Mendenhall on the UVA D: Improvement, but still work to do

virginia defense
Mandy Alonso and Joey Blount tackle Miami tailback Cam’Ron Harris in the end zone for a safety in UVA’s 30-28 win. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

The Virginia defense, through halftime and even the end of the third quarter, looked a lot like what it did in the first two weeks, holding Miami largely in check.

The fourth quarter, which saw the ‘Canes gain 165 yards and nearly complete a comeback from a 27-14 deficit, was a different story, more like the ones from Weeks 3 and 4.

But UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall thought it wasn’t so much a reversion to the mean of the D’s efforts against UNC and Wake Forest as met the eye.

“The biggest difference in the second half, the short field after the interception. Yeah, one assignment mistake in coverage. Otherwise, it would have looked a lot like the first half,” Mendenhall said.

“What seemed to be big really was small after re-looking at it. Yeah, we had a third down after the turnover, about six inches was the difference of an incomplete and a complete, then we blew a coverage. Other than that, it would have been very similar,” Mendenhall said.

After giving up 96 points and 1,172 yards in the back-to-back defeats to North Carolina and Wake, the UVA D held the ‘Canes to 94 yards in the first half, and 207 yards through three quarters, before bending a bit too much in the final 15 minutes.

In the end, Miami put up 372 yards of total offense, running for 169 yards on 39 rushing attempts, and third-string QB Tyler Van Dyke, starting for the injured starter, D’Eriq King, threw for 203 yards and a TD, completing 10 of his final 12 attempts after a 5-of-17 start.

The Virginia front registered four sacks, which is great, considering that it had been averaging 1.8 sacks per game in 2021 coming in.

But we still only saw 12 QB pressures on the night, right at the average (12.8 per game) coming in.

The control of the A and B gaps was a priority coming in, and the front did a good job here, aside from one snap – the 57-yard TD run by Cam’Ron Jones late in the third quarter.

The ‘Canes had 13 rushing attempts between the tackles for 99 yards.

Miami gained 46 yards on nine rushing attempts on the final drive, but the front held UM to no gains on first and second down in the red zone, ahead of the missed field goal on the final play.

All in all, it was improvement.

“Yeah, we’re addressing,” Mendenhall said. “I see us just chipping away at it. There’s clear progress being made everywhere from that point of reference.

“I think it’s also clear what teams we’re playing, what their identities look like as we get to games five and six. It kind of starts to put things in a little bit more perspective of how glaring are the weaknesses or is that just what we do against anybody. The picture is becoming clearer.

“Back to your first question. Yeah, I think we’re chipping away at addressing, working on. It’s showing yield. We need to add consistency to it, but I see it happening, yes, from not only the Miami game but the Wake Forest game. I saw progress in both.”

Story by Chris Graham

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