Game Info / How to Watch
When? Saturday, 9/8 7:30 PM, Bloomington, IN
Channel? Big Ten Network
Vegas? Indiana -6.5.
S&P+ Projection? Virginia 29, Indiana 27
Like clockwork, fans (myself included) needed just one game to be sucked into another year of Indiana football. Perhaps it was because the offense looked more exciting in one game this season than it did seemingly at any point last. Perhaps it was because the 38-28 scoreline reminded fans of the #ChaosTeam days. Or perhaps we’re all conditioned at this point to latch onto Indiana any time they look remotely competent while ignoring the inevitable outcome.
Regardless, the Hoosiers are 1-0 and head home to battle a tougher but still beatable foe. A 2-0 start is imperative for Indiana to maintain hope of a bowl bid. It’d also bring us a step closer to another #IUFB4Gameday™ campaign.
Again, no S&P numbers this week. While Bill Connelly released his S&P rankings through Week One, they are largely reactionary without a large sample size and also aren’t full team profiles yet. But they’re something.
For now, we’ll use a mix of preseason S&P projections and results from week one to profile the Cavaliers.
When Bronco Mendenhall isn’t talking about scheduling the worst Power 5 team possible (might explain why IU is on their schedule) or talking about how his team only has 27 ACC-caliber players, he’s a pretty damn good coach.
The Cavaliers finished with an S&P rank of 85 last year and an offensive S&P of 109, yet still made the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Mendenhall squeezed every bit of talent out of the Cavaliers last season. Virginia, though, had to replace their quarterback, two of its top three receivers, three starting offensive lineman and four of its top six defensive lineman coming into the 2018 season.
The Cavaliers blitzed Richmond in week one, amassing 500 yards of offense and holding Richmond scoreless for 30-plus minute period. On one hand it was Richmond, an FCS program. On the other hand, in many ways, Virginia dispelled some of the preseason concerns surrounding the program, even if it was just for one week.
Last season, Virginia could not run the ball. Like at a level worse than Indiana. The Hoosiers ended the season with a rushing S&P of 111. Virginia’s was 115. The offense routinely got off track and rarely got back thanks to a poor offensive line (sound familiar?)
That should make it all the more surprising that Virginia rushed for 301 yards and had 25 first downs against Richmond. Returning lead back Jordan Ellis ran 20 times for 147 yards while first-year quarterback Bryce Perkins ran 13 times for 123 yards with each scoring twice.
To give that performance some context, Virginia rushed for a combined 250 yards over its final five games of the 2017 season and never broke 200 yards in a single game. At no point last season did the offense look as good as it did in week one.
Like Indiana, Virginia returned the bulk of their offensive line from last season and could only go up. But the key to their offense wasn’t the line.
Perkins seems to be the potential piece to unlock the Cavalier offense. A former three-star recruit that committed to Arizona State, Perkins’ story is rather incredible. During a practice in 2016, Perkins suffered a fractured neck. After rehabilitating, Arizona State wanted Perkins to change positions. Perkins disagreed and opted for junior college, leading Arizona Western College to a national championship runner-up finish before committing to Virginia.
If Perkins is the real deal, he could be the key ingredient for Mendenhall this season. Last season’s offense lacked explosion for Virginia. Perkins ran for touchdowns of 36 and 22 yards and threw a touchdown pass of 38 yards last week.
Olamide Zaccheaus is the top receiving threat, eclipsing 100 yards in the opener after leading the team in receiving with 895 yards last year. Outside of Zaccheaus, though, Virginia doesn’t have many big-play threats coming back this season. They do have a host of players who do return and have plenty of potential breakout options at wide receiver.
Again, Virginia had a similar makeup to Indiana with a strong defense carrying a weak offense. Unlike Indiana, the Hoos’ bread and butter came from shutting down the passing game both through a strong defensive line and a great secondary.
The defensive line had turnover in the off-season but the secondary did not. The secondary figures to be a strength again for Virginia this season as Richmond was held to 191 passing yards with two interceptions in week one.
The biggest questions on the defense are up front. After facing, and succeeding, a strong defensive line in week one, the Indiana offensive line gets a break in week two at least up front. Injuries made a thin defensive line even thinner for Virginia.
The biggest strength for Virginia, though, will be its linebacking crew. The Cavaliers lost leading tackler Micah Kaiser but returned the next five on the depth chart. Virginia’s linebackers ranked 24th in Havoc Rate last season and most of the main culprits return.
What to Watch
- Freshmen talent - Last week, Indiana pretty clearly had a plan to play both quarterbacks regardless of how the game was playing out. Michael Penix entered the game despite a strong first half from Peyton Ramsey and looked promising himself. With the new rules allowing up to four games for redshirt players without losing a season of eligibility, Indiana will have to make a decision soon on Penix’s future. For now, I’d expect both to play again.
Reese Taylor, meanwhile, looked like one of Indiana’s best offensive threats and lined up on both sides of the ball. I’m in favor of getting talented players on the field as much as possible but Taylor needs more snaps offensively.
- Turnovers - Indiana won the turnover battle last week and turned an interception into a score. It goes without saying that turnovers drastically change the game but considering IU was -7 in that category last year despite the strong defense, staying positive in turnovers will remain vital this week.
- Weather - The current forecast is for rain and lots of it. I’m not sure it particularly favors one team over the other on Saturday other than to make a game that was likely going to be chaotic even more so.
Consider me a believer of Perkins and Virginia’s defense. Or consider me a believer of reverse jinxes. I think this game will be close but Perkins will be the best player on the field. Virginia 27, Indiana 21.