Cavaliers hoping tough lessons helps turn tables on Hoosiers
By MICHAEL MAROT
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall sees the growth all over Indiana's football program.
He detects a more defined identity. He senses more confidence, and he can tell there's more continuity on the Hoosiers' offense and defense this season.
Mendenhall doesn't need a game tape to explain what's changed - he knows it's a natural progression in Tom Allen's second full season as coach.
"I think there is just a little bit more certainty as to who they are," Mendenhall said. "Under a new head coach, Year 2 always seems to bring some momentum, brings a little bit more clarity."
It also makes Saturday's matchup more intriguing.
A year ago, the Cavaliers were caught off-guard when Indiana's backup quarterback, Peyton Ramsey, replaced Richard Lagow and went 16 of 20 with 173 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in a 34-17 victory. Three weeks later, he won the starting job.
"A year ago we spent so much time preparing for the starting quarterback, and when Ramsey came in it was a completely different style," Mendenhall said. "So the alteration of the plan - and I remember exactly what that was like and adjusting midstream."
This year, the Cavaliers (1-0) have their own dual-threat quarterback, Bryce Perkins. The junior college transfer threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards and two more scores in his FBS debut last week - a blowout victory over Richmond.
Allen was impressed.
"He took that football and just split the defense right down the middle on 50 yards," he said. "He is fast. So a great athlete, throws the ball good enough that you have to honor that. He's a good, really good quarterback and he's big and strong."
Allen hopes the Hoosiers (1-0) learned at least one lesson from last year when they missed out on a bowl bid. Nothing should be taken for granted.
"It's a totally different football team than we played last year, offensively," Allen said. "The quarterback last year was ball control, was not a runner, very accurate and really just a completely different philosophy. So they're going to be much different."
Indiana has won 14 of its last 16 home openers and has been even better in non-conference play lately. The Hoosiers have won 12 of 13 against non-conference including four straight - tied for the school's second-longest non-conference streak since 2000. A win Saturday would break the tie and put the Hoosiers in position to match the longest such streak by beating Ball State at home next weekend. Indiana also won six straight from 2014-15.
BIG TEN TROUBLE
Virginia is 9-14 against Big Ten schools other than Maryland and hasn't beaten a Big Ten foe since a 17-16 victory over Penn State on Sept. 8, 2012. After winning the first game in the Indiana series (47-7 in 2009), Virginia rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final seven minutes to pull off a 34-31 victory in 2011.
Indiana fans will see a new-look Memorial Stadium in the home opener. It will be the first game played since the south end zone project was completed, enclosing the open end of the stadium with the Excellence Academy, which is to be dedicated Friday. Among other notable changes will be the removal of players' last names from Indiana's jerseys and a new helmet style that school administrators will be safer.
If it's a close game, Mendenhall has three kickers to choose from - A.J. Mejia, Hunter Pearson and Brian Delaney. Mejia made all six of his extra-point attempts last weekend but is just 8 of 13 on field-goal attempts in his career including another miss in the opener. Delaney, meanwhile, sent six of his seven kickoffs through the end zone last week and Mendenhall acknowledged he would consider using Mejia on long attempts. Pearson also could be in the mix, but first Mendenhall needs to figure out whom to use.
"I am still trying to identify where that range is, and sorting out the difference of how to use both of our kickers," Mendenhall said earlier this week when speaking about Mejia and Pearson. "There is a different range level there. So I've got to push harder in practice to try to create scenarios to get that dialed in quicker so it doesn't just show up at game time."
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Updated September 7, 2018