The UVA football season kicked off their season with their first practice this Friday, July 28th starting at 6:45 am. The Hoos will look to improve on their dismal 2-10 record from last season and the outlook is bright as there are many key players returning. UVA and Duke are the only teams in the ACC Coastal that are returning their starting quarterback as Kurt Benkert looks as though he will be the starting quarterback for week one for the Hoos barring injury. In addition to Benkert, UVA returns key pieces on the defensive side of the ball as preseason First Team All-ACC players Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser are primed to continue their storied UVA careers and anchor an experienced defense. UVA will return their top two receivers which should lead to an improved passing attack, but there will be questions as to who will get carries out of the backfield as both Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell and Albert Reid have graduated.
Jordan Ellis and Daniel Hamm seem as though they will be in competition for the carries but there will be others who are vying that spot including Olamide Zaccheaus, who ran the ball for over 250 yards as a freshman, but only carried the ball three times this past season. For Virginia to have success, the ground game must be improved as UVA struggled running the ball effectively, ending the season 121st in the nation in total rushing. The low rushing ranking was influenced by the number of yards lost by sacks, but with a more experienced offensive line returning 4 starters from last year, good things are to come this season. The offensive line will add a pair of graduate transfers in hopes to improve the depth of the line and potentially add two new starters, as Notre Dame transfer John Montelus and Oklahoma State transfer Brandon Pertile are expected to compete for playing time.
In year 2 of the Mendenhall era, fans are certainly antsy for production and hopefully this year will bring some of that. This leads to the question of realistic expectations for this season. The Coastal division is the most wide open it has been in years and there is potential to get some wins against teams like UNC, Pitt, and Georgia Tech, who will start inexperienced quarterbacks this year. It seems as though the key to this season will be getting off to a good start, which is something that the Hoos had trouble with last year. UVA opens the season with three favorable home games as William & Mary, Connecticut, and Indiana offer winnable games, especially with Connecticut and Indiana having new head coaches. UVA plays it’s arguably five toughest games to end the season including three road contests against Pitt, Louisville, and Miami, which means that the strong start to the season is vital. In order for a six win season that Wahoo fans have been hoping for, the Cavaliers are going to need to start off strong and pull off an upset or two, which this team is capable of doing. Kurt Benkert showed signs that he can be one of the better QBs in the conference and will be looking to improve on last season with another offseason with the offense. It seems as though this team will make another step in the process and will get closer to bowl-eligibility as Bronco has been a proven head coach in the past during his times at BYU.