The last time the Virginia football team walked off the field at Scott Stadium some 17 days ago, the chill of an early – and potentially lost – fall had settled in the air,
UVA stood at 2-2 with consecutive 20-point losses marking an 0-2 start in ACC play. With two road games up next and past road woes fresh in everyone’s minds thanks to North Carolina’s 59-39 romp in mid September, the possibility of a 2-4 start seemed like a foreboding albatross waiting to roost around the Cavaliers’ collective necks.
The Hoos, after all, had won just five ACC road games in Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure previously. The last conference road win had come in early November 2019 at UNC. The scores of the most recent trips had been mostly lopsided as they lost four of the previous five road games by double digits and three scores. Oh, and Virginia remained winless at Miami in the Mendenhall era and had never won at Louisville.
As outlooks go, that’s a pretty grim one.
So what did the Wahoos do?
At Miami on the last night of September, Virginia jumped out to an early lead and spent much of the game holding Miami at arm’s length. The Hoos led 9-0, 19-7, 27-14, and 30-21 as they kept responding to the Hurricanes’ rally attempts. The hosts had one final surge in the tank, though. A touchdown with 9:09 to go trimmed the lead to 30-28 and Miami forced a punt to get the ball back. The final drive came down to a 33-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright and UVA left victorious.
Fast forward to Louisville this past Saturday, the Hoos again took an early lead but this time it never grew. A three-point halftime lead quickly vanished in the wake of a 20-point quarter for the Cards and UVA faced a 30-13 deficit entering the final 15 minutes. A combination of key stops and three touchdown drives carried the Cavaliers into the lead, however, and for the second straight week an opponent’s final kick sailed left.
Or, long story short, the Hoos won both games and rescued a wayward season.
A four-game losing streak would have sent already sputtering fan interest into hibernation for the winter. Maybe longer. Make no mistake, many fans remain in “show me” mode with the current coaches in year six and an early season losing spiral for the second year in the row would not help their case. A losing season and missing out on bowl eligibility both would have been lurking in the shadows at 2-4 and who knows where that leads everything.
Further, that sort of skid would have put an immense amount of pressure on the second half of the season to even reach respectability and to keep the “just getting started” tagline even somewhat relevant. By pulling off back-to-back road wins, the team placed itself in much better position.
With two home games up next against Duke (12:30 p.m. Saturday) and Georgia Tech (7:30 p.m. Saturday 10/23), the Cavaliers have the opportunity to secure bowl eligibility before a Halloween weekend trip to BYU. While they did fall to Wake Forest in a Friday night game, they have not lost more than one home game in a single season since the 2017 season.
That doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed, of course. The last two weeks reminded everyone of that. Still, for a program that had little stability during the lost decade of football, these last two wins were significant. The team quickly righted the ship when the seas got rocky two weeks ago. A fourth straight season with at least a .500 final record is within reach as is a fifth straight year with bowl eligibility (UVA turned down the chance to play in the postseason last year).
The all important sustainability window remains open.