By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
Mike London and Virginia can’t wait any longer.
One week after Cavaliers receivers dropped 10 passes in a 14-3 loss at Pittsburgh, the fourth-year coach is giving younger players a chance to fix the problem when Ball State visits on Saturday.
“We want to see production,” London said this week of the unit that has managed just three touchdowns in three games against FBS-level competition, two on short drives set up by defensive turnovers.
Six-foot Tim Smith and Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell, both 5-11, have been the primary receivers for quarterback David Watford so far this season, and the Cavaliers figure to give Miles Gooch, Adrian Gamble and even freshman Keeon Johnson a shot to make an impact. All stand at least 6-1.
“There are some taller guys that can go up and get the ball,” London said.
The game is the last nonconference contest for Virginia (2-2) before the Cavaliers head into Atlantic Coast Conference play. And while the Cardinals present a defensive challenge, London is confident.
Virginia ranks 16th nationally, allowing just 299 yards per game.
Opponents have completed just 38 percent of their passes, eighth-best, and converted fewer than one in four third downs, fifth-best.
“I’m quite sure defensively that we’ll rise to the occasion,” London said.
Ball State coach Pete Lembo agrees.
Even though the Cardinals arrive averaging 40 points and 472 yards, Lembo said his team will have its hands full with Virginia’s defensive front. The Cavaliers had seven sacks last week at Pitt, and Ball State has allowed just seven all year while averaging 335 pards passing with nine touchdowns.
“They’re going to be real difficult to block,” Lembo, in his third year with the Cardinals, said. “I think they’re as good as a unit I’ve seen since I’ve been here. They’re fun to watch.”
The Cavaliers hope they won’t be as fun for Lembo to watch after the fact.
Here are five things to watch when Ball State plays at Virginia on Saturday:
READY TO GO: Ball State is the only team in the country to have scored a touchdown on its first drive in every game this season, and the Mid-American Conference team would love nothing better than to keep that going against Virginia. The Cavaliers made halting the streak a goal, and can show in the process that they have prepared and are not taking the game lightly.
VIRGINIA PASS RUSH: Ball State’s Keith Wenning has thrown for at least 300 yards in every game, and only been sacked seven times. The Cavaliers’ front line is the strength of an aggressive unit that is solid throughout, and its ability to disrupt Wenning will be critical to the Cavaliers’ success.
GROUND ATTACK: The return of tailbacks Taquan Mizzell and Khalek Shepherd could bolster Virginia’s running game against a Ball State team that has allowed better than 200 yards per game on the ground, but there are changes on the offensive line because the Cavaliers have struggled moving the ball effectively.
Expect the Cardinals to attack the right side on defense with freshman right guard Eric Smith making his first start.
KICKING GAME: The Cavaliers went for it on fourth down four times last week against Pittsburgh, and converted just one time. London said after the game that placekicker Ian Frye strained his hip flexor making a field goal for Virginia’s only points. If he can’t go, redshirt frosh Dylan Sims takes over.
DOWNFIELD PASSING: Ball State ranks second nationally with 70 passing plays of at least 10 yards, and Virginia is tied for last in the country with just four passing plays of 20 yards or more. If Virginia can’t slow the Cardinals, or get its own downfield game working, it could be a long afternoon.