The University of Virginia football program saw its November 28 matchup with Florida State postponed the morning of gameday because of coronavirus issues within the Seminoles program. UVA was in Tallahassee when they received the news. The ever-resilient Cavaliers are looking forward, though, focusing now on the 2020 home finale against Boston College this Saturday.
Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall sees this week’s opponent, the Boston College Eagles, as a “great matchup,” adding that the final home game for many seniors could be an “exceptional” game.
Paraphrased as always, here is a recap of Coach Mendenhall’s latest weekly Monday press conference in the 2020 season.
”We can do better …”
The “we” Mendenhall is referring to in this instance is the ACC and their current COVID-19 protocols.
The Virginia football program waited until after 6 p.m. last Friday night for all COVID-19 test results to come in before making the trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State. The Seminoles received the results of their final tests on Saturday morning, and when those results came in, they realized they had to postpone the game. The visitors had to get back on a flight and return to Charlottesville.
Teams finding out the results of Friday tests on gameday is nothing new, Mendenhall said. That is the norm with most programs. But he believes the conference should change the protocol to have all Friday test results in on Friday at the appropriate time to prevent what happened to the Cavaliers from happening again. Mendenhall believes Florida State head coach Mike Norvell wanted to play the game and was hopeful of playing the game. His issue is more with conference policy, calling it “unacceptable” that teams find out Friday test results on Saturday.
The UVA football players have put in tremendous effort to play this season and to be a dependable program in terms of the ability to play on a weekly basis. This further underscores the fact that the conference can do better about the current policies.
As for the future of the Florida State game, Mendenhall says he has “no interest” in a return trip to Tallahassee. His focus instead is on preparing his team to face Boston College and Virginia Tech in the next consecutive Saturdays. He’s anxious to play the Eagles and Hokies, and then to see if they play well enough to earn postseason consideration.
Asked if Virginia is considering a postseason opportunity should one arise, Mendenhall said it is up to the players. His job is to help the players accomplish their goals. If they want to play in the postseason, Mendenhall will help them do that.
– The UVA players “didn’t blink” when told the Florida State game was being postponed. The main focus was on what was next, including if the game was going to be rescheduled. There was no drama among the Cavalier players.
– Bronco Mendenhall’s first full class as head coach was the 2017 Class that included Charles Snowden, Zane Zandier, Joey Blount, Chris Glaser and more. Mendenhall credits the group as being the ”foundational class which has allowed the program to improve every single year.”
The class of 2017 has been instrumental in establishing the culture that now exists in the Virginia football program. This culture helped the program endure through such a challenge year as this one. Mendenhall is “thankful” and “appreciative” for all of their contributions. He wants them to finish out the 2020 season with two wins.
– Starting senior safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have been sidelined since the Wake Forest game due to injury. Could they return for the final home game this week? Mendenhall called the situation, “pending.” He said Blount is closer than Nelson and that he is hopeful one or both will return.
– Virginia football has been impacted much more by injury this season than in a typical year. Mendenhall says the amount of time players had to stay at home before coming back to Grounds for training is the biggest factor.
– Decision-making, accuracy and arm-strength are things that have impressed Mendenhall about sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong.
Comparing Armstrong with New Orleans Saints and former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, the similarities are competitive spirit, optimism, leadership, and ability to make plays. Hill is unmatched in terms of true speed and athleticism. Armstrong does not have the same measurables but is wily and clever and makes plays.
– Being long and tall and fast and athletic, senior outside linebacker Elliott Brown has potential and Mendenhall is excited for the opportunity he has these next two games. With Charles Snowden sidelined, Brown will have a significant role in a rotation with Noah Taylor and Matt Gahm at ouside linebacker.
– Coach Mendenhall makes no secret that this season has been extremely challenging. His players, though, have provided him with motivation and daily inspiration with the character and leadership they have exhibited.
Virginia football has been exceptional in terms of avoiding COVID-19-related absences. Boston College has as well, as the Eagles have had zero positive cases this season. Mendenhall commended the Boston College program for this achievement, adding that this has helped them continue to improve throughout the year. UVA’s head coach also likes what they are doing on the field.
The Eagles (6-4) compete, show a strong culture and schemes, and have a design that fits the personnel well in all three areas. They play good complementary football (a term you will hear Virginia coaches say a lot). Mendenhall praised first year head coach Jeff Hafley and company for their accomplishments in combining efficient football with what they have achieved in terms of COVID-19 in a shortened season.
