Rebounding from a third quarter miss, Virginia football senior placekicker Brian Delaney connected on a 42-yard field goal to bring the Hoos even with Wake Forest, 23-23, with 13:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. Seemingly in the blink of an eye – one minute, 50 seconds, to be precise – UVA trailed Wake Forest, 37-23. The Hoos were unable to overcome the deficit, ultimately falling to the Demon Deacons, 40-23.
Saturday’s loss in Winston-Salem is UVA’s third straight defeat, something the program has not experienced since 2017. Barring a complete turnaround, this team will not be able to match what the previous three Cavalier squads accomplished, which was to improve the program’s win total from the year before. Wins and losses aren’t all that matter, though, as the culture of competitiveness and hard work will certainly be tested as the Hoos face a difficult next two weeks with matchups against Miami and North Carolina.
Asked if the early 2020 difficulties have impacted the run of “unbroken growth” the program has experienced in his first four years, Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said: “I think, in terms of the same pace, it certainly is. This is more resetting or reestablishing or rebecoming with this particular team and these set of circumstances at this time. There’s not much that’s normal or typical right now, and so I don’t see what’s happening currently as a continuation of where we’ve been. This is more now a reestablishing, a resetting, and, quite frankly, re-finding and identifying what this particular team can be skilled at, how we have success. That formula, as we’re finding, again with the different moving pieces, is changing. We’re having to adapt to the best we can. I just want the mindset, the effort, and the competitive spirit to remain, and the execution will catch up at some point. That’s my message to our team currently.”
UVA’s lack of focus in the first half of the previous week’s loss to NC State was surprising as it went against the culture that had been developed the previous four years. The effort and focus returned on Saturday against Wake before big plays surrendered and crucial turnovers once again kept the Cavaliers from being in a position to win down the stretch.
Following Delaney’s game-tying field goal, Virginia’s defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown run to Wake running back Kenneth Walker III. UVA running back Perris Jones muffed the ensuing kickoff. Wake recovered, and Walker III scored on a 9-yard touchdown moments later to put his team up by 14.
“We had a lot better energy, a lot better focus this week,” Virginia senior cornerback Nick Grant said. “We just have to match that with our execution and give us the best chance to win each game.”
A fourth straight loss – something the program has also not experienced since 2017 – is on the line when the Hoos face Miami, which defeated Pittsburgh 31-19 on Saturday to move to 4-1 on the season. UVA has defeated Miami just once in the Mendenhall era.
Injuries are making matters more difficult for the Cavaliers. Starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong missed the Wake Forest game because of a concussion, and Coach Mendenhall is unsure of his status for Miami. In addition, the Hoos saw three key secondary players – safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson, and cornerback De’Vante Cross – leave the Wake Forest game due to injury.
A positive sign as far as maintaining the “new standard” mindset are comments from two of UVA’s young up-and-coming stars.
“Basically, you know, our culture is pretty solidified on this team,” said sophomore defensive tackle Jowon Briggs, who tallied two sacks against Wake Forest. “So, we all know, we, you know, watch the film, watch the film come back and get right down to working. You know, there’s no slippage as far as people feeling sorry for themselves or people pointing the finger at others, you know, we all know we got to put our noses down and get to work and get this culture back where it needs to be.”
How UVA can turn the season around “starts in practice,” Virginia sophomore inside linebacker Nick Jackson said. “We have to come out Monday with a great practice, set the tone for the week, and then just got to build on that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Got to win the week all the way up to Saturday.”
What are the correct expectations for the 2020 Virginia Cavalier football program? Maintaining competitiveness and effort is a must, Mendenhall said, and if those things hold, hopefully the execution – and wins – will follow.
“Really what turning anything around does, it starts inside then works out,” Mendenhall said. “So, first of all the mindset and the competitive spirit and the work ethic, I was really impressed and encouraged by what I saw all weekend and throughout the game tonight. Then it’s the execution and the identities as those continue to flesh out, and flesh out with different players changing through injury, etc. And so, a little bit of a moving target right now. So mindset is mindset and work ethic and preparation is what we can control. Then eventually that will lead to execution at some point, if we remain diligent and when we remain diligent.”