Can UVA football learn from its 2017 second-half swoon?

uva footballUVA football has a template for how things can go following the big win last weekend over then-No. 15 Miami.

The ‘Hoos had a pair of big wins in 2017: on the road at Boise State, on national TV, to improve to 4-1, and then at home, over Georgia Tech, to get to bowl eligibility.

After the Tech game, Virginia would not win again, and the offense, depleted on the line, didn’t put up a point in its final nine quarters.

But after the win on the blue turf out west, UVA played Duke, and the D harassed Daniel Jones into a 14-for-42, 124-yard, two-INT day in a 28-21 ‘Hoos win.

What’s different about Virginia football in 2018, coach Bronco Mendenhall said on Monday, is that “our confidence continues to grow.”

Players are talking about how they think the team can compete for an ACC title this season, which, when you look at the Coastal Division landscape, in particular, you can’t dismiss that.

Miami was the preseason favorite in the Coastal. Virginia Tech now sits atop the division standings, but was blown out by Notre Dame, and lost, inexplicably, at ODU, which has exactly one win this season.

Even Clemson, sitting pretty as a playoff contender right now, had to rally at home to beat Syracuse, which is to say, not unbeatable.

But before you can play in Charlotte, you have five more ACC games left, first one on the road at, yep, Duke, a seven-point favorite, coming it at 5-1 on the season, the loss being an ugly one at home to Virginia Tech, the week after Tech’s loss at ODU.

Mendenhall was asked at his weekly presser about the slide in the second half of 2017, and if he saw anything from that experience that has changed his approach to practice, preparations, pep talks, anything, in terms of how he gets his team ready.

The short answer: no.

“Words won’t determine anything,” Mendenhall said, which, yeah, good point, specific to words.

I’d expect that, behind the scenes, there are some different approaches being taken after the swoon. Remember that Mendenhall told the Board of Visitors over the summer that he felt in retrospect that his team lost its focus after the Georgia Tech win, and didn’t prep well, in his view, for the Military Bowl, and we saw how that all turned out.

But, now, to the coach-speak. I love coach-speak. Mendenhall sounds like Al Groh with this one, and I mean that as a compliment.

Totally an aside here, but I’ve grown to appreciate Groh over time. That time being, the trainwreck that was the Mike London era.

I had one one-on-one with Groh, heading into the 2007 season. I asked him if he felt any pressure from being on the hot seat in the minds of many fans.

He answered me to the effect that the only pressure he felt was to do everything he could to make sure his team scored at least one more point than the other team on game day.

Compare, contrast, feel free to discuss.

“Ultimately it will come down to those handful of plays,” Mendenhall said, finishing his answer on the focus after the big win, teeing it up, the coach-speak. “When we make them, we’ll win. If not, then it’ll be frustrating and sad, and then we’ll refocus and again try to get the right players in the right spot at the right time in the right scheme to be able to deliver what they can do. That’s where the roster is versus any opponent, and what we’re working hard to do.”

Column by Chris Graham

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