Notables From Bronco Mendenhall’s Weekly Monday Press Conference: Georgia Tech Week

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Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall is pleased with the effort shown in turning around the defense. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

Two days removed from his team’s 48-0 victory over Duke, University of Virginia head football coach Bronco Mendenhall met with the media for his latest weekly Monday press conference. Mendenhall discussed the improvement the Cavalier defense has made since North Carolina, true freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk, the running back corps and much more ahead of the Cavaliers’ October 23 matchup with Georgia Tech.

Our “notables” from Coach Mendenhall’s press conference are below. Pasted at the bottom of this article is a full transcript of Mendenhall’s presser.

A Defense On The Rise

Virginia football’s 2021 season could have taken a very tough turn following consecutive 20-point losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest that put the Hoos at 2-2 overall, 0-2 in the ACC. The Cavalier defense looked completely lost in Chapel Hill. The unit was more competent against Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons still seemed a level above Virginia, able to convert in key situations at will.

UVA kept working, though, and the defense improved. The defense was good enough for the Hoos to secure its first win at Miami in the Mendenhall era. UVA kept working, and the next week the defense was good enough to help secure a one-point win at Louisville, a place no UVA team had ever won before. UVA kept working some more, and this past Saturday the defense shut out a Duke offense that was averaging close to 500 yards of offense and over 30 points per game coming in.

“Relentless work,” Mendenhall answered when asked about the preparation involved in getting the defense from where it was versus UNC to where it was versus Duke. “I have high expectations that I’ve shared with all of our coaches and our players, and those are unyielding. There’s not much empathy or sympathy, but there is care and there is instruction and there is everything I can possibly do, but the standard is the standard, and they know that. So they’ve just worked — yeah, tirelessly is the right word to continue to improve, and I’m talking coaches and players alike. I’ve really been impressed and just thankful to see the results, tangible results that they can link to the way they’ve been training, which has been, yeah, really challenging.”

Mandy Alonso earned ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his play versus Duke. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

“To me, once the UNC game happened, we had more clarity as to what had to be improved,” Mendenhall said of the defense in response to a separate question. “We started addressing it immediately. I saw progress and re-progress, I guess, if that’s even a word, starting again, and that’s continued for the last three weeks.”

The next challenge for the Virginia D is a Georgia Tech offense led by dynamic dual-threat quarterback Jeff Sims, who is averaging 197.8 yards passing and 63.8 yards rushing per game this season.

“Yeah, it’s not hard to see on film,” Mendenhall said of Sims’ ability. “Really the ACC Coastal and in particular this week, there is capable players that are dynamic and explosive, and it just is always challenging. What I’ve found is just the more we focus on ourselves and our execution and our improvement, really the more consistent we become, so that’ll be our approach again.”

Injuries: Atariwa Out For The Season

Adeeb Atariwa, a projected starter at defensive end heading into 2021, is lost for the season following a second injury, Mendenhall reported. The Sterling (VA) native played in UVA’s season opener versus William & Mary, missed the Illinois and UNC games, and returned versus Wake Forest. Atariwa saw little action against the Demon Deacons before missing each of the past three games.

Atariwa arrived at UVA as a graduate transfer out of James Madison prior to the 2020 season. He played in all 10 games for the Hoos last season, finishing with 16 tackles including two sacks. It’s unclear whether Atariwa is eligible to apply for a medical redshirt – he redshirted in his four years at JMU. Mendenhall did not say outright that his UVA career is over.

“Yeah, Adeeb, his last injury will be season-ending, and so — wow, and a significant loss for us because he is such a good player and a great person,” Mendenhall said. “But he’s also really, really motivated academically, and that was a huge reason for him to come to UVA, so I’m not concerned about his future at all off the field, but he’s certainly being missed on the field, but we don’t anticipate his return this year.”

Atariwa is no longer listed on the newly released depth chart. As far as other injuries, Coach Mendenhall had no update on the status of starting right guard Chris Glaser, who played only 25 snaps (per Pro Football Focus) against Duke. Joe Bissinger, who started the first four games of the season at left guard before moving to a reserve role beginning in the second half of the Wake game, played 55 snaps at right guard with Glaser out.

More Notables: Devin Darrington, Jay Woolfolk & More

Common Opponents

Duke faced Georgia Tech and Virginia in consecutive weeks, losing by four points to the Yellow Jackets on a late fourth quarter drive before getting drilled in Scott Stadium. While UVA had a much easier time with the Blue Devils than Georgia Tech did, Mendenhall cautioned against comparing common opponents.

