The season's second bye week came at an opportune time for the Hoos. A banged up Virginia (7-3, 5-2) squad certainly used the extra days off since defeating Georgia Tech to get in some rest and recovery.
A decimated secondary feels like it needed that bye week the most. Even if they didn't add any new bodies to the mix, extra practice could only help some of the less experienced members of the secondary being forced into action.
And with Liberty's (6-4) reputation for having a potent passing attack, the young, patched together secondary may be in the line of fire all afternoon.
It's Military Appreciation Day at Scott Stadium for the noon kickoff. The television broadcast will be on RSN (Regional Sports Networks). So you'll have to hunt down the correct channel prior to kickoff.
The Hoos will be dressed in the classic blue-blue-white uniform set. It's the first time the Hoos have played in this combo since 2016.
This will be the second ever meeting between Liberty and UVA.
The schools played for the first time last season. UVA won that game 45-24.
The two programs are scheduled to play an additional four times by 2030 (2023, 2027, 2029, and 2030). The games in 2023 and 2030 are at Scott Stadium. The games in 2027 and 2029 will be played at Liberty.
Keys To Victory
Normally the Keys To Victory section would include three keys. But this week, I feel strongly that two elements will make or break this game for UVA.
The Hoos are substantial favorites in this game despite Liberty's record.
As a decided underdog, Liberty's best path for an upset begins with possessing the football. Extra possessions for the Flames means more chances to put points on the board. And it also means less opportunities for UVA to score.
Liberty enters the game with a positive turnover margin on the season of plus 3 (plus 0.30 per game). That's tied for 41st in FBS.
The Hoos, on the other hand, enter the game with a turnover margin of minus 5 (minus 0.50 per game). That's tied for 103rd in FBS.
Beginning in the second quarter, the weather forecast also looks pretty dire with a cold rain forecast to begin. The hourly weather forecast for Saturday in Charlottesville shows a 75% chance of rain beginning at 1:00. It increases thereafter, peaking at 90% at 3:00.
The injury woes for the Wahoo secondary are well known by now. Down five players to season ending injuries (Bratton, Hall, Crowell, Nelson, and Clary), only Joey Blount, De'Vante Cross, and Chris Moore entered the season with any real experience on the field. Cross has bounced around between QB, WR, and DB. And Moore didn't play in 2018 due to injury.
Nick Grant, starting from game one in place of the injured Bratton, is practically a seasoned veteran by now. But running mates Jaylon Baker, Heskin Smith, and Tenyeh Dixon are experiencing a trial by fire after figuring to be deep, deep reserves this season. Redshirt freshman Joseph White is also available but has yet to factor in the rotation since the emergency bells began ringing in earnest.
Liberty arrives with the nation's 16th ranked passing offense at 300.4 yards per game.
The combo of QB Buckshot Calvert and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden will test the Wahoos.
Calvert is a classic gunslinger. And he's having an outstanding season. Completing 61.5% of his passes on the season, he's thrown only 3 interceptions versus 23 touchdowns. He's thrown for 2,941 yards to date. His Total QBR of 53.6 is only good for 80th in FBS, however.
Gandy-Golden is a monster. His physical size, 6-4 220, will be a problem for the Wahoo secondary. Tackling will obviously be at a premium.
On the season, Gandy-Golden has put up ridiculous numbers. He has 64 catches for 1,244 yards to date in 2019. That includes 8 touchdowns and a long of 73 yards. AGG is not a one season wonder either. Last year for the Flames, he caught 71 balls for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Hoos were able to shut him down (2 catches, 28 yards) in 2018. But that secondary included a healthy Bryce Hall and Juan Thornhill.
Antonio Gandy-Golden could start for all 32 NFL teamspic.twitter.com/LmtXvaVIn1— Barstool Flames (6-0) (@barstoolflames) September 1, 2019
ESPN's Football Power Index gives UVA a 90.1% chance to win. And they're currently a 16.5 point favorite. But there aren't many Wahoo fans expecting an easy afternoon against the Flames.
The state of UVA's secondary and Liberty's passing game is the cause of that consternation. It's easy to understand but Liberty's schedule has also been rather...forgiving this year.
They won't have played against a front seven anywhere near as accomplished as UVA's. It will make a major impact on the game.
Look for Liberty to throw a lot of quick passes as a counter. Sure tackling by the Hoos will be at a premium.
The weather has the potential to play a big role in the Liberty passing game as well. How does Calvert handle a wet ball? Will it impact Liberty's receivers ability to catch the ball? And can UVA's DBs keep their footing? Those are all storylines to watch once the precipitation begins to fall.
I haven't seen much of Liberty this year beyond an extended viewing last week against BYU. As a result, I don't have a great feel for the Flames. I do expect the Hoos to find a way to win even if they do not cover the spread. And honestly, who really cares about that?
35 to 24, UVA wins!