Johns Hopkins has dominated this series, winning 53 of 82 contests and the last two. No. 13 Virginia (5-3) has dropped three of its last four games, but the offense ranks sixth in Division I in scoring with a 12.9 average. The Cavaliers have unearthed a quarterback in junior attackman Nick O'Reilly, who leads the team in assists (16) and points (30) after redshirting last season. The No. 12 Blue Jays are 5-2, but they are 0-2 against ranked opponents. Johns Hopkins boasts an offense tied for fourth in scoring and is getting plenty of possessions via senior faceoff specialist Mike Poppleton, who has won 71.1 percent (96-of-135) of his draws. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday.
1) Figuring out Virginia's goalie. The Cavaliers went with freshman Dan Marino for six starts, but sophomore Rhody Heller started twice, including in the team's 11-10 loss to No. 3 Ohio State last Saturday. Coach Dom Starsia told Inside Lacrosse that he is undecided about which goalkeeper will start Saturday, but Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said the team is gearing up for both options. "You go in and do your job and prepare for both," he said. "… Our job as coaches is to answer the what-ifs. What if they play zone? What if they shut this guy off? What if they run this offense? What if we have difficulty with this one area and how do we adjust? Our scouting report has both goaltenders in it. Our film breakdowns that the guys have used have both goaltenders in it."
2) Limiting Virginia's attack. When the Cavaliers graduated 2011 Tewaaraton Award winner Steele Stanwick and four-year starter Chris Bocklet, the thought was that the team's attack unit would be decimated. But the team has reloaded as O'Reilly, senior Mark Cockerton (23 goals and four assists) and redshirt sophomore Owen Van Arsdale (8, 13) are 1-2-3 in points. Pietramala said that trio's development has made the starting midfield of senior Matt White (15, 6), junior Rob Emery (13, 5) and sophomore Ryan Tucker (10, 3) more dangerous. "Those guys have done a good job of growing into their role and much like us, you have to take a look at the middies," Pietramala said. "Their middies draw a lot of attention, and their middies are very good, strong, downhill dodgers. So when you have guys like that who command a lot of attention, they draw a lot of slides, which now allows the attack to be a group that can be effective."
3) Facing off. According to CollegeCrosse.com's Tempo Free Lax site, Johns Hopkins ranks second in the country in possession percentage at 56.4 percent. (Only No. 1 and undefeated Maryland is better at 57.6 percent.) The team's ability to gain more possessions is due in part to the play of Poppleton. But Virginia has a capable faceoff specialist in sophomore Mick Parks (56.7 percent on 101-of-178), and ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said the Cavaliers will need a solid performance from Parks and the wing players to limit the Blue Jays' offense. "They're probably going to win the faceoff battle," the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. "So if you're Virginia, you want to go 50-50. … If you're Virginia, you're going to need the ball in your stick against Hopkins to work against their defense. I think faceoffs are going to be critical in this game."