Virginia Tech will hold on to the Commonwealth Cup for a 13th consecutive year after drubbing UVA, 52-10, in Blacksburg Saturday afternoon.
UVA wraps up its first season under head coach Bronco Mendenhall with a 2-10 overall record, 1-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia Tech, in its first season with Justin Fuente as head coach, is the 2016 ACC Coastal Division champion and will face Atlantic Division champ Clemson for the ACC title on December 3.
While the previous two Commonwealth Cups were highly competitive with Virginia holding fourth quarter leads in each of those contests, today’s matchup was just the opposite. Tech cruised to a 49-point lead after three quarters, allowing Fuente to rest his starters the rest of the way. Virginia’s only points — a Sam Hayward 29-yard field goal and a 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kurt Benkert to Olamide Zaccheaus – came in the second half, when the game was well out of reach.
Virginia Tech outgained the Hoos 579 yards to 247. Quarterback Jerod Evans totaled 291 yards of offense, including 253 yards passing and two touchdowns, while senior running back Sam Rogers rushed for 105 yards and two scores. Linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka became the third defensive player to score a touchdown against Virginia this month when he returned a Connor Brewer fumble 70 yards to push the Hokies’ lead to 45-3.
“They played very well from beginning to end, and in all phases,” Mendenhall said of Virginia Tech.
Senior Matt Johns got the nod for the second straight week as Virginia’s starting quarterback. However, he and Benkert rotated for the entire first half and early in the second. Mendenhall envisioned Johns bringing game management skills and better decision making while Benkert would provide a stronger arm and a deep threat.
Mendenhall’s decision backfired as the duo completed 13-of-36 passes for 139 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Johns, who was responsible for both picks, admitted he ”struggled a bit” with the rotation.
“It was hard to find my rhythm and really get a feel for the game,” he said.
Cavalier fans are well aware of the downfalls of a two-quarterback system. Mendenhall is not typically a proponent either, but against Virginia Tech he made an exception.
“It’s not ideal nor will [a 2-quarterback system] ever be ideal, but we did think in this game it would give us our best chance,” UVA’s head coach said.
UVA says goodbye to nine seniors who started today’s game, including Johns, tailback Taquan Mizzell, wide receiver Ryan Santoro, center Jackson Matteo, offensive tackle Eric Smith, nose tackle Donte Wilkins, linebacker Zach Bradshaw, safety Kelvin Rainey, and punter Nicholas Conte. Mizzell turned in a 113-yard rushing effort in his final game as a Cavalier, giving him over 2,000 yards rushing for his career.
Possible first-team all-ACC performers Micah Kiser (linebacker, junior) and Quin Blanding (free safety, junior) once again led the Hoos in tackles with 14 and 12, respectively. Kiser plans to return for his senior season, while Blanding’s future as a Cavalier is in question.
Postgame, Coach Mendenhall lamented how his team was ill prepared to compete against quality Virginia Tech team in a hostile environment. He is proud of the team’s resiliency, hard work, and belief in the coaches, noting that he did see progress despite the 2-10 campaign, his first losing season as a head coach.
“I saw a stretch in the season where almost every area we targeted was improved, and there was more consistent play and improvement throughout the year,” Mendenhall said.
Player development, physical maturity, mental resiliency, fundamental work, and building roster depth are areas Mendenhall will focus on this offseason. He’ll look at himself as well as he tries to come up with the best way of developing this program into a winner.