Mark Helfrich and the Oregon Ducks will travel nearly 2,400 miles this week when they visit the Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon.
The Oregon Ducks and the Virginia Cavaliers are both coming off drastically different season-opening wins.
The Ducks cruised to a 66-3 win over Nicholls State, while the Cavaliers pulled out a dramatic 19-16 win late in the 4th quarter over favored BYU. Both teams enter the game on a positive note and are looking for statement wins.
For Oregon, a win wouldn't exactly send shockwaves around the country, but the game does give them an opportunity to put on a show in front of the East Coast voters.
A dominant performance by the Ducks would show the voters that they are not a step behind where they were under Chip Kelly. It is also a great opportunity for Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas to show off their ridiculous talent.
For the Wahoos, a win over the Ducks would be one of the biggest in school history and easily the biggest since 1995, when the George Welsh-led Cavaliers handed Florida State their first loss since joining the ACC.
Here is everything you need to know regarding the contest between the No. 2 Ducks and the Cavaliers.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Place: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
Radio: Oregon Sports Network, Virginia Sports Radio Network
Spread: The Ducks have covered eight straight spreads on the road, while the Cavaliers' 19-16 win over BYU was their first home cover in their last 11 home contests (1-7-3). With that in mind, the Ducks enter the game as a heavy favorite, with the point spread ranging anywhere from 22-24 points.
Virginia Keys to Victory
Simply put, Oregon is better than UVA. They are more talented, more experienced and they know how to win. Mike London's program is inching itself back toward where it wants to be, but they are not there yet.
The Wahoos did manage to upset BYU in a hard-fought game on Saturday by forcing the Cougars into mistakes and turnovers. It took a 32-yard interception return—which included a lateral—after a tipped pass to get in range for the winning score.
BYU's defense is good, but so is Oregon's. The Cougars offense is average, and UVA needed last-minute heroics to seal the victory at home. Oregon, meanwhile, looks like every bit of the high-flying powerhouse that departed head coach Chip Kelly established in Eugene.
What it all means is that the Cavaliers need to hope the Ducks come out flat. If that is the case, the upstart from the ACC will need to make the Ducks uncomfortable and force them into mistakes early and often. Mistakes won't doom the Ducks unless the Wahoos learn to capitalize and turn those big plays into points.
Make Big Plays
Virginia quarterback David Watford wasn't supposed to be the Cavaliers' starter in 2013. With two other quarterbacks no longer with the program, the 6'2", 200-pound athlete was given the reins to the Wahoos' attack.
The sophomore signal-caller comes from a legendary in-state program and has the ability to become a star down the road. If you watched them play BYU last week, that might sound crazy, but the tools are there. Having the proverbial "light" come on against the No. 2 team in the country would be a decent place for him to establish himself as a threat that needs to be game-planned for.
Running back Kevin Parks isn't the type of explosive player that is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. What he can do is pound the ball inside to set up the dynamic Taquan Mizzell for some big plays. Mizzell is a threat against anyone, and a couple big plays by one of London's top recruits would light a fire under the team and the crowd.
Oregon Keys to Victory
Be Prepared and Stay Calm
Traveling nearly 3,000 miles will leave most people feeling a little off, especially when they have to face a new opponent the following day. The Ducks will need to avoid the pitfalls that West Coast teams deal with when they travel back east. Losing three hours is a pretty significant amount of time. When you only have a day to try to adjust, it becomes even more magnified.
The game kicks off at 12:30 PT, so the Ducks will avoid the dreaded high-noon kickoff that has doomed many a West Coast team over the years. Should the Ducks suffer some jet lag or come out flat due to the extensive travel, the last thing a team wants to do in that situation is panic. The Ducks' veteran staff, unflappable quarterback and ball-hawking defense will all make sure that isn't a problem, should the Ducks start out slow.
Execute the Game Plan
The Ducks have become such a well-oiled machine that every player knows what he needs to do, why he needs to do it and when he needs to do it. "Don't think, just react," and "trust your preparation and use your instincts," are popular mantras used by coaches everywhere—and for good reason. When you watch teams like Alabama and Oregon, you can tell the players are so well coached—that they don't need to be told what to do on every play.
Oregon has become a program that basically runs itself. The talent level is head and heels above Virginia's and so is the habit of winning. The Ducks will need to stick to what they know and let the game play itself out in a familiar manner.
The Cavaliers have a roster that has been steadily improving each year under fourth-year head coach, Mike London. That being said, the "Wahoos" don't have the depth or the star power to be a serious player in the ACC. They do, however, have the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week on their squad.
Players to Watch for Virginia
SS Anthony Harris
Harris was almost solely responsible for UVA's upset win against the BYU Cougars at home on Saturday. His performance included 11 tackles and a sack before blocking a punt.
Harris made the play of the game when he snagged an interception at the BYU 45 with just under three minutes to go. The big-play safety returned the pick 10 yards before flipping the ball to a teammate, who took it down to the BYU 13. The Cavaliers scored the winning touchdown on the next play of the game.
Harris will need to duplicate or even improve upon that on Saturday for the 'Hoos to upset the Ducks.
RBs Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Tiquan Mizzell.
Parks is the workhorse, Shepard is the change-up back and Mizzell is the former U.S. Army All-American looking to make his mark in just his second college game.
