo to five first downs in the first half,” said Lembo, whose defense had been vulnerable to that point. “I think [Toledo] had one third-down conversion in the first half. It was something we had been looking for out of that unit.”
Offensively, the Cardinals are led by quarterback Keith Wenning, who has passed for 1,650 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 64.1 percent of his passes. His favorite target is Willie Snead, whose father and namesake played for the Cavaliers in the 1980s.
Wenning is one of two quarterbacks in the country with five 300-yard passing days. UVa ranks eighth nationally in pass defense with a yield of 152.8 yards per game. The Cavaliers have registered 13 sacks, compared to 17 all of last season.
“We’re going to have a huge challenge with a really dynamic [Virginia] defensive line,” Lembo said. “It’s going to be a tremendous, tremendous test for us.”
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