The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 1st

ACC preview: Virginia overhauls both sides of ball under Mendenhall

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.


Bronco Mendenhall (first year at Virginia)

Record last year: 

4-8 (3-5 ACC) 

When do they play UNC? 

Oct. 22 in Charlottesville, Virginia 

Where are they projected?

Seventh in Coastal Division 

How do they play?

With the arrival of Mendenhall, there is a new strategy of an up-tempo spread offense and a new 3-4 base defense for the Cavaliers. 

Virginia will have plenty of new information to learn, so the team will likely rely on strengthening fundamentals instead of focusing on talent.

Who stands out?

East Carolina graduate transfer Kurt Benkert arrived in Charlottesville over the summer and recently earned the starting quarterback job over senior Matt Johns, who started for Virginia in 2015. 

Benkert was sidelined during the 2015 season at ECU after suffering a knee injury during fall camp. The Cavaliers desperately needed a new look on offense, and the recently implemented up-tempo spread attack will highlight Benkert’s accuracy and arm talent. 

Senior running back Taquan Mizzell led the Cavaliers last season with 671 rushing yards and 75 receptions, the second-most catches by a running back in ACC history. Mizzell also broke the ACC single-season record for receiving yards by a running back with 721, so it's no surprise that the Virginia offensive coaches are looking for more ways to get the ball in his hands. 

Junior linebacker Micah Kiser led the ACC last season with 9.8 tackles per game and was selected as a first team All-ACC honoree. Kiser is known as a dangerous pass rusher and will be relied on to lead the Cavaliers new-look defense this season. 

What is their biggest weakness?

The Cavaliers threw 18 interceptions last season, tied for most in the conference. 

UVA hasn't finished higher than sixth in passing efficiency in the ACC since 2010, leaving plenty of room for Benkert to make his mark with the Cavaliers. 

Along with its interception woes, Virginia also finished last in the conference in scoring defense (32.2 points per game). The 3-4 defense looks to change this trend and leave last year's unsatisfactory performance in the past. 

Why could they win the ACC?

The Cavaliers handed over the reins to Mendenhall with lots of hope and expectation for the 2016 season. Under the leadership of Benkert on offense and Kiser on defense, the Cavaliers have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

There is only one way to go for the Virginia football team, and so far the Cavaliers seem to be heading in the right direction.


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