Mendenhall looking for clean game from team in opener

bronco mendenhall
UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall. Photo by Chris Graham.

Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t like uncertainties going into a game, but that’s a given going into Week 1 any year, much less this year.

Mendenhall tweaked his training camp approach to try to keep his squad as healthy as possible going into the season, following the model used by NFL teams in recent years, which meant, less tackling and blocking to the ground.

Not necessarily less contact, but still, it’s not full contact, full football.

The tradeoff for keeping the kids healthy in camp is that you don’t get to see them play to the whistle until the opener.

“The NCAA format and the acclimation format was different this year anyway, which matched very similar to what we were doing already,” Mendenhall said. “So, it was kind of a blend of those two things, right, following the rules of engagement that are in effect, but also with more experience, leaning a little bit more with some of our players that have, man, four and five years of experience of having the reaction be fast and sharp and conditioning fierce, with a little less risk at the end.”

Virginia is a 33-point favorite heading into its season opener with William & Mary on Saturday night in Scott Stadium. Mendenhall’s focus isn’t the final score or margin as much as it is on playing a clean game and being able to build from there.

“We all recognize the Week 1 uncertainties, and no team is ever as I thought prior to playing an opponent that matched my opinion of the team after I played or coached against the first opponent,” Mendenhall said. “Our hope is with the veteran team there is less of those discrepancies from I thought and what were discovered, and hopefully that applies to clean play as well. But certainly the amount of ambiguity going into Week 1 is probably the highest level of my part during the year, other than maybe a bowl game against a team you’ve never seen from a conference that you never played, something like that.

“But I would say even then probably the opener is still a little on a higher scale,” Mendenhall said.

One other thing Mendenhall is looking for: the energy of his players.

“It will be surprising maybe because it doesn’t have anything to do with anything other than I love to see the kids really demonstrate they’re enjoying playing the game,” Mendenhall said. “This is supposed to be something they love to do. I like to see, especially in the opener, is that real? Are they really enjoying this whole experience and playing the game they have worked so hard to play?

“Man, when you watch college or pro football, there is the execution and the assignments and the competitive outcome and all that. I love, especially in the opener, just to see are they really enjoying what they’re doing. That’s what I look for,” Mendenhall said.

Story by Chris Graham

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