“I think it’s natural for anyone, grown-up or players. You look for comparisons,” Mendenhall said. “The film is helpful in identifying where you think your team might be and what the match-ups might look like and trying to assess talent and differential. So yeah, you look for comparative scores or teams that you’ve played. But wow, it’s both relevant and dangerous at the same time because there’s just so many things that go into that beyond what just that game looks like. Relevant and intriguing, you could argue yes. Non-relevant and dangerous, I think you could argue yes to that, as well. Somewhere in there would be my answer.”

First year quarterback Jay Woolfolk has impressed Bronco Mendenhall. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/TheSabre.com

Strong Praise For Woolfolk

Redshirt freshman Ira Armstead remains listed on the depth chart as Brennan Armstrong’s primary backup. However, with UVA holding a big lead and Armstrong receiving a fourth-quarter rest, true freshman signal caller Jay Woolfolk was the next quarterback on the field for the Hoos last Saturday afternoon.

Woolfolk proceeded to rush for 30 yards while leading UVA on a touchdown-scoring drive.

“Yeah, I like about everything,” Mendenhall answered when asked about the development of the true freshman quarterback. “He’s really skilled as a runner, as a decision maker, as a football player, and he throws it really well. I couldn’t be happier about his development and where he stands and sits, and currently as the successor to Brennan, really bright future ahead for him and us.”

While “currently” leaves open the possibility of another player (Armstead, Rodriguez or someone else) reaching successor status, Mendenhall’s final sentence was eyebrow-raising.

”The Deepest Position”

Coach Mendenhall continues like the depth at running back.

“Yeah, it’s been the deepest position from the beginning of the season on, and it’s hard to play five running backs,” Mendenhall said. “But man, they’ve been really close from the very, very, very beginning, not only Wayne [Taulapapa] and Michael [Hollins] but then Devin [Darrington] and Ronnie [Walker Jr.]. Yeah, it’s a good situation to be in for us, and we’ve already seen not all four are healthy any given week, and sometimes only two. But there’s very little dropoff regardless of who goes in. You hardly notice, and that’s a great position to be in for us.”

Hollins missed the Duke game with an injury. Taulapapa played, rushing five times for 19 yards. In the second half Darrington and Walker Jr. scored their first touchdowns as Cavaliers. Darrington, a graduate transfer from Harvard, rushed five times for a team-high 60 yards and a score versus the Blue Devils. The 5’9”, 215-pound back had a 26-yard run Mendenhall called one of his favorite plays of the year.

“So graduate transfer recruitment is really different than regular recruitment, but just productivity and toughness and physicality, and the same things that we saw in the runs that he had on Saturday,” Mendenhall said when asked what appealed to him when recruiting Darrington. “He’s tough and he’s physical and he’s productive.

“Anytime a player arrives, especially if they don’t arrive mid-year as a grad transfer, it’s tough to get up to speed and within the scheme and adjusted and execution sound, especially if there’s competition early season, and so Devin is just coming into his own,” Mendenhall continued. “The capability has always been there, right, it’s just getting adjusted and having the opportunities and earning the opportunities. But man, he ran really well on Saturday.”

Mendenhall added that Harvard grad is “fiercely competitive and has high standards for himself, so he’s been a great fit so far.”

Links

– Four Cavaliers – QB Brennan Armstrong, WR Dontayvion Wicks, OL Bobby Haskins and DL Mandy Alonso earned ACC Player of the Week honors at their respective positions for their performances against Duke. Wicks shared the receiver honor with North Carolina’s Josh Downs.

Click here for the full depth chart for Georgia Tech week

– It was announced that UVA’s October 30 matchup at BYU will kick off at 10:15 p.m. EST. ESPN2 will televise.

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF BRONCO MENDENHALL’S OCTOBER 18 PRESS CONFERENCE, COURTESY OF VIRGINIA ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS

Q. When a team is going through a rough patch, the coach gets questions about fixing problems on offense and defense and keeping the players unified and together. When a team is playing well and winning, what are the biggest challenges for a coaching staff when things are going well?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, yeah, I think that’s a really good question. I’m not sure there’s one answer. So much of it has to do with the team, the stage of year, maybe the experience level of the team.

I think probably I’ll just default to the basic idea that most of us with success have a tendency to become more comfortable, less urgent, and a little bit more self-important, and so I think that’s just kind of human nature.

