It wasn't quite Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007, but Virginia raised some eyebrows Saturday with their 19-16 victory over a BYU team that was expected to be strong in 2013. Even with the win, the perennial ACC cellar dwellers are still searching for respect, and now get the chance to do earn it if they can go toe-to-toe with what has been America's most consistently dominant team in any mainstream sport at a major level in Oregon Saturday.
So with one respectable win over under their belt, do the Cavaliers stand a better chance at slowing down the Oregon train and pulling off another, much larger upset?
In a word, no, but the truth is that after their win over BYU, the Cavaliers look like a much more formidable foe than they did going into the season, and there are some reasons why they might be able to make a game of it in Charlottesville.
One might think that the most legitimate reason is just that... the game is in Charlottesville, but that likely does not matter. The Ducks, since the dawning of the Chip Kelly era, have never been a team that plays any differently on the road than at home. Case in point, they haven't lost a road game since 2009, which I'm going to just assume is the longest active streak in college football and somewhere in the area of the longest in college football history.
The fact is that the Ducks' high-speed offense moves too quickly for opposing crowds to make much of a difference and their quick-strike scoring ability regularly deflates roaring crowds, pulling the plug on them in machine gun flurries of scores. It's hard to keep a crowd energized when suddenly they look up, and their team is down by 21 and Virginia Coach Mike London is well aware of just how fast the Ducks are.
"I mean this: The guy that goes to get the tee after the kickoff is really fast, and their whole team is fast," London said at his weekly press conference Monday. London also testified to just how good he thinks the Ducks are, comparing them to another green and yellow team, "They look like the Green Bay Packers out there."
But nothing is impossible, and if there is hope for the Cavaliers against Oregon, it likely lies in what looks to be their style of play in 2013, as the Cavaliers look a little like a very poor (okay homeless) man's Stanford. If their win over BYU is a suggestion of the style they will try to play in 2013, the Cavaliers will try to control the clock by pounding the ball on the ground and let their defense keep them in the game.
The Cavaliers ran the ball 42 times and only put it in the air 18 times against BYU, and would be wise to try and employ a similar strategy against Oregon, in hopes of keeping the ball away from the Ducks' offense. Using this strategy, the Cavaliers only racked up 109 yards on the ground, but were able to dominate time-of-possession (a must-win category if you hope to compete with Oregon) against BYU 34:09 to 25:51.
But as we all know, how you perform on defense against Oregon is much more important than what you do when you have the ball, specifically how you play in run defense. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, they weren't stellar against the run when facing a middle-of-the-road rush offense in BYU, who they surrendered 187 yards to, 144 of them coming from feature back Jamaal Williams who isn't nearly as dynamic as any of Oregon's feature backs.
There is a little sliver of positivity in Virginia's chances to defend Oregon's running game though in the fact that they have good size in their starting front seven. The Cavaliers' defensive line features 6'7 295 and 6'1 290 defensive tackles along with a big defensive end in the 6'4 270 Jake Snyder. Backed by linebackers that average nearly 235 pounds, the Cavaliers have a defensive front that comes close to the size of those that have frustrated Oregon in recent seasons like Stanford, LSU and Auburn. For the Cavaliers, this size showing up and throwing their weight around properly is their only hope of possibly slowing the blazing Oregon locomotive and Virginia linebacker Henry Coley has a unique, NBA-related comparison about why he thinks that slowing down the Ducks isn't an impossible task.
"I think they can be contained, just like Kevin Durant, Coley told reporters Monday. "You know Kevin Durant is gonna get 30 points every night regardless, but are you gonna let him get 45 is the question."
Ultimately though, even with these factors, I'm afraid that holding Oregon to 45 points might actually be an impossible task for Coley and the Cavaliers.