CHARLOTTESVILLE — By the time Virginia’s players got home Saturday night, highlights from their dramatic 19-16 win over BYU had already been uploaded to team-issued iPads. It’s the first year the program has handed out tablets to the entire roster.
The benefit, according to wide receiver Darius Jennings, is the jump-start it gives Virginia in terms of reviewing film. But it also provides an early scouting report on the next opponent, and this week the footage was particularly eye-opening with No. 3 Oregon coming to Scott Stadium.
“They look like the Green Bay Packers out there,” Virginia Coach Mike London said at his weekly news conference Monday. “I mean this: The guy that goes to get the tee after the kickoff is really fast, and their whole team is fast.”
The Cavaliers had little time to savor their season-opening victory this weekend, even though they’ve known about facing the Ducks since the 2013 schedule was released last February. Virginia actually postponed a scheduled game at Penn State this year in order to take on Oregon, who will be the first top-five opponent to visit Charlottesville since Southern California in 2008.
The Ducks didn’t seem to miss a beat in their first game without former Coach Chip Kelly Saturday, piling up 772 yards in a 66-3 win over Nicholls State of the Football Championship Subdivision this past weekend. Oregon opened as 23.5-point favorites over Virginia.
But the Cavaliers are taking this daunting challenge in stride, refusing to be fazed by Oregon’s flashy offense — the Ducks have been ranked in the top 10 in total offense six of the past seven years — and even flashier accessories.
“They’ve got great facilities, but at the same [time], their facilities is not playing on the field,” Virginia left tackle Morgan Moses said. “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.”
The Cavaliers’ defiance stems, in part, from an encouraging first weekend of the season, when their new-look defense and revamped special teams delivered a comeback victory over the Cougars. It helps that BYU utilized the sort of up-tempo offense Oregon brought into vogue earlier over the past decade.
The Cougars ran 93 plays Saturday, and Oregon averaged 81 plays per game in 2012. Knowing that Virginia’s conditioning would be at a premium the first two weeks of the year, strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus also tailored his offseason workouts to prepare for what awaited at the start of the year.
Virginia’s defense will also practice against two huddles this week, and London said there will be more drills than normal in which the first-team offense faces the first-team defense.
The Cavaliers are grateful to have their first win out of the way given the issues Oregon presents.
“We needed it because we had to get that ball rolling,” linebacker Henry Coley said. “We didn’t want to go into Week 2 playing a top five opponent and then trying to get the ball rolling.”
But with quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony Thomas, both Heisman Trophy candidates, in the backfield, the Ducks’ high-paced offense is unlike any in the country. New Coach Mark Helfrich was Kelly’s offensive coordinator the past four years, and Oregon has ranked amongst the top three in the country in scoring offense three years in a row.
“I think they can be contained, just like Kevin Durant,” Coley said. “You know Kevin Durant is gonna get 30 points every night regardless, but are you gonna let him get 45 is the question.”
Keeping up offensively, though, could be a major issue for Virginia. The Cavaliers’ two touchdown drives against BYU were set up by a blocked punt and an interception and went a total of 29 yards. Quarterback David Watford passed for just 114 yards in his first career start and Virginia averaged only 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. The Cavaliers converted six of their 20 third-down chances.
London realizes those trends will need to change if the Cavaliers find themselves in a shootout against the Ducks. But the message to his players has been simple: Don’t back down from the challenge.
“We’re not satisfied,” London said. “Instead of asking why, we ask why not?”