Slow our rolls: UVA Football is on the right track, but it will take more time

uva footballIt hit me during tonight’s loss to Miami: we all just got ahead of ourselves.

With this realization came an odd calm that I don’t really ever feel when watching a UVA football or basketball game.

Two weeks ago, at Notre Dame, I was like a lot of you, thinking, this team could play its way into something interesting.

A playoff? Damn, seriously?

That game revealed a lot, to me, mainly, that we have to remember, this is still a work in progress.

Think back to Tony Bennett, Year 4.

The Year 3 team made a surprise run to an NCAA Tournament bid, and we all got a little fat and happy.

Year 4 had its highs – the win over Duke late, when Joey Buckets went for 36, the OT win a week later over Maryland that seemed to cinch a second straight NCAA bid.

The ugly loss to NC State in the ACC Tournament relegated us to the NIT.

The next year would begin the New Normal for UVA hoops – the first ACC regular-season title, the first ACC Tournament title, the first #1 NCAA seed under Bennett, and here we are, where we are, banner hanging in JPJ, the rest.

But, that Year 4 team, and its parallels to Bronco Mendenhall’s Year 4 team.

That one was good defensively – 25th in defensive efficiency nationally, per KenPom.com – but rather limited on offense.

Try 89th.

Frustrating. You might remember, or you may have blocked those bad memories out, and I won’t blame you if you had.

Jontel Evans was the point guard, and, god love Jontel Evans, but you’re only going to go so far there.

But you had Justin Anderson, Joe Harris, you had Malcolm Brogdon recovering from a foot injury, redshirting, along with Anthony Gill, who had just transferred in.

What was to become was in the program, but it needed time to mature.

You have to see the parallels to where we are with Bronco in Year 4 by now.

Basketball, you play five guys at a time, your rotation is eight guys, you have 13 scholarships.

Basketball is a quicker build, and it still took Tony until Year 5 to really get things moving in the direction that he wanted.

Football is a two-deep with 44 guys, 85 scholarships. You need an offensive line with old guys who have been in the strength and conditioning program for three, four, five years.

Our offensive line, right now, you went into the Miami game with one true freshman, two redshirt freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors on the two-deep, with junior Dillon Reinkensmeyer listed as RT1 and C2.

That’s a young group, and it’s been getting exploited, really all season long.

Notre Dame trailed at halftime, and only won to keep its CFP hopes alive because it cranked up the pressure on Bryce Perkins, sacking him six times in the third quarter, two of them strip-sacks, one of those returned for a TD, the other returned inside the 10 that led to another Notre Dame TD.

That one stung. Friday night, you saw the defense, like with those early Tony Bennett teams, dominate, holding Miami to 265 yards, but the offense, also like those early Tony Bennett teams, struggled.

Virginia had the ball inside the Miami 30 on six of its 10 possessions, and ended up with three field goals, nine points of a possible 42.

Felt like that NC State loss in the ACC Tournament all over again. Shot after shot after shot clanking off the rim, as our bigger hopes faded away.

But as with that Year 4 Tony Bennett team, this Year 4 Bronco Mendenhall team has guys in the pipeline ready to win.

Three four-star recruits in the Class of 2019, three more, and counting, committed for the Class of 2020.

That line, young now, will be able to grow together.

The quarterback of the future, Brennan Armstrong, may yet have four years of eligibility left, after redshirting last year, and maybe being eligible for a medical redshirt if he ends up being out for the season, as may very well be the case, this year.

Unlike that Year 4 Tony Bennett team, this Year 4 Bronco Mendenhall team still has a chance to do something interesting.

We UVA fans are notoriously fickle on this kind of thing, but the loss to Miami tonight still only counts as one.

The opportunity is there to still win the ACC Coastal and play in Charlotte in December.

After seeing the O-line struggle through the first half of the season as much as it has, I’m more realistic now than I was going into the season.

It may not happen this year.

It still may. Not giving up hope there.

That said, stay the course should be the mantra from here on out.

AD Carla Williams is laying the groundwork from an institutional perspective to make it so that UVA can play big-boy football.

Bronco and his staff seem adept at developing talent, much more so than either of their two predecessors.

It’s on the right track.

I’m not saying Year 5 for Bronco is going to be like Year 5 for Tony, because that Year 5 for Tony was a team that could have very well won a national title.

It was that good.

Football, as I said earlier, is a more complex build.

R-E-L-A-X.

It’s happening.

Column by Chris Graham



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