CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — Virginia has a new quarterback and all sorts of optimism heading into its opener. The Cavaliers also have one of the most formidable opponents in the country in No. 7 UCLA.
The Bruins have two players — dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker and running back Myles Jack — expected to kick off their Heisman Trophy candidacies in Saturday’s noon start.
Virginia doesn’t have any Heisman hopefuls, but is excited about quarterback Greyson Lambert. He took the job from David Watford after Watford started all 12 games in a 2-10 season a year ago.
“We get to see where we’re at at an earlier stage,” Lambert said.
The Cavaliers enter the game on a nine-game losing streak, and have fared poorly in home games against Pac-12 schools. Southern California beat them 52-7 in 2008, and Oregon manhandled them 59-10 last season.
Across the board, however, the Cavaliers think this season will be different, bolstered by an additional year to learn the offense of Steve Fairchild and the attacking defense of Jon Tenuta.
The defense expects to start fast, in spite of the accolades thrown Hundley’s way.
“When you’re going against one of the top teams in the nation and you’re in the spotlight (the) first game, you have a chance to show the world just how good you are,” defensive tackle David Dean said.
“I think this is definitely going to be an opportunity to not only show how good we are as a defense and as a unit, but also to show that we can play with elite offenses.”
The biggest question mark for the Cavaliers is the offensive line, one of the least experienced in the country. It needs to give Lambert time to throw to a roster of wide receivers that Fairchild called the most pleasant surprise of training camp, and to open holes for returning 1,000-yard runner Kevin Parks.
“He’s more than likely to break the first tackle,” Jack said. “He’s not just going to go down with arm tackles or anything. He keeps his feet running, so we’re going to have to gang tackle him more.
“We just have to get him down because he is a very good running back, very talented.”
What to watch when No. 7 UCLA plays at Virginia:
CONTAINING HUNDLEY: He’s one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, and can beat you with his arm and his feet. The Cavaliers love to try to play as fast as possible and pressure the quarterback, but may have slow up a little bit to make sure they don’t overrun the pocket and allow Hundley to run free.
LAMBERT’S DEBUT: The 6-foot-5, 235-pound redshirt sophomore got some playing time last season, and says the difference between what he knew then and now is “night and day.” He’s an unquestioned leader of the team, has a big arm and a vastly improved stable of wide receivers to throw to, and a performance that justifies confidence in him could give the Cavaliers something to build on, even if they come up short. “I understand the speed of the game, but also what defenses are actually trying to accomplish on every play, how they call their defense according to our offense and that sort of thing,” Lambert said this week.
WHERE’S JACK?: Myles Jack starred both ways as a freshman, primarily as a hard-hitting linebacker, but also as an occasional ball carrier. He was the first player named Offensive and Defensive rookie of the year in the Pac-12. He averaged 7 yards per carry and scored seven TDs, including a 66-yard run. Too much time shadowing Hundley could allow Jack or RB Jordan James to deliver punishment on the ground.
START TIME: Teams often struggle when crossing three time zones for a game, and Virginia couldn’t have asked for anything better than a noon start, which is essentially 9 a.m. Bruins time. The Cavaliers’ offense was woeful last season, and getting some points on the board early could provide a huge boost, especially since only about 45,000 fans — 16,000 lower than capacity — are expected to attend.
ONE FOR THE THUMB? Embattled Virginia coach Mike London is 4-0 in season openers at Virginia, with three of the victories coming against FCS programs. Virginia beat BYU in last season’s opener.