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Virginia hires Bronco Mendenhall: UVA playing big boy football

bronco2Virginia just flat-out stole Bronco Mendenhall from BYU, almost literally.

Scanning media outlets that cover BYU football, the response to the news that Mendenhall, a Utah native, the son and brother of BYU football alums and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, had been hired by UVA was referred to as a “complete surprise” and “shock.”

We’re right there with you. Dozens of names were publicly linked to the opening at Virginia in one way or another, and Mendenhall’s name was on exactly none of those lists.

Mendenhall, 49, was 99-42 in 11 seasons at BYU. The Cougars, in his tenure, won 10 or more games five times, and were ranked in the Top 25 in the final polls five times.

His 2015 team was 9-3 against a challenging (ahem!) schedule that included road games at Nebraska, at UCLA, at Michigan and at Missouri, and home games with Boise State, UConn, East Carolina and Cincinnati.

The numbers from his 2015 BYU team tell the story of what we can expect from a Mendenhall team at UVA. The Cougars gave up 358.1 yards per game this year, ranked eighth nationally in sacks (37) and were 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense (112.8); and the BYU offense was 21st nationally in passing (294.8 yards per game) while gaining 428.0 yards per game and running for 4.1 yards per attempt on the ground.

Mendenhall teams can throw the ball, defend against the pass, defend in general, and they don’t turn the ball over (+7 turnover margin in 2015).

They get to the QB, they can run, and they’re tough. Think back to the chatter on the message boards after Virginia lost to BYU in Provo in 2014. Remember the talk about how, um, “dirty” the Cougars were that day?

“Dirty,” when it’s against you, translates to “gritty” when it’s your guys doing it.

Mendenhall inherits a roster that is thisclose to getting over the hump. The 2015 Cavs finished 4-8, but five of the losses were by seven points or less, a season after Virginia went 5-7 with five losses by eight points or less.

Thirty-eight of the 52 players listed on the two-deep for the season finale last weekend are set to return in 2016, including starting quarterback Matt Johns, tailback Taquan Mizzell, and All-ACC first-team defenders Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser.

Depth and experience return, and the schedule gets easier, on paper. The non-conference slate in 2015 featured UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State and William & Mary; the 2016 schedule has non-conference games with Oregon, Central Michigan, UConn and Richmond. The ACC schedule is manageable – the Coastal plus Louisville (home) and at Wake Forest.

Toughen these guys up, get them playing Bronco Mendenhall football, and a winning record in 2016 is within reach.

– Column by Chris Graham