The season is just three weeks old, but Virginia has established itself as the team to beat in the ACC Coastal Division. With wins over Pittsburgh and Florida State, the Cavaliers are already 2-0 in the league and are the only team in the division without a loss.
For the next two weeks, Virginia takes a break from league play, starting with the first-ever meeting with Old Dominion. ODU comes in at 1-1 with a win over FCS member Norfolk State and a loss at Virginia Tech. After upsetting the Hokies last year in Norfolk, the Monarchs were within one score of Tech in the fourth quarter before falling 31-17 at Lane Stadium.
This is the first of three scheduled matchups between the two schools. Next year, the Cavs will go to ODU before hosting again in 2022.
Old Dominion at Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Virginia -30.5
When Old Dominion Has the Ball
With just two starters returning on offense and having played just two games, ODU is still trying to figure out its identity on this side of the ball. But there were signs in the Virginia Tech game that the rushing attack could be a strength. Lala Davis ran for 81 yards on 11 carries, and Kesean Strong chipped in with 51 more. In total, the Monarchs had 203 yards on the ground as compared to just 122 passing yards from quarterback Stone Smartt.
The problem is that Virginia has displayed a nasty run defense so far this season, giving up just 79 rushing yards per game. Florida State had 109 yards in non-sack rushing yardage on Saturday night, and the Cavs held Seminoles star Cam Akers in check for most of the night.
It's likely that Old Dominion is going to have to throw the ball to be effective offensively. While the Monarchs do have a weapon out wide in Eric Kumah, they have not established much of an aerial game. Smartt has not been able to stretch the field vertically, as the team is averaging only 5.2 yards per attempt (tied for 127th in the nation).
When Virginia Has the Ball
As expected, Bryce Perkins has been the star of the show for the Virginia offense. The senior quarterback has completed 66 percent of his passes and has run for 158 yards in the three games. His play in the fourth quarter against Florida State was the primary reason UVA scored 21 fourth-quarter points and surged to victory.
But he has made some mistakes this year, throwing four interceptions in the three games. Old Dominion has not generated much of a pass rush, but the Monarchs have to put some pressure on Perkins. At the same time, they'd like to keep him in the pocket, because he is dangerous when running around, as evidenced by his successful two-point conversion on Saturday night.
ODU has been stingy against the run this year, making this an interesting test for the developing UVA running game. Perkins leads the way with his 158 rushing yards, but sophomore Wayne Taulapapa rushed for 66 yards in the opener against Pittsburgh and 53 against the Noles. If the Cavs can get some big chunk plays on the ground, Perkins will be next to impossible for ODU to stop.
Virginia played Florida State last week and will head to Notre Dame next, making this the definition of a trap game. The problem is that Old Dominion is just not talented enough to take advantage. There are not enough dynamic skill players to stretch out the UVA defense, allowing the Cavs the opportunity to load the box to stop the run. Perkins will find receivers Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois and Terrell Jana downfield, and Taulapapa will churn out yards as well. After a sluggish start, the Cavaliers will win by a wide margin.
Prediction: Virginia 38, Old Dominion 10
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.