Boston College teams of recent years have featured a tough rushing attack. This year, the offense is more pass-heavy with more possession throws and more play-action throws. Mendenhall credits the new coach and staff coming in and recognizing the personnel and adjusting to the personnel. He also likes Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF BRONCO MENDENHALL’S NOVEMBER 30 PRESS CONFERENCE, COURTESY OF VIRGINIA ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I am impressed and continued to be inspired by my team, their commitment, their diligence, their readiness to compete and their consistency. They’ve answered the call for every game, whether we’ve been at full health or not. Full roster or not. Home or away. And they’re allowing college football to be played with UVA not being to this point one of the factors that you’re not sure what’s gonna happen. There’s a lot of work that could still be done regarding protocols and regarding ensuring that when you make a trip that you actually have a chance to play the game. I have expressed those concerns and ideas to the ACC as has Carla [Williams]. And we can do better is my sincere belief. I think that [head coach Mike] Norvell absolutely wanted to play the game. I think he was hoping we would play the game. Unfortunately, policies and other things prevented us from making an unnecessary trip. We waited until after 6pm on Friday to ensure all of our results were back and all were negative. And it doesn’t seem like too much to ask for anyone that’s playing in college football to have their test in and reported negative before the opponent gets on the airplane to leave.
So we’re looking forward now to our next home game. Our last home game for our seniors at Scott Stadium. And a great matchup and what I think could be an exceptional football game. So I’ll take questions.
Q: Do you have any sense of how the situation in Tallahassee affected your players? Do they come back more eager to play, or are they getting to a point where they start to wonder if it’s all worth it, everything you’ve had to go through all year?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I didn’t sense any of that. They didn’t even blink. They just they knew they’d done everything they could do. Again, we tested, waited all the way till six o’clock, had no positive tests, got on the plane, expected to go play. And this is, I don’t know the fourth, fifth or sixth time we’ve had a game cancel when we were ready. There is a pretty simple experience that happens, playing the game with less than your ideal roster. And if you don’t play well on lose that hurts a lot more than not playing. And our team is willing to play, regardless. I commend them for that, and their consistency, their courage and they didn’t even blink. They just wanted to know if that game might be rescheduled and what our thoughts were regarding that. And then we’re on the Boston College, so it was very matter of fact. There wasn’t a lot of drama. There wasn’t a lot of anything other than what’s next.
Q: How do you look at this year from an injury standpoint? Do you feel it’s like been the same as other years or has it been more than that?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s been more, and I would say significantly more. And I don’t think it’s a difficult thread to pull and get to the origin. When our players left for spring break and then didn’t come back until we brought them back during the mandatory component of the summer, that was a long, long time of training on your own. And many gyms weren’t open. And so the preparation, simply could not match what a normal year is or was. And so, again, we’re still answering the bell for every game, but our injury rate is higher, and I don’t think it’s difficult to make a connection there for the preparation model.
Q: Do you want to see the game [against Florida State] rescheduled?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I have no interest in going back to Florida State. That opportunity was there, it’s no longer there. I’m anxious to play Boston College and then Virginia Tech. And then hopefully we play well enough to be considered for postseason, and we go from there.
Q: What did he learn from the previous postponements? You’ve had some success as the team after those games or the game falling after a postponement. I think you’re undefeated after those.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Playing is more fun than watching. We’ve committed and sacrificed, our players, especially, and that’s where I have an issue when policies don’t allow them to be cared for at the highest level. And they want to play. That’s why they’ve been in their dorm rooms or in their apartments. That’s why they’re limiting their social interaction. That’s why they’re following protocols. That’s why they’ve been available for every game. Does not mean that we’re perfect. It doesn’t mean that we couldn’t have a slip up. But they’re more anxious to play the longer that we don’t play. And I think that’s probably the only explanation I can give.
Q: How important has Brennan Armstrong been to you getting rolling here later in the season?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: He’s essential. As I think any quarterback is for any team. And consistency at that position usually leads to chemistry and production. And our team is no different. I would say that even though he missed those two games. After we had played Clemson, it was just a slight step back in Miami, but not much. And I really think he’s gotten better every single game. Even as that game went through, even with the two games that he missed in the middle. So, he just is allowing our team to again be more cohesive, more consistent, have a clear identity and more production from that spot.
Q: How does Brennan Armstrong the starter, at this point, compare to what you were projecting for him and have there been things that surprised you good or bad and once he really got into game action?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s been very similar. I marvel sometimes just that arm strength and some of the throws that he makes in some of the windows that he throws them into. And his confidence and how fast he makes decisions. So I’ve seen glimpses of all that but not at the same volume. And so I’ve been really impressed just with the decision making the accuracy and arm strength.
Q: When you look back to the 2017 class, it was your first full recruiting class. How crucial have they been to this program success and just getting to this point where y’all are as a program?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: They’re essential. They are the foundational class which has allowed the program to improve every single year. And battle, quite frankly, without interruption this year. I’m so thankful that they’ve allowed me to coach them. I’m so thankful that they trusted me and chose UVA. I’m appreciative for every single thing they’ve done. I want them to be happy. I want them to have success. I want them to have a great experience but I also want them to have the results that they’re after. And so we’ll work hard as a staff to try to help these last couple of weeks.
