The Ball State Cardinals and their prolific offense head on the road Saturday to take on a stout Virginia Cavaliers defense. We've already previewed the game, but to give you a better understanding of what to expect from the game, we reached out to Streaking the Lawn, SB Nation's Virginia Cavaliers blog. Contributor Paul Wiley was kind enough to answer some questions for us to give Ball State fans a taste of what to expect from Virginia come Saturday.
Hustle Belt: This Cardinal defense has shown they can yield big numbers to good quarterbacks. Sophomore David Watford has struggled through four games. If he is unable to put up better numbers, might head coach Mike London be looking to freshman quarterback Greyson Lambert sooner than later?
Streaking the Lawn: Our rushing game has been pretty bad across the board. In the Pitt game last week, the two teams combined for 73 yards rushing. Total. On 68 carries. Not good. From what I've seen, however, the blame for that isn't to be placed on Parks but on the O-line in front of him. The line of scrimmage stays completely static. Instead of encountering the first resistance three or four yards downfield, the runners are hitting a wall that's maybe a yard past the line. We've got loads of talent in the backfield: Parks is the main man, but Khalek Shepherd, Taquan Mizzell (if he's healthy) and Hamm give us lots of options to keep fresh legs churning. If the line can open up some holes, the talent is finally there to get through the line and make some big plays downfield. The issue so far has been that first few yards.
HB: UVA looked impressive in an early upset against BYU. A blowout loss to Oregon, blowout win against VMI, and a close loss to Pitt followed. Which Cavalier team is the real one?
SL: Is there such a thing as real? Are we all just specks floating on the cosmos? Is there even a spoon, man? Such are life's least answerable questions. Anything less than a blowout against VMI would have been just plain unacceptable. Other side of the same token, no one expected the Oregon game to go any way other than how it did. I think the team you saw against BYU and Pitt is a good measure of what this team is this year. When we cause the other team to make mistakes or come up with a few big plays (e.g., Anthony Harris blocking a BYU punt), we put ourselves in a good position to win. When we are the team making the mistakes (e.g., the entire first quarter of the Pitt game, what with the fumbles and special teams blunders), we lose. The offense just isn't good enough to overcome a hole that it puts itself in. But the defense is going to keep us in games long enough for the offense to take advantage of good spots. When the margins are that close, it really becomes a game of any given Saturday.
HB: It's always a thrill when fans of MAC schools look at their schedules and see an opponent from a major conference. What does playing a mid major school like Ball State mean to a program like Virginia?
SL: No offense, but we expect to win. These games are on the schedule for a reason: to get to six wins and a bowl game. I'd say as much as anything, mid-major games make me nervous because we've got nothing to win and everything to lose. When we dropped games against Wyoming and Middle Tennessee, it was another #goacc moment. When we beat Akron or Western Michigan, who cares? It does make for an exciting viewing experience sometimes since mid-major schemes on both sides of the ball can be some of the most imaginative. But we don't want a slugfest; we don't want a battle. We want to be a major college football program, and that means taking care of business early and often against mid-major opponents. Plus if we don't have to care about the game, we can care a lot more about the tailgate, which is really where Virginia wins Saturdays anyway.
HB: Four games into 2013 and it's clear that Virginia's success will hinge on what can be a top tier ACC defense. The Cavaliers are one of just 17 FBS teams to hold opposing offenses to under 300 yards of total offense. That's especially impressive considering UVA had Oregon on their non-conference schedule. How far can this defense take the Cavaliers?
SL: It will take us as far as the offense and special teams don't muck things up. And I'm only saying muck because SB Nation has language guidelines. Our most important recruit to join the program this year has been defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta. The man has a world of experience at the top levels of the game and his aggressive style fits perfectly with our athletic depth. Brent Urban, our 6'7 Canadian defensive tackle, busts up the middle and bats down passes at the line. Eli Harold has been a monster off the edge; true frosh Max Valles-who came into the program as a tight end-has come up big the last few games as a great exterior rusher as well. Demetrious Nicholson showed off his coverage and ball-hawking skills with a REALLY nice pick last week. Anthony Harris has played like a man beast from his safety position. And we're only going to get better with Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown coming in on the defensive side next year. Football Outsiders S&P metric rates our defensive unit as third-best in the country, behind only Florida and Michigan State (and most importantly, ahead of those stinking cow farmers in Blacksburg). If the rest of the team gets its head out of its derriere, this team could go a long ways.
HB: How many points do you need me to give you against the spread for Saturday's game?
SL: From the lines I've seen, we're between a five- and six-point favorite. Sad as it makes me to admit it, that sounds about right to me. I expect us to pretty much shut your offense down. We have one of the top pass defenses in the country and have had no difficulty with no-huddle looks against BYU or Oregon. (It was Oregon's talent that beat us, not their pace.) But I don't know what to expect from our offense. So a touchdown advantage may be all we're able to eke out on Saturday.
The coaching staff showed they were looking to shake things up along the offense this week already. Lots of shuffling along the offensive line, and our entire WR corps was placed into open competition-everyone from senior Tim Smith to freshman Keeon Johnson is in the mix now. Another episode of futility, I wouldn't be surprised to see a change under center as well. That said, everything the coaches have said has indicated they want consistency at QB and not the rotation-type systems through which we've suffered the last two seasons. Watford is still young. He was hurt last week by every player on the field getting a bad case of the dropsies. There's a lot that needs to get better from Watford on down the list.
HB: How critical will leading rusher Kevin Parks be to Virginia's success on Saturday, and can we expect to see an increased role from freshman Daniel Hamm?
Our rushing game has been pretty bad across the board. In the Pitt game last week, the two teams combined for 73 yards rushing. Total. On 68 carries. Not good. From what I've seen, however, the blame for that isn't to be placed on Parks but on the O-line in front of him. The line of scrimmage stays completely static. Instead of encountering the first resistance three or four yards downfield, the runners are hitting a wall that's maybe a yard past the line. We've got loads of talent in the backfield: Parks is the main man, but Khalek Shepherd, Taquan Mizzell (if he's healthy) and Hamm give us lots of options to keep fresh legs churning. If the line can open up some holes, the talent is finally there to get through the line and make some big plays downfield. The issue so far has been that first few yards.
There you go fans. This is shaping up to be a very interesting matchup. Ball State is going to find out if their offense is truly that explosive, and Virginia has the opportunity to test their defense as ACC play looms. Can Keith Wenning throw for 300 yards for a sixth consecutive game? Will a Virginia team that has scored just 3 touchdowns in 2013 exploit a Cardinal defense that has been suspect at times? Will our friendly Q&A with Streaking the Lawn turn into ugly emails behind the scenes on Saturday? We'll know in 24 hours. Thanks to Paul and everybody at Streaking the Lawn. You can read more about University Virginia football at StreakingTheLawn.com and @TheUVAFool.
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