Really I work hard just to make sure as an antidote to that that things remain the same in terms of our routine, that there’s not a giant high or a giant low, and the focus is on improvement. If I am right, that’s what I choose to do about it.

Q. Do you rely more on your captains and team leaders in situations like that, too, to really kind of convey that message?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think you’d certainly like to, and it always is most impactful leadership if it comes peer to peer, and so then you assess your leadership and kind of their state of mind and how they’re performing and how they’re leading, and man, that’s ideal. So any time that’s possible and appropriate, yeah, that’s the most impactful in my mind, and usually the most effective.

Q. In terms of the mentality of your defense after those two bad performances and the losses to Wake (Forest) and (North) Carolina, did you see a loss of confidence? Did you have to spend any time kind of building that back up? What was going on emotionally there?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: No, I didn’t. Again, I know that they’re lumped together because they were losses, but I don’t lump those together. To me the UNC game was separate and distinct. Wake (Forest) seems to be scoring about the same amount of points no matter who they play, and they have for years. I saw improvement in that game.

To me, once the UNC game happened, we had more clarity as to what had to be improved. We started addressing it immediately. I saw progress and re-progress, I guess, if that’s even a word, starting again, and that’s continued for the last three weeks.

Q. Hunter (Stewart) kind of mention(ed) to us some of the things you’ve done with bringing back the walk-up, the guys coming off the sideline. Why did you make that move? When did you do it? And what was kind of your message behind that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was really Coach (Nick) Howell, so Nick has been with me for 16 years, or 15 of the 16, and that’s really how the culture and the expectations and the precision of what we’ve done, it’s been a core component.

Early on with a mature and experienced team coming back, my focus was on ensuring that they return healthy and be ready to play by the first couple games, which they did and were effective. After the UNC game we saw some holes in possibly our cultural development and expectations, and so actually Coach Howell’s decision was to do that, and I supported it, as well as a few other things, which really get to kind of just the basics of what we think are foundational to building really good defense. So that credit goes to Coach Howell.

Q. Sticking with the defense, you talked about seeing the improvement from UNC to Wake Forest and you’ve talked about improvement each week. What has this past month been like that for the defensive side of the ball and those coaches for them to get to this level where y’all can have a shutout against Duke?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, relentless work. I have high expectations that I’ve shared with all of our coaches and our players, and those are unyielding. There’s not much empathy or sympathy, but there is care and there is instruction and there is everything I can possibly do, but the standard is the standard, and they know that. So they’ve just worked — yeah, tirelessly is the right word to continue to improve, and I’m talking coaches and players alike. I’ve really been impressed and just thankful to see the results, tangible results that they can link to the way they’ve been training, which has been, yeah, really challenging.

Q. When you have a week off, what do you find to be most crucial, the opportunity for players to get better, the opportunity to do more presentation or more self-scouting? What’s the biggest benefit in that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, it really depends on the time of year that you get an off week and what your current team, what the assessment is and how they’re doing. For us, by the time our bye week happens this year, a lot of it is just be recovery and renewal, and so they’ll be weight training and conditioning, but probably not nearly as much football during the bye week, and we might get a day, maybe a day and a half of the next opponent’s preparation, but when it’s that late in the season after game 8 or 9 and you’re usually just trying to reinvigorate your team, if you’re pleased with how they’re playing, and if you’re not, then sometimes there’s young player development that happens, but really any extra work at that time has diminishing returns because you’re running out of depth and your roster management becomes an issue.

So really rest and renewal mentally and physically becomes paramount if you’re talking about games 8, 9 or 10 later in the year.

Q. You guys are tied with Georgia Tech in the Coastal (Division), and I know your guys do a pretty good job being singular game ahead focused and all, but is it natural for a player to look and see that you guys beat Duke 48-0 and Georgia Tech needed a touchdown in the last minute to beat Duke?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s natural for anyone, grown-up or players. You look for comparisons. The film is helpful in identifying where you think your team might be and what the match-ups might look like and trying to assess talent and differential. So yeah, you look for comparative scores or teams that you’ve played. But wow, it’s both relevant and dangerous at the same time because there’s just so many things that go into that beyond what just that game looks like.

Relevant and intriguing, you could argue yes. Non-relevant and dangerous, I think you could argue yes to that, as well. Somewhere in there would be my answer.

