Cavaliers, Hoosiers take aim at 2-0 start in this important non-conference showdown
The Hoosiers made their way down to south Florida and came out with a 10-point win over FIU thanks largely to the performance of starting quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who tossed three touchdowns. There were questions coming into the season following the abrupt departure of former Arizona transfer Brandon Dawkins, but Ramsey’s performance put those to rest for at least one week.
Virginia secured its win over Richmond last Saturday in a far different fashion, racking up over 300 yards on the ground with four touchdowns in the 42-13 blowout. Junior college transfer Bryce Perkins had a masterful debut, compiling close to 300 total yards by himself with four total scores. The Cavaliers may finally have a QB in place to fit head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s offensive philosophy.
Saturday’s matchup between Indiana and Virginia could end up being one of those “swing” games that vaults a team into a bowl-game berth down the line, so securing a 2-0 start to the year is critical for both heading into this weekend.
Virginia at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Indiana -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. New face of the franchise
Regardless of the opponent, it was an impressive debut for former Arizona State and junior college transfer Bryce Perkins, who totaled just under 300 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in Virginia’s win over Richmond. Last year’s starter Kurt Benkert put up respectable numbers but was not seen as a perfect fit in Bronco Mendenhall’s up-tempo offense, as he was more of a pocket passer. That is not an issue now with Perkins, who is seen more in the mold of dual-threat Taysom Hill, one of Mendenhall’s former protÃ©gÃ©s at BYU. Perkins flashed his elusiveness often last Saturday, including a 36-yard run for his first touchdown of the night. It wasn’t all perfect, as Perkins completed barely 50 percent of his passes and tossed a pick-six, but it was a promising performance that has Virginia fans excited to see what is to come next from their new starting QB.
2. QB rotation again?
Peyton Ramsey was stellar for Indiana in the opening week, completing 74 percent of his throws for 156 yards and three touchdowns against FIU. Still, head coach Tom Allen kept to his pre-game promises by playing both of his QBs as he inserted true freshman Michael Penix for two series in the second half, both of which resulted in points. With the competition ratcheting up this week against Virginia, does Allen insert his true freshman at any point against a better opponent? Penix certainly gave his coaches confidence that he could run the offense efficiently.
3. Shore up the run defense
This was a concern for the Hoosiers coming into last week’s contest against Florida International, and it remains a concern heading into Week 2. Indiana lost both starting linebackers from a season ago, along with starting defensive tackle Nate Hoff to graduation, so the middle of the defense was likely going to show some regression in 2018, and that proved to be the case against FIU. The Panthers racked up 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the night, most of it right up the gut between the tackles. Not good news when heading into a matchup with a team in Virginia that brings in a dual-threat QB like Bryce Perkins and an experienced running back in Jordan Ellis who also topped 100 yards last week. How Indiana fares against the run will likely determine the outcome of this contest Saturday.
Last year’s matchup between the Hoosiers and Cavaliers was not all that close, with Indiana notching a 34-17 victory. Anticipate a much tighter affair this time around as both teams look primed to make some noise in their respective conferences after impressive victories in Week 1. Defending the run will be the biggest determining factor in this contest, and if last week was any indication, the Hoosiers may struggle to stop the explosiveness of Bryce Perkins and Co. Virginia wins in a very mild upset.
Prediction: Virginia 27, Indiana 24
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.