As Virginia heads down to Coral Gables to face the #2 Hurricanes and their ‘Turnover Chain’, the Hoos have their own prop to accompany them. For the first time since 2011, the Cavaliers are bowl eligible, an achievement they earned with a win over Georgia Tech on November 4th.
“We’ve come a long way, and we’ve worked hard at it.” Coach Mendenhall said on his weekly Coach’s Corner program. “Starting with this spring, we moved all of our spring practices to the stadium.”
Normally, Virginia would practice and prepare at the new(ish) Welsh Indoor Facility. “What we remembered is ‘people don’t come to play us in our indoor facility, we play at Scott Stadium’,” Mendenhall commented. “So, we were really comfortable in our practice facility, but we weren’t very comfortable playing the game in our own stadium.”
Being uncomfortable in their home stadium is not ideal, but understandable. Heading into this season, the Hoos had a 15-20 record at home over the course of the last five seasons. Last second losses to Notre Dame and Louisville came within the confines of Scott Stadium, as did embarrassing blowouts to Boise State, Clemson, and Oregon. Oh, and then there was Richmond last year to open up Mendenhall’s tenure at Virginia.
This year, they changed it up. Players, coaches, and staff took up just about every nook and cranny at Scott Stadium, with position groups meeting in the visitor’s bathroom, visitor’s locker room, operations center, sides of the locker room. Pretty much anywhere they could put people, they did.
Something still didn’t seem right.
“We moved the team there, but then we realized something was missing,” Mendenhall said. “It didn’t smell like home,” he continued. “That might not sound like much to anyone else, but for whatever reason...we started making toast. So now, our locker room smells like toast. We know we’re home.”
That’s right. Mendenhall & Co. brought the smell - and feel - of home into Scott Stadium. So far, it seems to have worked.
This season, the Hoos are 4-2 at home with the biggest being in front of about 15,000 die hard fans in a driving rain storm as they drove for the winning touchdown against the Jackets to secure that elusive postseason eligibility.
The Hoos even take the toaster on the road.
“Every stadium we go into, we bring a toaster so when we go we know we’re home. It’s kind of been symbolic. I try and take a piece of toast with me the night before the game just to remember that I get to go back ‘home’ the next day...and toast is the link to that.”
Mendenhall knows it may be unusual, but it’s something the team has embraced.
“That might not make any sense to anyone listening, but it makes sense to us.”
Virginia and their toaster will take on Miami at noon on Saturday on ABC. Hopefully, the taste of victory will be as good as the smell of the toast.