Q. Is it a positive for you as coaches to see that in that Duke game, (Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff) Sims was a dominant player and to kind of know what he presents, what kind of problems he presents?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s not hard to see on film. Really the ACC Coastal and in particular this week, there is capable players that are dynamic and explosive, and it just is always challenging. What I’ve found is just the more we focus on ourselves and our execution and our improvement, really the more consistent we become, so that’ll be our approach again.

Q. I have kind of an off-the-wall question. I think all of your coaches are on the field and none in the booth, in terms of the actual 10 coaches. I’m not sure I’m right about that, but I think most of them are down there, and that’s a little bit unusual. What do you like about kind of the split of who you have downstairs and upstairs?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we have one defensive coach up in Shane Hunter. Let’s see, am I right with that? Yeah, and most of our coaches that are up are younger coaches, and that really models how we communicate in practice and what the assignments are. Yeah, I like consistency, and so I don’t like on game day now new roles and new responsibilities that we’re not as clear with, defined or skilled at. Our practices, the expectation is to manage and communicate very similar to a game and to see and correct things in real time, and yeah, that’s just the path that I’ve chosen in relation to this current staff’s skill set and this particular team.

Q. With Devin Darrington, what’s something that you remember from his recruitment when you were looking at him as a transfer? What kind of stood out about him?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, so graduate transfer recruitment is really different than regular recruitment, but just productivity and toughness and physicality, and the same things that we saw in the runs that he had on Saturday. He’s tough and he’s physical and he’s productive.

Anytime a player arrives, especially if they don’t arrive mid-year as a grad transfer, it’s tough to get up to speed and within the scheme and adjusted and execution sound, especially if there’s competition early season, and so Devin is just coming into his own. The capability has always been there, right, it’s just getting adjusted and having the opportunities and earning the opportunities. But man, he ran really well on Saturday.

Q. What does it say about him that he’s so willing to play the other parts of the team, like special teams, doing the dirty work like that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it just means he’s a great fit at UVA. Any chance you have to be on the field for UVA we think is a privilege, and I have a basic principle that when a graduate transfer is being considered, I have to like him, and like him means unselfish. He certainly is, but he’s also fiercely competitive and has high standards for himself, so he’s been a great fit so far.

Q. The last two weeks you guys have done a really good job of stopping or containing the other team’s top pressure in (Malik) Cunningham and (Mataeo) Durant. Other than just hard work and focus, was there any specific things you guys did to really make those improvements?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think you hit on two of them, right, so the focus of what needed to be addressed, what would give us our best chance to possibly have success, and wow, then lots of hard work, and that isn’t just on-field work, that’s the mental part to ensure that we know what’s coming, how it’s going to be blocked and then fit it correctly. That doesn’t mean you necessarily stop everything, but if you can target the things that maybe the other team is most skilled at and is at the core of their identity and really do a nice job there, then you really have a good chance to, if they are going to have success, they’ve got to beat you with their complements, and they have to do things other than what they would like to do most, and I like that approach.

Q. Is Sims different in terms of a running quarterback unlike Cunningham? Is he more of a threat?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Man, it’s hard to say, and comparisons are always kind of partially accurate. I really thought Cunningham was a dynamic player and a really skilled offensive football player, and I would say the same in regards to our challenge this week. They’re not identical, but yeah, really capable.

Q. Between Hunter Stewart and Josh Ahern and West Weeks, with the playing time they’ve all gotten the first half of the season, how much deeper do you feel like you are at linebacker compared to maybe in August?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, a lot deeper in terms of known depth. We saw it on paper, but we weren’t sure how consistent and really how productive, and in which positions, what complements of who to play where, and that just continues to be more and more and more clear, and it gives us a chance to play harder longer defensively as there’s more substitution, more rotation, but also more competition. Not only amongst those three and those playing in front of him, but those three and who of those three will play most, but they do it, and we have designed it in a really nice kind of chemistry where there’s nothing divisive about it, it’s the collective. Yeah, I think we’re just starting to kind of come into our own there.

Q. We’ve talked about the depth at receiver, but in terms of the running back situation when Wayne (Taulapapa) was out for a bit, Mike (Hollins) was out this past game, and it’s the two transfers in Ronnie Walker and Devin Darrington who are stepping up and both of them scoring in this last game, so what are you kind of seeing in terms of the competition and the camaraderie of that running back room?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, it’s been the deepest position from the beginning of the season on, and it’s hard to play five running backs. But man, they’ve been really close from the very, very, very beginning, not only Wayne and Michael but then Devin (Darrington) and Ronnie (Walker).

