The No. 17 Richmond Spiders will head to Charlottesville to face University of Virginia Saturday, coming off of a 55-10 victory over the Morehead State Eagles. After dominating in every facet of the game against the Eagles, the Spiders will need to perform at a near-perfect level to keep up with a Virginia team on the opposite end of the competitive spectrum than Morehead. That being said, let’s take a look at the three biggest storylines for Saturday's game.
Historic offense vs. a dominating defense
The Spiders put up 643 total yards of offense in their season opener last Saturday for one of the top three all-time offensive performances in school history. Two redshirt-senior quarterbacks saw extensive time against the Eagles between starter Michael Strauss and Michael Rocco, who played about every fourth possession, and both moved the ball with ease against the Eagles. Twelve different receivers caught passes, led by redshirt-senior Stephen Barnette (six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown) and sophomore Brian Brown (110 yards receiving and 91 kick return yards). All those numbers are great, but the Virginia defense is a different monster entirely from Morehead State. The Cavaliers’ defense allowed just one touchdown in their entire opening game against seventh-ranked University of California-Los Angeles, and that was with Heisman trophy hopeful Brett Hundley at quarterback. There’s no questioning whether the Richmond passing attack is quite potent, it is, but they’ll face a defense that is just as effective on Saturday.
Run Spider Run
Head coach Danny Rocco has made it clear since day one of this offseason that he planned to commit to the running game this year. A more balanced offense could take an already great offense to a whole different level, and if you just looked at the final stats from the Morehead State game, you would think the Spiders accomplished their rushing goals. The Richmond backfield combined for 235 total yards on the ground and found the endzone three times, led by Jeremiah Hamlin’s 80 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. However, Hamlin didn’t do his damage, however extensive it was, until late in the second half. At the end of the first quarter, Richmond had just 25 yards on ten carries, and finished the second quarter with only another 26 yards. Quite simply, that’s not going to cut it against Virginia. For the Spiders to claim the upset, they’re going to need some help on the ground.
Momma, I’m coming home
For both quarterbacking Michaels, Saturday will be a homecoming as the pair return to the school from which they transferred. Strauss has already returned to face his former team once, though in a much less important role for the Spiders, while Rocco will be going back to Charlottesville for the first time. Despite Strauss putting up great numbers last season and entering this season on the watch list for the Walter Payton award for the best player this season in Football Championship Series play, his status as the starting quarterback has been in a little bit of doubt this offseason. While he received the big minutes in the first half against Morehead State, Rocco did enter the game a few times in the early going. In his post-game press conference last Saturday, coach Rocco offered very little insight into how he’d approach the quarterback situation against Virginia, but if Strauss ends up having a great performance, he should be able to seize control of the starting job. If he falters and Rocco gets onto the field while playing decently, the quarterback rotation could continue into week three of the Spiders 2014 season.
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