The University of Virginia football program added another “first” this season this past Sunday, when it was officially announced as the ACC representative in the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl. Of UVA’s now 21 postseason bowl selections, this is the first time the Cavaliers will play in the Orange Bowl, one of the most prestigious bowls in the nation. This is the 86th year of the event.
Virginia, ranked No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings, will take on the No. 9 Florida Gators at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, on December 30. Kickoff is 8 p.m.
Despite the disappointment of losing by 45 points to No. 3 Clemson in Saturday’s ACC Championship game in Charlotte, Virginia players were already starting to turn their attention to what will be the program’s third bowl game in the past three seasons.
“We didn’t want it to work out like this, but, I mean, we have another game,” Cavalier senior wide receiver Hasise Dubois said immediately following UVA’s first-ever appearance in the ACC title contest. “We can’t sulk too much.”
“Our program is not built on dwelling on the past or being faltered by bad games,” redshirt junior cornerback Nick Grant said. “We are a team that’s resilient, and we learn from our mistakes.”
Winning the bowl “is one of our goals we have for this year, and that would really put a stamp on where we are after this season,” Grant added. “It is a matter of building, building, building. We’re big on unbroken growth.”
A win over a 10-2 Gators squad would be more than just a bowl win for this Virginia program. It would give UVA a 10-win season for just the second time in school history. The late George Welsh is the only UVA head coach to accomplish this feat, leading the Hoos to a 10-3 mark in 1989.
In addition to the three bowl appearances, Cavalier head coach Bronco Mendenhall has guided the program to its first Commonwealth Cup since 2003 as well as the school’s first ACC Coastal Division title since taking over in December of 2015. Mendenhall knows the importance of playing well on a big stage, calling the Orange Bowl berth a “huge opportunity” for Virginia.
“There is credibility that comes with [playing in high-profile games like the nationally-televised Commonwealth Cup, the ACC Championship, and now the Orange Bowl], and when you have that, playing at a high level magnifies that and accelerates your program in a way that it can’t be done in lesser games or with lesser exposure,” Mendenhall said.
“They’re essential for national prominence and perception, which is why it’s so important to leverage those opportunities with quality play and quality preparation,” Mendenhall said. “We are adjusting and growing into those stages.”
The Dan Mullen-led Gators will present significant challenges for the Hoos. Florida boasts 10 wins, and its two losses have come to No. 1 LSU and No. 5 Georgia. Junior quarterback Kyle Trask, who took over for an injured Felipe Franks during Week 3’s contest at Kentucky and rallied the Gators to 29-21 victory in Lexington, has enjoyed a breakout season, completing 213-of-315 passes for 2,636 yards with 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Virginia’s secondary has gone from strong to suspect because of injuries to starters Bryce Hall and Brenton Nelson. The Hoos had no answer for Clemson’s vaunted passing attack. They’ll have to find one to compete with a Florida team that relies heavily on a quality passing game. Meanwhile, the Virginia offense should be a confident group. Quarterback Bryce Perkins and company posted only 17 points against Clemson, but that was the second-most the Tigers’ outstanding D had surrendered all season. The Hoos became the first team to post over 300 yards of total offense against Clemson.
Perkins as always was the catalyst for this Hoos offense; however, the offensive line also performed well against the Tigers. As did the Virginia’s wide receivers, highlighted by an exceptional 10-catch, 130-yard, 1-touchdown performance from Dubois, who is having the best season of his career with 65 catches for 979 yards and four touchdowns.
“Our coaches told us, just live up to the moment,” Dubois said of his huge performance against Clemson. “Don’t let the big stage get you scared and everything. It’s just another game. I basically went out there and, no matter if it was in Scott Stadium, at Clemson, or here at Panthers Stadium I just play my game.”
Many more Cavaliers will have to “live up to the moment” for Virginia to take down Florida. The hope for the Cavaliers is that playing against a program the caliber of Clemson, which is competing for a second consecutive national title, will help the Hoos against another top-flight opponent on December 30.
“Amazing learnings already we have to apply and hopefully leverage instantly and immediately in this next game,” Mendenhall said.
Tale of the Tape: The 2019 Orange Bowl
Florida and Virginia have two common opponents, Miami and Florida State. The Gators won a sloppy game over the Hurricanes in the season opener, 24-20, and blew out Florida State, 40-17, at home to end their regular season. UVA defeated Florida State, 31-24, at home in September before falling to the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium, 17-9, in October.
Here are the side-by-side comparisons between the two teams in some top statistical categories.
Florida – 33 points per game
UVA – 32.4 points per game
Florida – 420.7 yards per game
UVA – 390 yards per game
Florida – 300.4 YPG; No. 17 in the nation; 32 TD, 9 INT
UVA – 263.5 YPG; 19 TD, 14 INT
Florida – 120.3 YPG
UVA – 126.5 YPG
Third-Down Conversion Percentage
Florida – 40.7%
UVA – 45.8%; No. 24 in the nation
Red Zone Offense
Florida – 84%; scored 34 touchdowns (21 pass, 13 rush), 8 field goals in 50 attempts
UVA – 87.7%; scored 40 touchdowns (25 rush, 15 pass), 17 field goals in 65 attempts
Florida – 14.4 PPG; No. 8 in the nation; Has allowed 19 touchdowns and 13 field goals
UVA – 26.5 PPG
Florida – 299 YPG; No. 10 in the nation
UVA – 358.2 YPG
Passing Yards Allowed
Florida – 192 YPG; No. 17 in the nation
UVA – 228.2 YPG
Florida – 107 YPG; No. 12 in the nation; 3.23 YPC
UVA – 130 YPG; No. 30 in the nation; 3.65 YPC
Florida – 3.83 sacks per game; No. 4 in the nation
UVA – 3.46 sacks per game; No. 7 in the nation
Red Zone Defense
Florida – 64.5% scoring; No. 2 in the nation; 20 scores (11 TDs, 9 FGs) in 31 attempts
UVA – 82.5% scoring; 33 scores (24 TDs, 9 FGs) in 40 attempts
Third-Down Conversion Percentage Defense
Florida – 36.3%
UVA – 35.3%
Florida – 22 (15 INTs and 7 fumble recoveries); Tied for No. 18 in the nation
UVA – 17 (11 INTs and 6 fumble recoveries)
Florida – 17 (9 INTs, 8 fumbles lost)
UVA – 20 (14 INTs, 6 fumbles lost)