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Game 8 preview: Virginia Cavaliers

October 20, 2010

The Virginia Cavaliers this year are a struggling team in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division. That doesn’t mean this is a winnable game, or even that it might be close; Vanderbilt is (always) a struggling team in the SEC East, and they handled the Eagles quite easily. However, despite what Jeff Sagarin’s computer indicates, I think this is a winnable game for the Eagles, but it will take a better effort than they displayed last week.

Record: 2-4. Virginia’s only wins this fall have come against FCS opponents: Richmond and the Virginia Military Institute.

Recent games: In their last three games, the Cavaliers have been defeated 34-14, 33-21, and 44-10, for a cumulative 110-45 score. However, those games came against the tough competition of Florida State, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina.

Quality wins: None this year.

Embarrassing losses: After winning the “South’s Oldest Rivalry” for four straight years, the Cavaliers fell 44-10 last week to a North Carolina squad decimated by NCAA and university investigations into improper gifts from agents and academic misconduct.

Last meeting/All-time series: This is the first time EMU and Virginia have played. This is EMU’s fifth game against an ACC opponent; the Eagles lost to Maryland in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2008.

Mike London

Coach: Following a 3-9 season in 2009, the Cavaliers dismissed Al Groh and hired Mike London. London played defensive back for the University of Richmond Spiders from 1979-82, followed by a stint with the Dallas Cowboys. After his playing career, he was a police officer and detective in Richmond, Virginia with the city’s street crimes unit before pursuing a coaching career. Starting in 1988, he served as a position coach (primarily linebackers and defensive line) at Richmond, William & Mary, Boston College, Virginia, and the Houston Texans. In 2006 and 2007 he was the defensive coordinator at Virginia under Al Groh, and those teams were noted for their aggressive defenses. For the past two years he has been the head coach of his alma mater, and he led the Spiders to Richmond’s first national championship in any sport in 2007, following it up with a trip to the FCS quarterfinals last year. To date, he is 26-9 as a head coach.

Offense: While they did pile up 34 points on Richmond and 48 points on the Virginia Military Institute, against FBS competition the Virginia offense has struggled, averaging fewer than 15 points per game; however, their four FBS foes have been Southern California, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. Based on their history, the Cavaliers should have little trouble scoring 30+ points against the Eagles, and the EMU defense will need to have a great game just to keep this from getting out of control.

Senior Marc Verica quarterbacks the team, though the Cavaliers have two young quarterbacks behind him who have also gotten some playing time this fall. At 104 of 180 attempts completed, Verica is averaging 57.8%, but he’s only thrown six touchdown passes against six interceptions. His top targets include junior wide receiver Kris Burd (28 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns) and senior Dontrelle Inman (20 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns).

Virginia’s top running back is senior Keith Payne, who’s tallied 402 yards and 8 touchdowns on 83 carries. Sophomore running back Perry Jones (61 carries for 342 yards) is also a threat, though he’s yet to score this year. Both Payne and Perry are likely to get one or two catches per game also. Overall, the offense manages nearly a perfect 50/50 split between passing and running — to date they’ve had 209 passing attempts and 203 rushing attempts — but the passing is nearly twice as effective, with an average of 7.25 yard gained per pass attempt to only 3.91 yards per carry.

Defense: Virginia’s last three opponents averaged 37 points per game. Their defense is respectable against the pass, but, like EMU, is among the worst rushing defenses in the nation; Virginia’s opponents have averaged nearly five yards per carry.

Keys to watch: How well does each team start the game? If EMU can come out strong and stay with Virginia or even take a lead, look for the Eagles to give the Cavaliers a game, but if EMU falls behind early, particularly by double digits, this could get out of hand. The Eagles will not be able to spot Virginia 21 points (the biggest comeback in EMU history) as they did Ball State last week.

Virginia online: Official site.

Predictions: Virginia is about a 15-point favorite, and that’s not too unrealistic. Last week, EMU got their first taste of winning in nearly two years, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. If the Eagles pick up where they left off last week, they’ll have a chance to win this game, but if they revert to their previous form this could get ugly fast. (See also: EMU at Vanderbilt.) My prediction is that Virginia will win 31-24, and I’d estimate EMU’s chance of winning this game at about 15%, along with about a 20% chance that the Cavaliers will win by 3 or more touchdowns.

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