Much to everyone's relief, the 2018 football season finally kicks off Saturday evening in Scott Stadium. While it's Bronco Mendenhall's third season at the helm of the Hoos, it kind of feels like his debut all over again.
There's a lot of new in Charlottesville this season that makes it feel like the previous two seasons were placeholders for the real beginning of the Bronco era. Gone are London era defensive stalwarts Andrew Brown, Quin Blanding, and Micah Kiser. Arriving is dual threat JUCO quarterback transfer Bryce Perkins. He'll allow Bronco and OC Robert Anae to finally run the style of offense they've intended. And there's a total uniform reboot debuting instead of the modified London era uniforms paired with a new helmet design.
In a way, there's even some poetic justice in Bronco's second "debut" coming against Richmond. Given the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, how can the Hoos avoid a second debut loss to Richmond? Simply put, the Hoos must prevent the Spiders from gaining confidence throughout the game. Richmond will not be afraid or in awe when they hit the field Saturday night. Allowing the Spiders to gain continual confidence throughout the game, much like they did in 2016, is a recipe for a UVA loss. So what must the Hoos do to keep Richmond grounded and eventually defeated?
- Get off the field on third down: Routine defensive stops on third down prevent an offensive rhythm from developing, gives the defense extra rest which is always welcome in humid late summer Virginia, and eventually imparts a level of frustration in the opponent's offense.
- Limit concentration errors: Motion penalties, dropped passes, muffed punts, dead ball personal fouls, missed assignments, etc. are the type of things that prove to the FCS team that the FBS team is nothing special. They build over the course of a game and each one adds confidence that an upset is not only possible, but also likely.
- Fearless, but not reckless, playcalling: If the offense struggles at any point during the game, it's important that OC Anae not go into his shell and settle for dive after dive by Jordan Ellis into the middle of the line. The Hoos need to confront Richmond with an offensive game plan that challenges the Spiders, not one that is timid and looks to exploit a small crack here or there. Richmond's defense will sniff things out if the Hoos play scared on offense. Eventually, they'll dictate the course of the game.
- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: This one is self-evident.
- Maintain composure: Mistakes are going to happen on the field. The perfect football game has yet to be played and the Hoos shouldn't expect to execute it on Saturday either. But when the inevitable mistakes do happen, they can't lower their heads and dwell on the mistake. Brush it off and move on to the next play. Richmond will be hunting for weaknesses and seeking to exploit anyone unable to keep their mind on the next play.
Do these things, and it's my opinion that the Spiders will be unable to muster the confidence necessary to pull off consecutive wins at Scott Stadium.
The Pick: UVA wins 31 to 21