BLOOMINGTON — So which is the real Virginia? Is it the team that lost to William and Mary in the season opener or the one that upset highly regarded North Carolina 16-3 on Saturday?
As far as Indiana coach Bill Lynch is concerned, disregard that season-opening defeat. He's seen Virginia's steady progress in losses to No. 16 TCU (30-14) and Southern Mississippi (37-34) before the North Carolina victory. He understands the challenges his Hoosiers (3-2) will face against the Cavaliers (1-3) on Saturday.
“Virginia is a team that is really coming on,” Lynch said. “Their win against North Carolina was impressive because North Carolina was a top-25 team. TCU is a great team and has not lost many games the last few years. The Southern Mississippi game was on the road and was a shootout. Sometimes records are deceiving. The team we are going to see is the team we saw on tape versus North Carolina.”
Virginia's poor record reflects the difficulty of its schedule (its first four opponents are a combined 14-5) rather than the mediocrity of its talent. And as far as improvement, consider in the last three years the Cavaliers are 10-1 in the month of October.
The most versatile player is Vic Hall, who has thrived at quarterback, receiver, kick returner, running back and defensive back. Virginia's pass defense ranks eighth nationally, allowing just 156.5 yards a game. It has allowed teams to convert just 26.3 percent of its third-down attempts. That ranks sixth nationally.
All this defense comes from a 3-4 pro alignment that reflects head coach Al Groh's background as head coach of the New York Jets and a former coach under NFL veteran Bill Parcells.
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Freshman tailback Darius Willis has paid a price for his team-leading 244 rushing yards. He missed one game with an ankle injury that still lingers. He's battered from facing Michigan and Ohio State on consecutive Saturdays. He didn't practice much on Monday, a little more on Tuesday and his workload figures to gradually increase until Saturday.
“I expect him to be ready to go (for Virginia),” Lynch said. “He is like any running back in the Big Ten who is going to get beat up. He really hasn't been totally healthy. I know some schools have big-time running backs who do nothing during the week but play on Saturday. We do not do that.”
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Damarlo Belcher could surpass in six games what he needed an entire season to do last year. The sophomore receiver has 23 catches for 270 yards and a touchdown. As a freshman, the former North Side standout had 25 catches for 337 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hoosiers' main receiving threat is Tandon Doss. He has 32 catches for 470 yards and a touchdown.
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What's up with punter Chris Hagerup? Last season he earned postseason honors after averaging 42.4 yards a punt (the seventh-best average in school history) with 13 punts of at least 50 yards. This season it's 40.6 yards with just one 50-yard punt. In his last three games he's averaged 31.0, 37.0 and 35.0.
“Hagerup is very capable and he will improve because he has punted well in practice,” Lynch said. “He just really hasn't had the same performance he had a year ago and as he has in practice. It's not that he doesn't care or isn't working at improving, he just has to get back at it in practice.”
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IU lost to Ohio State, but gained in program exposure in the talent-rich state of Ohio.
The game, televised by the Big Ten Network, was the highest-rated program for the day across all television networks in Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton. It attracted a 4.5 household (HH) rating to lead all college football prime-time games in the Midwest region. It had a 28.9 HH rating in Columbus, a 16.6 in Dayton and a 10 in Cleveland.