UVA Football: ‘Hoos need to move on from Tech loss, focus on Belk Bowl

Belk BowlI was all in with UVA football coach Bronco Mendenhall when he made the 2018 season about beating Virginia Tech. Problem with that being, of course, what would happen if the ‘Hoos didn’t win the big game?

We’re finding out now. Three weeks since the stunning 34-31 overtime loss in Lane Stadium, the program is still not over how it all went down.

Which means, yes, it might be time to worry that the focus on Virginia Tech is going to impact the ‘Hoos heading into their Belk Bowl matchup with South Carolina.

Augusta Free Press coverage of the 2018 Belk Bowl is sponsored by Bear Creek.

Players and coaches talked with the media on Tuesday, and the lingering effects of the Tech loss seemed to be the theme.

“Coach talked to us and told us to take some time because it’s going to be hard,” said quarterback Bryce Perkins, whose fumble on UVA’s second offensive play in the overtime period was recovered by the Hokies, sealing their comeback win.

Reports from recent practices have framed the mood of the team as still being in we can’t believe that happened mode.

Which isn’t a good thing when you consider what’s on the horizon. South Carolina (7-5, 4-4 SEC) is a pretty good big-boy football team. Four of the Gamecocks’ five losses came against ranked teams, and then you consider that the bowl game, played in Charlotte, will effectively be a home game for USC, and, yeah, tall order.

Considering how the 2017 Military Bowl went for Virginia, playing what was more than effectively a home game in Annapolis against Navy, which defeated the Cavaliers 49-7, go ahead, worry.

Mendenhall said in the offseason that last year’s group didn’t prepare well for Navy, conceding that the team seemed to be happy just to be in a bowl game.

His message to reporters Tuesday: lesson learned.

“A year ago, and looking at our postseason model, it was similar to what we had done for a long time and had success with,” Mendenhall said, referencing his tenure at BYU, where his teams went 6-5 in bowls, though with the loss last year in the Military Bowl, Mendenhall teams are now on a four-game bowl losing streak heading into the Belk.

“I underestimated the newness and novelty of going to postseason for this team,” Mendenhall said. This feels a lot more like business as usual. There’s more maturity, a higher level of expectation. They already have some point of reference to what postseason looks like. I sense just a different maturity.”

It’s Finals Week at UVA, so the practice schedule for now is focused on individual workouts, with formal preparations for South Carolina to begin next week.

That’s a few more days for the ‘Hoos to lick their wounds from the Virginia Tech loss, then put that all behind them.

The goal going into the season was, yes, Beat Tech, but there was also a goal to get into, and win, a bowl game.

And that one’s still out there.

“When I met with the team the Monday after the Virginia Tech game, I had not bounced back nor had they, which I think is a good thing,” Mendenhall said. “It was as disappointed as I’ve been in my coaching career, and they viewed it the same way because we put so much into that game.”

“We framed it as when we all get back to practice, we’ll be ready,” Mendenhall said.

Column by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
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