Yeah, it’s a good situation to be in for us, and we’ve already seen not all four are healthy any given week, and sometimes only two. But there’s very little dropoff regardless of who goes in. You hardly notice, and that’s a great position to be in for us.

Q. Jay Woolfolk got extended reps the other day and played a lot in the fourth quarter, kind of showed off his feet more than his arm. Where is he in his development as a quarterback and what do you like about him?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I like about everything. He’s really skilled as a runner, as a decision maker, as a football player, and he throws it really well. I couldn’t be happier about his development and where he stands and sits, and currently as the successor to Brennan, really bright future ahead for him and us.

Q. Chris Glaser, unless I missed it, do you have an update on his health?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I don’t.

Q. Do you have anticipate there being a long-term issue there?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Man, I never know. But I hope not. But I don’t have any more information.

Q. Josh Ahern started the game at linebacker; I think that was new. Was that about the match-up or about his performance in practice? What was behind that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Performance in practice. Every practice repetition is graded, and that’s determining our starting 11 defensively. Yeah, practice doesn’t kinda matter; it’s graded like a game every day, and that’s determining by higher, by increased expectations who gets the chance to go out first.

Q. What do you like about (Josh) Ahern?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s instinctive, and he really, really cares about this team.

Q. And then this is the weird one, but I know it’s evolving and you’re learning about it as you go, but with the name, image, likeness stuff, there are teams in the conference that are very rural, Clemson, Virginia Tech, there are teams that are in cities where they have lots of business but pro teams to compete with. What do you think about Charlottesville as an NIL market, advantage, disadvantage? How do you view that?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Still learning. Still considering and still kind of pondering. There are unique opportunities here for sure.

I love competing through differentiation and really not being anyone else, and UVA is certainly not anybody else and not anywhere else, and there’s a unique brand and a unique advantage and a unique identity that can come with that. So possibly whatever we do, I think it’s very specific and very unique and very differentiated to UVA, to Charlottesville and the unique makeup of our institution. That’s about as far as I am right now.

Q. Looking back at the offensive line, obviously they came in with a lot of high expectations for this season, but how do you see them at this point? I know dropping back is going to create more sacks or more opportunities for the defense, and then also when you do decide to run, giving those backs those open holes, how have you kind of assessed their play so far?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think they’re playing really well, and I think the easiest way to gauge it is points scored and if your quarterback is playing. If the quarterback is throwing and catching and completing and moving the team, that means he’s comfortable, confident and able to be poised. And then you have enough of a running game to keep pressure off, so yeah, I think Brennan (Armstrong) is playing well and we’re scoring a lot of points because of and through the offensive front. Mistakes there are visible just like in the secondary, and they’re normally easy to point out, but proportionately, yeah, really not reflective of the collective in terms of volume, and so yeah, I think we’re doing a really nice job so far.

Q. Have you seen just players kind of — is there any added pressure now that kind of some of the other games have gone in your favor, to jump back into this coastal race? Have you seen players take that pressure on or are they playing free out there, just at will, whatever happens will happen?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, I don’t think it’s free, and I don’t think it’s added pressure. I think it’s just acknowledging the brutal facts of the Coastal Division and that every single game matters and preparing as such, and anything beyond that, it just gets in the way.

Yeah, we know all of that, and okay, what exactly do we have to do within our assignment, our technique and our effort, and that’s really what we can control, and considering any of the other things is just noise.

Q. Billy Kemp is tied with Heath Miller now for all-time receptions, and you’ve told the story of seeing him in camp initially. How has he improved over his time here because he does a lot of things well but he’s definitely gotten better as he’s gone along? *Note he passed Heath Miller (144 receptions), Kemp now has 150 receptions)

BRONCO MENDENHALL: His capacity to work. He is so consistent in practice, and he works so hard. He’s one of the best workers/practice players on the field that I’ve seen and that I’ve coached, and he just is — and he’s so tough. I mean, he takes so many plays. He plays so many plays, and he takes so many hits, and he does so many things, and he just is so durable, and mentally and physically he’s really tough.

So I would just say his capacity, his maturity, his productivity, all of those things have increased, and it’s really impressive.

Q. You mentioned how different it is recruiting the transfer market; how reassuring was it when you were recruiting Devin to see that he had a government degree from Harvard?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: (Laughing) Yeah, that vetting didn’t take nearly as long because of that.

