CFB Preview: No. 24 Oregon-Virginia

First-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall figured his defense was ready for the season-opener against Richmond.

It wasn't.

And now, after losing 37-20 to the Spiders of the Football Championship Subdivision, his Cavaliers have to go across country to face the high-powered No. 24 Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

“In general, I overestimated the amount and volume of defensive schemes and calls and the number of things that our defense could handle in game one,” Mendenhall said at his Monday press conference.

“And so simplicity will be a factor just to allow fundamentals and assignments to take over. And I think that will be significant help there.”

Oregon held its spot in the AP poll after a 53-28 win over lower-division UC Davis, which wasn't necessarily the margin of victory many expected, but it did provide graduate transfer Dakota Prukop a chance to get his feet wet with the Ducks.

He completed 21 of 30 passes for 271 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The senior from Montana State also ran 11 times for 36 yards and a score. Oregon, which started four true freshmen on the offensive line, put up 522 total yards, including 251 on the ground.

Prukop called it an “introduction course” to major college football for much of the offense.

“If you go watch the first series and then watch our last series, you can see it's a completely different offense just in the course of a game,” he said. “We're really expecting a lot of growth between week 1 and week 2.”

Mendenhall, the BYU head coach for the previous 11 seasons, put in his 3-4 scheme in spring and fall camps. In the opener, the Cavs allowed 524 yards and failed to force a turnover. Mendenhall is trying to turn things around after coach Mike London went 27-46 in six seasons at Virginia and wasn't able to beat rival Virginia Tech.

Virginia was 4-8 last season.

“The brutal fact and the reality is I think everyone — players, coaches and certainly fans — were hopeful this would be an immediate turnaround and an instant and an overnight success,” Mendenhall said.

“There's some habits that have come with losing and lack of success. I have a clearer idea now of what that looks like, but remain really optimistic.”

The Ducks' offense remains one of the most skilled in the country.

Junior running back Royce Freeman had two rushing touchdowns against UC Davis to become the fifth player in school history with 40 touchdowns. He wasn't needed much, with only 11 carries for 87 yards, snapping his streak of nine straight 100-yard rushing games.

Wide receiver Darren Carrington had seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis. The junior has 53 catches for 1,017 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last 10 games.

Oregon is expected to have starting left tackle Tyrell Crosby back this week after he sat out the opener because of a foot injury.

Virginia used only 15 players on defense against Richmond and allowed four plays of at least 30 yards. That doesn't bode well for a game against the up-tempo and explosive Ducks.

“Assignments, alignment and managing the pace, those things now are multipliers,” Mendenhall said of facing Oregon's offense. “I think it'll be a significant challenge.”

Oregon's defense is undergoing changes, too, switching to a 4-3 front under new coordinator Brady Hoke, the former Michigan head coach. The Ducks are inexperienced in that front group but might have found a new star in true freshman linebacker Troy Dye.

He got the start against UC Davis and earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Dye had 11 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He also blocked a field goal attempt.

Oregon will be facing quarterback Kurt Benkert, who beat out incumbent Matt Johns for the starting spot in fall camp. Benkert, a grad transfer from East Carolina, was 26 of 34 for 264 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception, against Richmond.

He didn't get a lot of help on the ground from running backs Smoke Mizzell and Albert Reid in what is a more up-tempo offense under Mendenhall.