CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- From Tennessee's fast paced offense to on field emotions the Cavaliers have a lot to handle in their season opener. To make matters even more high stakes, all of this will take place in front of a sold out Nissan Stadium crowd. 

It's been 294 days since UVA last stepped on the field and emotions will no doubt be high as the Cavaliers play their first game without teammates Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler. Each day has been a struggle with loss and mourning, but even more powerful than their grief has been their resiliency. 

"Everyday is a triumph for us," said Elliott.

Everyday since November's tragic shooting, Elliott has preached to his team that they can turn this tragedy into triumph. Now with the season on the horizon and the eyes of a sold out Nissan Stadium crowd on them on Saturday, they get to show the world their resiliency while honoring their teammates. 

"I believe as a program every day we wake up, come to work and put our best foot forward, that's the triumph in all of us this and now we have an opportunity on a national stage to show just how resilient the human spirit is," said Elliott, "That's what I'm looking forward to just seeing the guys play in a way that inspire people because we know the responsibility that we have to the legacies that we lost and we have a great opportunity because football is a great unifier."

As if that wasn't enough emotion, the fact that UVA is playing in an NFL stadium, in front of a sold out crowd against a top ranked SEC opponent only adds fuel to the fire. Virginia hasn't played an SEC opponent since falling to Florida in the Orange Bowl in 2019. Their last victory against an SEC foe was all the way back in 2018 against South Carolina in the Belk Bowl.


"I'll tell you what they do really well, they're explosive," said junior safety Jonas Sanker, "You know they like to spread things out so I think they really challenge the perimeter and the DBs to win one on ones and make plays so you know at the end of the day it's going to come back to relying on your fundamentals and your technique but also just making sure everybody is in the right spot and getting back and getting set."

Virginia has won their last six straight season openers, but to say this game against Tennessee is different, would be an understatement. This is not a typical season opener, and the Volunteer's offense isn't your typical offense. In their 2022 campaign the Volunteers put on the no. 1 ranked offense, averaging 525.5 yards and 46.1 points per game last year. The Volunteers play a fast paced, spread out offense that is designed to throw opponents off their game. 

"They kind of break your rules. That's the tough part from a defensive perspective, you have rules you have spacing on the field certain land marks and now they're outside of your land marks so all of your training has been kind of thrown out the window and you have to adjust specifically to the spacing, a lot like preparing for option football."

If anyone can take on this tricky Tennessee offense it's defensive coordinator John Rudzinski. Last year Rudzinski took a struggling Cavalier defense and turned it into the team's strong point, ranking 12th in the country with 3.0 sacks per game. The defensive ranks have prepared for Joe Milton's fast tempo with extra conditioning. 

"They've been making sure we've been conditioned," said UVA senior corner back Malcolm Greene, "After every single snap it's like they get the ball snapped for the next play and in our team periods and scout periods, even in like repping plays they make sure that we are ready to say the next play gone in the next three seconds just like Tennessee does on Saturdays."

Ahead of the match up UVA released their depth chart. Notable starters missing include DE Chico Bennett who's timeline is still uncertain, safety Antonio Clary who will be a game time decision come Saturday and OL Jimmy Christ. Christ is on track to return in week two, however there is optimism for the young offensive line unit as they will have starters McKale Boley and Brian Stevens back for game one after sitting out a portion of fall camp due to injuries. 


Out of a loaded running back room the Cavaliers will once again take a by committee approach listing Perris Jones, Mike Hollins and Clemson transfer Kobe Pace as the three tailbacks. At wide receiver Malachi Fields and Demick Starling will start on the outside while JR Wilson and true freshman Jaden Gibson are listed as the two deep. In the slot position is Malik Washington with freshman Suderian Harrison as his backup. The rest of the lineup can be seen above.