Q: When you look at that class when they came in they were ranked kind of toward the bottom of the ACC middle of the pack in the country. Do you think they’ve overperform, you know their expectations?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well I think it’s just based on how much emphasis and how much stock is placed on the recruiting rankings, which is debatable. A quote was passed on to me from one of my assistant coaches after Iowa State had just had a recent victory. And basically, they were saying ‘five star culture versus five star talent.’ It doesn’t mean you have to have one or the other. The intent is to have both, but there’s accuracy issues every year in talent acquisition and assessment at the highest level of football to the lowest level of football. And so I think that our given class is just remarkable and about every way, and are demonstrating it again this year, just by how they’re managing this entire challenge.
Q: It seems like for a long time, Boston College’s played kind of like an NFC East kind of style of run the ball. They’re a little bit different this year. How much different?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: More possession throws. More play action throws just because of the nature of the quarterback who’s a very skilled player. And so I think they’re just maximizing their talent. Their coaching staff has done a nice job coming in and seeing what they had, adding key components that they thought would help them. And so defensively I would liken it to the example you just shared. Offensively now, more, more pass game emphasis. More possession throw emphasis. Does not mean they don’t want to run the ball and doesn’t mean they’re not skilled at it, but just a little more pass heavy than maybe what they’ve been before, in a slightly different style.
Q: Regarding injury attrition, from what you’ve seen from other teams in the league and your knowledge of who they’re missing and whatever, is it similar across the league beyond COVID?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Hard for me to say. I don’t have the numbers to substantiate it. On our team injuries have been a bigger issue than COVID. But our injuries are tied to COVID in kind of a more distant way. So I still kind of put them in the same category. It appears to me at first glance, as I go from one team to the next, that COVID has been more of a factor not injury, for those teams. And so, ours is just a little bit different. I don’t have the numbers to substantiate it but it appears that our opponents [issues] have been more COVID oriented. Ours have been more injuries. Maybe in relation to COVID before the season, rather than COVID for us.
Q: BC has not had one player test positive this year. How much do you think that correlates with the fact that they’ve had kind of immediate success with the new regime and on the coaching staff?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s, number one, it’s an exceptional accomplishment. Their staff and players should be commended for that. I think it’s remarkable in about every way. Having healthy players and maintaining your depth allows consistency and chemistry and production to just keep happening week in and week out, it’s got a compounding effect. So, I think it has a huge effect. But they’ve also earned that and designed it for that so the other day be commanded.
Q: Did you get on that plane Friday night at 6pm aware that Florida State still did not know its testing results.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, we did. And that’s not uncommon. What’s typical right now in the ACC is a lot of teams don’t find out the results till Saturday morning, which is, in my opinion unacceptable. And so there’s ways to mitigate that. We have a lot of smart people making decisions and are certainly capable. But that was no different than any other game that we left for. We just waited longer to ensure that all of our test results were negative to prevent any issues that might have happened on our side once we got there
Q: Had you and Carla [Williams] expressed concern to the conference office before this, knowing that something like this could arise?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Not specifically toward us arriving again after another team had been there, but we changed our protocols in relation to that, and Carla was in communication with possible concerns, but it wasn’t in specific regard to how fast can our opponent, or the team that’s hosting get the results back and can that happen before we leave, which I think is a simple change, and should be policy moving forward.
Q: Going back to the senior class, in an ideal situation, you’d have a full stadium honoring them. Is there anything you can do to make it simulate that or make it special, especially this class, given how important they’ve been to you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: So there’s no way I can match that. And just really considering and trying to ponder the best ways to make sure they have a memorable experience and the best way to do that is to have them well prepared so they can have success, and that’s what we’ll try to do.
Q: Overall, just talk about just how proud you are, how your team has handled this whole situation.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think our culture is strong. I think our team’s exceptional. I think our commitment is unyielding, but they’re not perfect. I’m always leaving room for things that might happen in the remainder of the season, but what I know is the best predictor of future performance is past performance. If it replicates and so we already know how to do this. We’ve already done it, it seems like so many times, and so I wouldn’t expect it to be any different nor have players shown me any cracks in their armor that they intend it to be different. Any other teams that are doing similar, I commend them and their coaches as well, because there’s plenty that aren’t.
