Mendenhall looks for answers to Virginia’s slow starts

Bronco Mendenhall

Bronco Mendenhall. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Virginia has been outscored 34-0 in first quarters this season. You see that, and you’re not surprised to see a team consistently digging itself that kind of a hole sitting at 1-2.

In the opener, the Cavaliers were able to get things going enough to rally from down 10-0 after one to win 38-20.

In Week 2, it was 10-0 Clemson after one, 24-10 Tigers at the half, and after UVA fought back to 27-17 on a Brennan Armstrong-to-Keytaon Thompson TD pass midway through the third, that was it.

The hole was too deep in that one, in what turned into a 41-23 loss, and that was the story that played out in Week 3 against NC State.

The Pack led 14-0 after one, 24-3 at the half, and though the ‘Hoos were twice able to claw back to 10, it can be tough to play from behind all the time.

“That’s atypical for teams that I’ve coached,” coach Bronco Mendenhall conceded in his Monday Zoom with reporters.

What’s most vexing is that Mendenhall and the staff have been trying to address the slow starts since the first one, in the win over Duke.

“It can’t take us to be behind to play with that urgency and focus. Certainly, we’re demonstrating capability because we’re doing so in the second and fourth quarters. The biggest discrepancy is in quarter one,” said Mendenhall, attributing as one possible reason for the slow starts the team’s inexperience at quarterback.

Sophomore Brennan Armstrong won the QB1 job in camp, and, yeah, it’s been taking him a quarter to get the offense rolling.

Armstrong’s status for Saturday’s game at Wake Forest is up in the air at this stage in game week. Mendenhall confirmed Monday that Armstrong suffered a concussion in the helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him out of the loss to State on Saturday in the second quarter.

Backup Lindell Stone, in his first extensive and meaningful action in his four years in the program, availed himself well given the circumstances, throwing for 230 yards and three touchdowns, with a picksix in the fourth quarter.

Stone, despite his age and Ryan Fitzpatrick-like grizzled beard, would be making his first career start in Winston-Salem if Armstrong isn’t available.

That’s a long way of saying, the experience at quarterback issue that Mendenhall thinks could be at the heart of the slow starts isn’t going away anytime soon.

Senior linebacker Zane Zandier thinks it is incumbent that the Virginia defense starts setting the tone.

“Being able to come out and start firing right away, not taking time to settle in, especially as a defense, because you know, offense, you need to get into a rhythm a little bit. So, I can’t blame them. But you know, letting them score early, we’ve been putting them in tough situations. You got to get those early stops to, you know, get the offense a chance to get rolling,” Zandier said.

Junior offensive lineman Ryan Nelson said the focus needs to start not on Saturday, but on the practice field.

“It’s definitely something we’re working on. We’ll probably make changes to our practice to have better emphasis on starting faster in practice. Sometimes things happen in games, and we got to be able to adapt fast. We’ll be out this week, and we’ll definitely do better,” Nelson said.

Story by Chris Graham


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