Mendenhall: ‘I like where we are’
Vegas has Virginia as a nine-point ‘dog on the road at North Carolina this week, which is insulting, but whatever.
The ‘Hoos (2-0) and Tar Heels (1-1, 0-1 ACC) are both coming off big wins in Week 2 – UVA blasting Illinois 42-14, UNC finishing off Georgia State 59-17.
Carolina, you may remember, lost its opener at Virginia Tech, 17-10, falling behind 14-0 early, clinging to game life until the final minute, but honestly, the Hokies outclassed them in that one.
The Carolina game is, obviously, always a big one on the schedule for Virginia, a point that was made clear to coach Bronco Mendenhall early in his tenure.
“Yeah, I learned early on here, Craig Littlepage told me, and specifically and rarely did he ever come down to talk football,” Mendenhall said in his weekly presser on Monday. “This was when – wow, Larry Fedora was the coach, and he said something to the fact of, keep an eye on him, the onside kick surprised us here in whatever game at home, and then there was still urgency in his voice like I wouldn’t have known that or already discovered it.
“I think he reminded me the first two years or maybe three about that, and Jerry (Capone) gave me the same UNC history. So yes, I’ve heard. And now that I’ve heard it, we’re just going right back to our weekly preparation as diligently as we can,” Mendenhall said.
UNC was, of course, the preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal, and was ranked 10th in the preseason national polls, before the loss at Tech dropped the Heels down to the bottom end of the Top 25.
Sam Howell, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, struggled in the loss in Blacksburg, going 17-of-32 passing for a pedestrian 208 yards, with a TD and three INTs.
He posted good numbers last week in the laugher with Georgia State – 21-of-29, 352 yards, three TDs.
Last year, in the 44-41 loss to UVA in Charlottesville, Howell was 23-of-28 for 443 yards and four TDs, but last year he had Dyami Brown to catch 11 balls for 240 and three TDs, and he also had Michael Carter (nine carries, 64 yards) and Javonte William (11 carries, 54 yards, 1 TD) to hand the ball off to.
All three are gone now, which may explain the early struggles on the road at Tech offensively.
“The scheme is well thought out. It’s very well-coached. I think like every team every year, you learn about maybe the impact of losses of personnel as you go versus different matchups. The running game and the running backs from a year ago, the receivers from a year ago, the personnel was very strong, and I think it’s still strong, but it is different,” Mendenhall said.
Carolina coach Mack Brown said today that Virginia has out-physicaled his teams the past two years, which is why he’s 0-2 against Mendenhall since returning to Chapel Hill.
“That emphasis isn’t just UVA/UNC, that’s any team any week,” Mendenhall said. “Yeah, perceptions from different opponents and their staffs are always varied, and the lenses are varied, but it is something that has to happen to win a division. You have to be physical. You have to be tough. You have to play hard. And then you have to execute your assignments and techniques.
“That is kind of the core of what it takes to repeat as a division champion or to remain consistent in college football, even with all the run, play action and RPOs and spread formations and quarterback runs and unique formations and the ball going downfield and all the points. If you don’t address that part when you need it, it’s not there, and that’s usually in really critical moments,” Mendenhall said.
The coach likes where his team is after two games.
“We’ve had two convincing wins, two dominant performances on each side of the ball,” Mendenhall said. “I did not think our special teams played as well in Week 2 as Week 1, partly because there were no kick and kick return opportunities, balls going out of the end zone, et cetera, but it showed our punt and punt return wasn’t as strong as I would have hoped, and our PAT/field goal … I think still needs some attention. But in terms of how the games have gone, the number of points scored, the number of points allowed and the production and diversity of production and impact that so many players are having, yeah, I like where we are as of Monday of Week 3.”
Story by Chris Graham