University of Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the media on Monday, October 4, for his latest weekly press conference of the 2021 season.
For the first time in two weeks, Coach Mendenhall’s team prepares for a game that will be played on a Saturday. Back-to-back short weeks preceded this Saturday’s 3:00 p.m. EST matchup at Louisville. UVA dropped the Friday, September 24 home matchup versus Wake Forest before edging out Miami last Thursday, September 30. Mendenhall says there is no guarantees of how his team will perform come gameday with the extra time off, but he is grateful to have it.
“Rest. Recover. Heal. Mentally and physically,” Mendenhall answered when asked how the extra time following Thursday night’s win impacts his team. “It’s been a taxing season so far. Really rapid pace, going from a Friday to a Thursday, and so I think everybody on the way home from Miami was just so thankful. It was hard to get the days right. So, yeah, it’s just good to be recalibrated. It doesn’t mean everything is magically now fixed and healed in terms of body parts or anything else, but the rest came at the right time.”
The extra time has enabled the coaching to get a head start on Louisville preparation, Mendenhall said. Virginia’s head coach adds that the coaches let the players focus on resting and recovering.
– De’Vante Cross missed the Miami game due to personal reasons. He is back and expected to play versus Louisville. The status of tight end Jelani Woods, defensive lineman Adeeb Atariwa, and placekicker Justin Duenkel is uncertain. Those three players missed the Miami game due to injury. Coach Mendenhall expects to have a clearer understanding of where they stand health-wise by Thursday.
– Not many changes on this week’s depth chart, but the recent offensive line shuffling is represented. The left tackle position lists Ryan Nelson OR Bobby Haskins, while the left guard spot lists Joe Bissinger OR Ryan Nelson. Haskins and Nelson played the majority of the snaps at left tackle and left guard against the Hurricanes.
Jonathan Leech, who played the second half of Virginia’s game against Wake Forest at left tackle as Nelson moved inside, is listed as the backup to starting right tackle Ryan Swoboda.
– North Dakota State graduate transfer Josh Hayes is not listed on the depth chart, but he is competing with sophomore Fentrell Cypress II for the starting cornerback spot opposite Anthony Johnson, Mendenhall said. Hayes, whose playing time has been hampered by an injury suffered in the preseason, saw a season-high 10 snaps against Miami.
Mendenhall noted that practice determines who the starter will be each week.
– Though he has not played, graduate student cornerback Joe Comer is a “bright spot” on the team according to Mendenhall. “Because of what he gives,” Mendenhall said, Comer, who is not on scholarship, is a “favorite” of the team. Comer and fellow former Louisville Cardinal Anthony Johnson are close friends who bring a lot of positivity to the team.
– Virginia’s Mandy Alonso was named ACC Defensive Lineman Of The Week for his performance against the Hurricanes. The Miami native had five tackles (four solo), three tackles for loss including two sacks, and led the charge on a first quarter safety that proved to be the difference in the game.
Defense Trends In Right Direction
Virginia’s defense was ravaged at North Carolina, surrendering 699 total yards and 59 points in the 20-point defeat. The following Friday, Wake Forest posted 473 yards and 37 points and scored on its first seven drives before the Cavaliers finally notched a stop. Miami posted 28 points and totaled 372 yards in UVA’s 2-point win last Thursday.
Work remains, but Mendenhall is pleased with the direction of the D.
“We’re addressing, and I see us just chipping away at it,” Mendenhall said. “There is clear progress being made everywhere from [the UNC game].”
“Yeah, I think we’re chipping away at, addressing, working on, and it’s showing yield,” Mendenhall continued. “We need to add consistency to it, but I see it happening. From not only the Miami game, but the Wake Forest game. I saw progress in both.”
Virginia’s victory over Miami was its first road win since November of 2019. The Hoos improve to 7-21 on the road in the Mendenhall era. The Cavalier head coach acknowledged increased emphasis on winning on the road heading into this, his sixth season in Charlottesville.
What could the win at Miami, where UVA had not won since 2011, mean moving forward?
“We’ve really worked hard to become more consistent and better, not only at home but on the road, and to have a tangible result that reflects progress is always important,” Mendenhall said. “It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived, but it was accomplished and that counts. It counts in any way that you can get it. Now we use that and build.”
UVA is looking to defeat Louisville at Louisville for the first time in the Mendenhall era on Saturday.