Q. The NCAA recently — you’re not impacted a lot by transfers leaving the program, but allowing up to seven additional initial counters, do you think that’s a good step?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I think it’s essential. Again, if you just go back a hair further, right, that every player was granted an extra year during COVID but then we were given no structure to have that stay because we were accountable for the 85 after one year, then that makes no sense. In essence really only one class got an extra year, and then everyone else we have to choose between existing players on our team or bringing a new player in from high school, and if they want their extra year they have to go elsewhere or we can’t bring someone else.

How it was presented and what actually it meant, those things didn’t match.

This gives you a chance, right, if a player leaves for the NFL, if he chooses to transfer, if anything else, at least it gives you a chance to manage your roster effectively and for the players to make the most of a unique situation in a worldwide pandemic and for coaches to maintain integrity because so many of us now, we don’t know for sure who’s going to stay after this year, and yet we’re recruiting players, high school players, and they want to choose UVA, and we don’t know for sure if we’re going to have a position.

This gives a little bit more leeway to that, but it’s unprecedented the position that we’re in right now.

Q. Being the competitor that (Dontayvion) Wicks is, he said the other day that when he gets one-on-one coverage, he considers it disrespect and makes him more motivated to get open and catch the ball. What’s your reaction when you see one-on-one coverage to him and some of your guys, and now that they’re so successful, are you seeing less man-to-man or just about the same?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, yeah. So all of that is a good question. I think any competitor, if there is a one-on-one match-up, they would like to win that match-up. That’s something that’s, I think, inherent to the game of football where it’s one repetition and there’s 11 match-up battles out there, or 10, based on how you view the quarterback. So I think you’d want everyone to feel and think that on your team when they had a one-on-one.

Yeah, we’re seeing lots of different things from more man to more zone to more drop eight to more pressure and all different approaches. We’re never quite sure which one the opponent will move to and how far they’ll deviate from their identity, but it becomes clearer as the game unfolds. But we are seeing variation for sure.

Q. Adeeb (Atariwa) hasn’t played in a few weeks, and I notice he’s not listed on the depth chart this week. I was wondering if there was any update on him.

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, Adeeb, his last injury will be season-ending, and so — wow, and a significant loss for us because he is such a good player and a great person. But he’s also really, really motivated academically, and that was a huge reason for him to come to UVA, so I’m not concerned about his future at all off the field, but he’s certainly being missed on the field, but we don’t anticipate his return this year.

Q. I think you’ve talked a little bit about this previously, but how do you feel about — obviously it’s been tested without him these last few weeks, the guys behind him getting more experience and getting more comfortable in those roles?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, that’s just what’s happening. They’re getting more experienced and more comfortable, and you really just, like most teams at this point, you don’t have your ideal roster left. But the next person steps up and does the best they can, and we adjust and develop and work and adjust and develop and work, and that’s what’s been happening.

Q. This is kind of an oddity that I noticed, but your top three most productive running backs all missed a season that wasn’t a redshirt season, but Wayne missed two for mission work. The other two guys missed it for COVID and didn’t play football, didn’t practice, any of that. Have you guys done anything special to kind of get them back up to speed?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hmm, I think in all of those players’ cases, they’re really motivated, and so they trained and did what they could to ensure they were ready, which is the best thing, and then they returned soon enough where we had enough time to integrate them back into our system, and they were certainly motivated because they had missed some football. So their motivation with their personal preparation and then with enough time and work ethic once they returned, it was pretty seamless.

Q. What kind of gratification do you draw from watching Devin (Darrington) rip off that big run the other day?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was one of my favorite plays of the year. Harvard education with a UVA education with touchdown carries, that’s a good spot to be in.

Q. You’ve praised specifically the student section but the fan turnout early in the year, very strong. It was not as strong this past week. Obviously there was rain; I understand that. What do you think of where you’re at right now with fan support? Are you hoping it will be better for this night game?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I’d love to improve everything in our program, so everything we do is intentional and step by step, and that’s just one of the areas of the program I’d like to continue to see grow and become and improve.

I’m thankful for the support we do have. I’m thankful for the fans that are there. I love the ones that stayed through the rain and everything. I’m grateful for the support we do have, and we’ll look to continue to improve that just like the other areas of our program.

Q. I don’t know if you’ve been told this, but they announced your BYU game has a 10:15 p.m. kickoff. Just your initial reaction to a game that late?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I didn’t know, and nothing I can say or do about it other than we’re playing Georgia Tech.

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