Q: Would you be interested in playing a game in the postseason, or do you think once you’re done with your regular season schedule you guys are done for the season?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think that has a lot to do with our player’s mindset and if they really want to play another game. I would be glad to help them if that’s what they’d like to do. We asked our players, similarly at the beginning of the season, of their intent to play. And just like players had a chance to choose to opt in or opt out at the beginning of the year, with no penalty in terms of scholarship. My job is to help our players reach their goals, their aspirations their desires. And that’s, we’re talking about things that are too far in the future. Right now, we’re working to play and prepare for Boston College, and our senior’s last home game, and really anything else in addition to that, it’s just the distraction.
Q: The injuries in the secondary, I know Joey Blount or Brenton Nelson, didn’t see them on the depth chart. Are you expecting them to play this week or all this year?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: It’s pending. Joey is closer than Brenton, at this point. We remain hopeful is the best way that I can put it.
Q: It’s a very different Boston College offense than what we’ve all seen for the last decade. What stands out to you?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Efficiency. They stay ahead of the chains, they move the ball effectively, there’s not many negative plays. And it appears that they battle and have a great, really strong competitive culture. I think their schemes and design fit really well, I’m talking offense, defense, special teams. It’s really a collective approach to playing football, which I admire, in a complimentary way. In a short amount of time I think their staff has done a really nice job, and then have their players prepared, and manage COVID effectively with the help of their administration and the university to allow all the parts to be given their best chance to remain healthy so they could make quick and certain progress, which is what they’ve done.
Q: When you are changing an offensive strategy and identity really for a program, most coaches, it seems like do it gradually. How unusual or surprising is it, they’ve been able to completely flip it in such a short time?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s I think it’s impressive. It all starts with the quarterback. I think that they assessed who they had, who they wanted to have, and then made the acquisitions necessary and designed their schemes to fit so I think they’re using a personnel really well. And the other thing I think they’ve done a really nice job of as this is a shortened season right there was no spring practice there is no summer. There’s so there’s limited opportunities. And so, they did a really nice job under the circumstances of being where they are.
Q: Knowing that [Charles] Snowden would not play anymore this season, you’ve been making every effort to fast track Elliot Brown in practice and looking at his career, I don’t know if you’d call it the misfortune, but he came in with Charles and Matt Gahm who both played a lot. Chris Peace was also an outside linebacker his first two years, is he a guy who had things worked out differently, could have had a major impact in the program?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it’s certainly possible. Being long and fast and aggressive and athletic there’s all kinds of tools and yeah there’s been competition, and some positions on our team are deeper than others. Some positions have been more consistent than others. Some have avoided injury at a higher level than others and Elliot’s position just really hasn’t. So, I’m really excited for him. Just to have his opportunity to know this is real, that every preparation, or every snap in practice is preparing him for game day. I’m excited for him. I would love to see a really strong finish and kind of a breakout for him to reward his efforts.
Q: How would you assess the mental toll on you and your staff that this season has had?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Oh, I would need some kind of scale to use the even start with that. It’s a challenge. Unlike anything I’ve experienced in my career. The motivation and the daily inspiration, it’s just seeing my team every day. It usually works the other way, where the coach is the one providing the motivation and the consistency and the leadership. I think this has absolutely been at least equal. I’ve benefited certainly as much from our team as they have from me, and I’m thankful for that. But it’s been very different.
Q: Going back to the 2017 class. Coming off your first season, could you see the potential, not only on the field but off the field, as far as the culture that guys like Charles Snowden, Terrell Jana have helped create at Virginia, could you see that coming with this class?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I would love to say that I could, and I would love to say that we selected upon that. It was our intent. It’s hard to be accurate. We think that we have great assessment criteria. We think our processes are well defined. We think that our protocols are solid. But we saw spark, we saw a possibility. We weren’t certain, but each successive day, from the time they arrived it just became more apparent. Each year, even, it became more apparent that these kids, these young men are very special, and I think could go on to do whatever they want to.
Q: Have you had a chance to see Taysom Hill since he’s been playing quarterback, are there any similarities to Brennan?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yes. I saw Taysom in the game that he started after Drew Brees was injured. I did not see the whole game, but I saw parts of it. My wife Holly’s in contact still with Emily, his wife, and they have a newborn and so that’s a huge, great blessing in their lives. Taysom and Brennan are similar in terms of competitive spirit. They’re similar in terms of their optimism and leadership and their ability to just make plays. It’s hard to imagine either one of them as a little league player ever losing a game, because if you just give them the ball something good is gonna happen. They’re kicking an extra point or they’re punting or they’re a punt returner or then they’re throwing and then they’re catching. They’re just doing everything. I imagine them having similar like Youth League experiences. Taysom, in terms of true speed and athleticism, is unmatched. Brennan in his own way, is a little more crafty and wily and kind of clever, I guess is the best way to put it. He’s does not have the same measurables, but I think you’ll have similar outcomes.