It’s here (almost): UVA makes it to Monday of game week

uva footballBronco Mendenhall did some calculating on Monday, and came to the realization that his UVA football team has been back at work for 12 weeks.

“We’re anxious to play football,” Mendenhall said, as the ‘Hoos prepare to finally open their 2020 season at home on Saturday against Duke.

The good news, no, great news: no COVID-19 cases among the team.

The UVA Athletics department released figures for the department as a whole on Monday, and reported 22 positive tests from among the 703 administered to student-athletes and staffers.

Again, with emphasis: none were among the football team.

“They’ve done an absolutely remarkable job of managing the virus. As of today, we’re still zero positive tests within our team. And that’s an amazing accomplishment by them. And I’m looking forward to helping them play football now in a real game and hopefully get a reward for all of their hard work, so far,” Mendenhall said.

It kinda feels like NASA celebrating just getting with a few minutes of launch, whatever happens with whether or not the launch happens or not.

Media relations director Jim Daves told Mendenhall Monday that the scheduled Duke opener is the fifth scheduled opener for Virginia in 2020, which was supposed to open on Labor Day in Atlanta against Georgia, then flipped to VMI for a Sept. 11 tilt, then became Virginia Tech on Sept. 19.

Before Duke agreed to move its scheduled November game in Charlottesville up to this weekend, it had looked like the ‘Hoos wouldn’t get going until Oct. 3 at Clemson.

“It’s been a challenge. The simplest narrative is probably the boy who cried wolf. And the players, I think realize, now that we made it to a Monday of game week, that this one is real,” Mendenhall said.

Duke has two games under its belt – losses at Notre Dame, 27-13 in Week 1, and at home to Boston College, 26-6 this past Saturday.

Starting quarterback Chase Brice, a grad transfer from Clemson, has been meh to this point: 43-for-79 (54.4 percent), 476 yards, no TDs, two INTs.

The loss to BC in Week 2 was marred by five Duke turnovers – two Brice INTs and three lost fumbles.

But then, hey, the Blue Devils have game action under their belts – two games worth.

“Where we’ve scrimmaged a number of times, against ourselves, and this fall camp which is extended for a long, long time before making it to game week, I would just say that we have more unknowns than Duke has unknowns,” Mendenhall said. “But that is just how it is. As much work against each other meaning good on good or one on one, that we’re continuing to do, that stops short of finishing live and tackling to the ground as we get closer and closer to game day. And so, yeah, we just say that we have more unknowns.”

UVA will be debuting a new starter at QB, redshirt sophomore Brennan Armstrong, the understudy to record-setting quarterback Bryce Perkins the past two seasons.

Armstrong won a training camp battle for the QB1 spot with Mississippi State grad transfer Keytaon Thompson, who pushed Armstrong for much of the summer, according to Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Anae has signaled that Thompson could get on the field in some capacity, without being specific to how he might work him in.

A focal point for the ‘Hoos in the offseason was trying to build up a more effective ground game, behind an offensive line that brings back more career starts than any other in the ACC.

One of the five returning starters from 2019 – 6’7”, 285-pound junior Bobby Haskins – was not listed on the depth chart for the opener. Mendenhall said Monday that Haskins hasn’t been cleared for participation, and said Penn State grad transfer Alex Gellerstedt has decided to opt out of playing this season.

Even without Haskins and Gellerstedt, the talent and depth on the offensive line is a strength on this team, according to Mendenhall.

“The number of healthy offensive linemen, we have the depth and experience is – I’m really encouraged about it,” Mendenhall said. “We haven’t had to alter or limit practice in any regard. If anything, the offensive line has been the area that keeps asking for more contact, more live reps, more and more and more. Normally, as a program is growing, maturing and developing, that’s one of the areas that’s the thinnest.”

Vegas, having weighed in on the matchup, has installed the ‘Hoos as a six-point favorite, for what that’s worth.

That’s not on the minds of anyone in Bryant Hall.

The big news there: there’s a game on Saturday.

“I think there was a relief in our team meeting this morning that we’re actually into the week with an opponent and still capable and ready to play. And we’re hopeful to have that come to fruition,” Mendenhall said.

Story by Chris Graham

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