Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe addressed the upcoming matchup between the Wahoos and Blue Devils on this week’s ACC Coaches Teleconference.
The Hoos (3-1), who are coming off of their bye week and a potentially season-defining win over Boise State, are itching to take to the field.
“Our team is gaining momentum, is improving, and growing,” Mendenhall said, continuing that the team is “...anxious to start ACC play.”
Mendenhall mentioned his respect for Coach Cutcliffe and Duke (4-1), a team Virginia has defeated for two straight seasons. In Mendenhall’s first season at the helm last year, the Blue Devils were one of two wins for the Cavaliers.
“There is a substantial difference,” Mendenhall stated regarding having a year under his belt in conference, “...familiarity is really helpful.” He also addressed the benefit in being more familiar with the opponent’s personnel, game management, and style of play.
Thanks to the Boise State win, the Hoos are suddenly positioned favorably to reach their first bowl game in seven seasons. “All those things [bowl games] are mentioned when I ask the team what it is they’re after. Once they mention it,” Mendenhall commented, “I support it and help every way possible to facilitate that.”
“It’s in the back of our minds. It’s something we hope to accomplish,” he said of a possible bowl game.
Mendenhall also had high praise for Chris Peace, calling him, “probably the best practice player and the hardest worker” with regards to putting forth 100% effort in practice. He also called him “trustworthy” and “reliable”, and that he, “...would take as many more guys like Chris as we could find.”
The Virginia defense will have their hands full with Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who has 1,236 yards and five touchdown passes in five games played. The Hoos dominated Jones last season, picking him off five times and forcing a fumble which was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Jones has four interceptions so far this season, one of which came last week against Miami in Duke’s lone loss of the season.
“I think he’s a good quarterback,” Mendenhall said of the redshirt sophomore QB. “I think he gets better every game, and I think...” (this portion of the call was interrupted by some raucous music) “...he’s physical and he’s tough, and he’s capable of making all the plays.”
Virginia will also have to be mindful of Jones’s running ability as he already has 78 rush attempts on the season for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Both William and Mary (Tommy McKee - 99* yards, TD) and Indiana (Peyton Ramsey - 59* yards, TD) quarterbacks were able to use their feet to scramble and cause problems for the Hoos earlier this season.
*lost yardage (sacks) not included in these totals
Overall, Mendenhall was very complimentary of the Blue Devils, saying, “They’re very aggressive, very productive, and statistically, there’s not much they aren't doing well.”
Coach Cutcliffe showed mutual respect for Mendenhall and the Cavaliers.
“We realize that we are playing a Virginia team that is playing at an extremely high level. That’s as good a win as you can have to go to Boise on a Friday night and get a win.”
He also mentioned that the offense is doing a lot of special things, especially Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert. “He looks more comfortable in the system, the system has grown...but he is accurate in a lot of different throws, a lot of different ways. I think he’s a better product than he was a year ago, no doubt.”
Cutcliffe also had praise for Virginia’s receiving corps, calling them a “...good looking group offensively”.
On his own QB, Cutcliffe had high praise as well. “He [Jones] is so much stronger than he was a year ago. Not just in arm strength, but his ability to run, he’s faster. He’s a big guy.”
When asked about Jones’s issues with Virginia last season, Coach Cutcliffe doesn’t think any hangover will carry into this year’s matchup. “I’m proud of him, he’s about as solid of a person as you can get. I don’t think he’s thinking about that [last year’s game] in particular...it will always be a lesson that was hard learned a year ago.”
On the defensive end, Cutcliffe and his staff have attempted to recruit better, and he mentioned the experience returning at linebacker, as well as the “athletic” safeties that have been huge in their run-stopping. Currently, the Blue Devils are allowing just 89 yards per game rushing, second in the ACC behind NC State. They also have 20 sacks on the season, best in the league. One matchup to watch Saturday will be the Duke D-Line against the Virginia O-Line as the Hoos have only given up six sacks on the season (tied for second in the ACC).
Virginia will host Duke on Saturday at 12:20pm, and the game will be televised by the ACC Network.