Richmond’s dismantling of Virginia’s defense wasn’t the start Cavalier fans, players, and coaches had hoped for. After an offseason full of optimism, Virginia’s hopes were deflated almost as soon as Connor Wingo-Reeves coughed up the kickoff following a Richmond field goal to open the game. Things wouldn’t improve as the Spiders spoiled Mendenhall’s debut with a 37-20 thumping that wasn’t even that close. Here’s how our things to watch for played out in Saturday’s game...From the Upper Deck
Five-Stars Ready for a Breakout: Surprisingly enough, both Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown tallied seven tackles in the loss. You’d hardly know it though as neither player made their presence felt at any point of the game. In fact, the first time you realized Blanding was out there was late in the fourth quarter, when he unsuccessfully tried to run down Spider RB Gordon Collins’ 55-yard touchdown run. Brown, meanwhile, was virtually absent in the backfield, putting no pressure on the quarterback. Should Virginia turn it around, the Hoos have to get more out of their top defensive playmakers.
The Running Backs: “Our run game wasn’t as effective as I’d hope,” Coach Mendenhall said after Virginia’s 38-yard rushing game. The Cavalier backs were bottled up from the get go with Albert Reid leading the team with 28 yards gained, most of which was earned on a 14 yard gain that came late in a game that was already decided. Taquan Mizzell only managed seven yards on seven carries and only added four catches for 24 yards through the air. Most troubling though was that Mizzell had a hard time holding on to the ball, turning the ball over during inopportune times (as though there were an opportune time). After marching down the field on their first full possession, Mizzell had the ball ripped from his grasp on first and goal from the Richmond five-yard line, a turnover that would lead to a 95 yards touchdown and a 13-0 Spider lead. Later, with the Hoos driving into Richmond territory, another Mizzell fumble led to a Richmond touchdown to give the Spiders a 30-7 lead just as the fourth quarter commenced, taking away any hope of a Wahoo comeback.
Trust the process: When he was first introduced to Virginia, Mendenhall laid out a data-based approach to putting his team in a position to win. He said that if his team scored a certain number of points, and if they gave less than a certain number of points they would win 85% of the time. Suffice it to say 20 points for and 37 points against are probably not above and below the relevant thresholds. He went on to add that if his team held on to the ball or took it away one more time than their opponent, they’d also have an 85% chance of winning. By contract, Virginia had a -4 turnover margin on the day. That being said, the title of this section was “trust the process,” and as hard as that is for Cavalier fans this morning, it’s process that creates foundations. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it had a solid foundation. There were some positives. After committing on average 7.5 penalties for 63 yards per game last season, the Hoos didn’t commit a single penalty, a sign of discipline and mental toughness attributable in no small part to Frank Wintrich’s strength and conditioning program. While that alone won’t win games, it’s a small sign that things are sinking in. We could be in for a long season, but the hope is that if the Hoos stay the course and trust the process there will be better times ahead in Charlottesville.
The path doesn’t get easier. Virginia now set its sights on a road trip to face the Oregon Ducks. The Hoos and Ducks will square off next Saturday with a 10:30 P.M. ET kick off from Eugene.