William & Mary at Virginia: Who has the edge?
The Cavaliers have a senior returning starter at quarterback in Kurt Benkert. William & Mary went into game week uncertain who would line up behind center in the opener. Virginia has a deep and talented receiving corps and a rebuilt offensive line, a front five bolstered by the addition of two graduate transfers. Former Notre Dame guard John Montelus and former Oklahoma State tackle Brandon Pertile will both be in the starting lineup on Saturday. The biggest loss for U.Va.’s offense from last season comes at running back, where do-everything star Taquan Mizzell is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Virginia hopes that Jordan Ellis and Daniel Hamm can handle the rushing load, while receiver Olamide Zaccheaus can play a versatile role and bring some of the explosiveness Mizzell gave the attack. The Tribe has a new offensive coordinator and a new tailback, along with a new quarterback. W&M does have a veteran left side of its offensive line and some talented pass catchers in wide receiver DeVonte Dedmon and tight end Andrew Caskins. It’s possible all three quarterbacks — sophomore Brandon Battle, junior Tommy McKee and freshman Shon Mitchell — will see action against U.Va.
The Cavaliers have two All-Americans to anchor their defense in senior linebacker Micah Kiser and senior safety Quin Blanding and an emerging star at defensive end in senior Andrew Brown. Coach Bronco Mendenhall has plans to be more multiple on defense and move Blanding and Kiser around to increase their impact. The key to the defense this season, however, may be the play of new nose tackle Eli Hanback. U.Va. is hoping Hanback, who has bulked up for this season, can anchor the 3-4 scheme. William & Mary is also rebuilding on defense, returning just five starters from last season. One of them is talented sophomore safety Corey Parker. The front is anchored by all-CAA selection Isaiah Stephens, a senior defensive tackle.
EDGE: WILLIAM & MARY
The Tribe returns its entire place-kicking operation with sophomore kicker Kris Hooper, holder McKee and senior long snapper Jesse Anderson all back. Anderson is in his fourth year starting. Hooper went 5 for 8 on field goals attempts last season. McKee will also be counted on to do the punting. William & Mary’s biggest weapon on special teams is Dedmon. Last year he was the CAA special teams player of the year. Virginia’s kicking game a year ago was a mess as it used three players — Alex Furbank, Sam Hayward and Dylan Sims — in the role. This year, junior Andrew King is back with the team, but he was beaten out in the preseason by freshman A.J. Mejia. U.Va. lost star punter Nicholas Conte and turns that job over to junior Lester Coleman. The Cavaliers do have some weapons in the return game in Joe Reed and Daniel Hamm.
A year ago, Virginia kicked off the Mendenhall era with a disappointing home loss to FCS Richmond. It certainly doesn’t want a repeat performance Saturday against the Tribe, especially considering the civil unrest that affected Charlottesville in August. The Cavaliers have talked about being a rallying point for the city and community and a crowd of over 40,000 is expected at Scott Stadium for the opener. William & Mary has just one win over U.Va. in its past nine trips to Charlottesville. That came in 2009, when the Tribe forced seven turnovers in a 26-14 season-opening upset.
VIRGINIA 21, WILLIAM & MARY 10