With his team nearly perfect in its first three games, Virginia head coach Al Groh admits the level of competition played a role in that success.
The 12th-ranked Cavaliers will face their most difficult challenge of the young season Saturday when they close the nonconference portion of their schedule against Syracuse.
While Virginia (3-0) has outscored opponents 151-38 this season, those wins have come against inferior opponents Temple, North Carolina and Akron, respectively. The Cavaliers have scored at least 40 points in their first three games for the first time since 1913, and rank third in the nation with 50.3 points per game.
Though Virginia is heavily favored to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1998, Syracuse (2-1) should present a far greater challenge for Groh’s team.
“I think we’re clearly into the second phase of our schedule,” Groh said. “The first being the three games we’ve completed and the next phase being the next four that we have. This is the most physical team that we’ve played, for sure. It’s the most balanced team we’ve played in terms of proficiency on both sides of the ball.”
After facing the Orange, Virginia opens Atlantic Coast Conference play Oct. 7 against Clemson before meeting perennial powerhouse Florida State.
Virginia’s offense was too much for the opposition again in Saturday’s 51-0 rout of visiting Akron.
Wali Lundy ran for three touchdowns for the third straight game and Marques Hagans threw two scoring passes to Heath Miller in another stellar performance as the Cavs racked up 522 total yards and 33 first downs.
“It seems like everything is going the way we want it to go, like all the plays we run are turning out the way we practice it,” Lundy said.
Saturday’s shutout was the third in the last 16 games for Virginia, which held Akron quarterback Charlie Frye, the holder of 49 school records, to 72 yards passing. The Cavs also intercepted Frye twice and held the Zips to only six total yards rushing.
“The defense is doing a great job by giving us great field position, complementing us with turnovers and giving us a chance to strike early,” Hagans said.
Lundy and Hagans have been the catalysts in Virginia’s impressive start.
Lundy is 20th in the nation with an average of 106.3 yards per game and leads the country with nine touchdowns. Hagans ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 72.9 percent (43-of-59) for 568 yards.
Virginia has scored 17 touchdowns—at least one in every quarter—and kicked a field goal in 19 trips inside the opponents’ 20 yard-line this season.
Syracuse has rebounded from a season-opening 51-0 loss to Purdue with victories over Buffalo and Cincinnati.
The Orange will have a new starting quarterback Saturday as sophomore Perry Patterson makes his first career start in place of freshman Joe Fields.
Patterson was 10-of-16 for 156 yards and a touchdown after relieving Fields in the first quarter of a 19-7 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday.
“He seemed to execute well,” Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “He handled the blitz well, threw the ball accurately. He had those opportunities and he cashed in on them. I’m not saying Joe wouldn’t have, but Perry had the opportunities and he did it.”
Patterson was both relieved and confident after getting the nod.
“I was pretty much expecting it. I pretty much earned it,” Patterson said. “I just prayed a lot and kept working hard. The coaches told me my time would come.”
Syracuse has won both previous meetings against Virginia, but the teams haven’t met since 1977.