If Virginia wants to keep it close, the offensive line, which was dismal in 2012, must come together and allow Parks to pound the ball and keep the Ducks' offense off the field.
The line has four returners from last year's corps and showed some improvement in week one. If Parks, who has over 1,500 career yards, can eat up some yards and clock, the potential is there for the Ducks to wear down late in the game after traveling across country.
If that happens, Mizzell, who was a U.S. Army All-American last year as a senior from Virginia Beach, has the elusiveness, athleticism and speed to break a big run or two if the Ducks' miss an assignment or two.
WR Darius Jennings
The 5'11", 175-pound receiver averaged just under 12 yards-per-catch on 68 catches in his first two seasons in Charlottesville. Last week against BYU, Jennings lead the team with seven catches for 62 yards and a score.
QB David Watford
In order for Jennings and the rest of the Virginia playmakers to make an impact, they will need improved play from Watford, the junior, who started his first career game last week.
To be fair, the weather was horrible, and BYU's defense is very good. Regardless, the athletic Watford was 18-of-32 for 114 yards and a score. Even more scary for Wahoos' fans, he averaged just 3.6 yards-per-attempt.
Oregon's defensive speed will eat up a timid offense with an inexperienced quarterback. Watford will likely need to triple those numbers and gain some yards on the ground to keep them in the game.
Players to Watch for Oregon
QB Marcus Mariota and RB De'Anthony Thomas
Neither Oregon star did anything against Nicholls State to hurt their chances of being in the Heisman race later in the year. While Virginia is still trying to find an identity and earn some respect on the gridiron, they are an ACC program.
Perhaps more importantly, the game is an opportunity for Mariota and Thomas to impress the media-heavy east coast. The Ducks are on TV a lot, and highlights are easily obtained, but nothing beats the opportunity to play in front of a solid crowd and some new faces in the press box.
An elite showing by either one of the Ducks' backfield stars that leaves a lasting impression could launch them to the forefront of the national media and give them consideration as legitimate contenders.
CB Terrance Mitchell
It will be interesting to see how the All-Pac-12 defender plays things going forward after being ejected for "targeting" during the blowout of Nicholls State.
The redshirt junior plays with the swagger that an elite corner should. He talks a lot and he is aggressive with his tackling and his coverages. Like his counterpart, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Mitchell is well on his way to earning a paycheck on Sundays.
One of the things scouts like about "T-Mitch" is his ability as an underneath corner in a Cover 2 scheme. Not only can he lock down his side of the field, but he is physical enough and aggressive enough to be an impact player in run support. Each game that goes by becomes more important, and Mitchell will need to remain on alert that he must follow the rules adjustments.
Will the threat of another suspension keep him from being the nasty, ball hawk that has made him a star, albeit an overshadowed one, for the Ducks?
RB Byron Marshall
The sophomore made the most of his opportunities against Nicholls State by rushing for 124 yards on just eight carries. While it was a low-end FCS foe, Marshall has clearly become more comfortable, more patient and more aggressive in setting up his blocks and showing breakaway speed. Heralded freshman Thomas Tyner should join the fold this week, but Marshall is likely to see a drastic increase in carries and likely, productivity as the weeks go on.
What They are Saying
Washington Post's Mark Giannotto relayed what Virginia head coach Mike London had to say about the Ducks during his weekly press conference, during which he praised the Ducks for their overall team speed:
They look like the Green Bay Packers out there. I mean this: The guy that goes to get the tee after the kickoff is really fast, and their whole team is fast.
In regards to whether or not the Ducks have any weaknesses and if so, how his team can take advantage of them:
No, they're an excellent football team. Obviously, number one in the turnover margin last year. They didn't punt this past game, had over 700 yards of total offense, so there are a lot of things that they do that's predicated to the talent that they have and the system that's they use. They're clearly one of the best teams in college football right now.
We are putting a plan together as we speak. The coordinators are putting it together, and we'll see how the week progresses, but obviously this is one of the best college football teams in the country, and we happen to have the chance to play them here in Charlottesville.
Cavaliers' offensive lineman Morgan Moses told the Washington Post this regarding the Ducks' flashy program and if he thinks they can compete with Oregon:
They’ve got great facilities, but at the same [time], their facilities is not playing on the field. No matter what the uniform is, if it’s Nike or Russell [Athletic], it’s not going to help you play better. We know they’ve got hundreds of helmets and we might have two helmets. But it’s still going to protect your head.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich spoke of UVA's impressive defensive performance against BYU during his weekly press conference, as reported by Ryan Thorburn of the Registerguard.com
“They’re really big and athletic on defense, very impressive,” Helfrich said. “They really dominated the game defensively.”
Helfrich also touched on what, if anything, he would like to see improved in week two as the Ducks take a step up in competition.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the direction we’re headed,” he said. “Could have tackled better on defense and special teams.”
Virginia is coming off of a nice win against BYU, but the Ducks should win this one going away. Don't be surprised if it takes Mariota and company a while to get going based on the fact that many teams struggle when traveling to the opposite coast. Be surprised if a potential slow start begins to turn into a bad day. Mariota should explode for a huge day and the Ducks should make the long flight home a happy one.
Oregon 44, Virginia 17