Virginia Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed the media on Sunday night, shortly after the announcement that the Hoos would be facing the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Belk Bowl on December 29 in Charlotte, NC.
His initial reaction?
“I love the matchup. I love the game, and I love the draw for so many reasons.”
Specifically, Mendenhall said that he loves the quality of the game and the messaging that it sends in qualifying for a high-tier bowl game.
“It reflects progress and it reflects the new standard as part of our program. I love the chance to match up against an SEC opponent.”
For Mendenhall, the ACC-SEC matchup gives the players an experience that they haven’t yet had while Mendenhall has been head coach at Virginia. The last time the Hoos played an SEC opponent was in 2011, a 24-43 loss to Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Facing an SEC opponent, Mendenhall said, gives the players an opportunity to match their skills and, more generally, measure Virginia’s program, against another league.
Despite being thrilled with the bowl selection process, Mendenhall didn’t have much of a say. Internal stakeholders, such as Athletics Director Carla Williams and SID Jim Daves, approached Mendenhall to gauge his preferences, but Mendenhall said that as coaches, they don’t get much influence.
Virginia started hosting bowl representatives come to games as early as October 13 for the Miami game, a 16-13 victory over the No. 16 team in the country. Mendenhall thought Virginia got on radars early in large part because they’re an intriguing team because of the progress that they’ve made.
“I think we’re accelerating our program about as fast as any program can be accelerated based on where we started to where we are now,” Mendenhall later said.
“I’m certainly not satisfied that we had a couple overtime losses and had a chance to legitimately contend and win the Coastal but just didn’t quite finish well enough to make that happen.”
The other part, Mendenhall said, is that it’s hard for opponents to separate from Virginia, because of how hard the players play.
“I think we became a viable option for a lot of bowl games just because of the brand and style and competitive nature.”
Indeed, only two of Virginia’s losses came at double-digits—a 14-point loss to NC State (9-3), and a 10-point loss to Coastal champions Pitt. The loss to Indiana was by four, and the losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech were each 3-point overtime losses.
“I love our matchup versus [South Carolina]. I love our location. I love the ability to put a cap on this season in a positive way and in a challenging way, in a meaningful game. I think all of these things have been accomplished with the selection.”
As for South Carolina, Mendenhall had only watched a part of the Clemson-South Carolina game, and only “enough to see a lot of points scored,” in a 56- 35 loss for the Gamecocks. He hasn’t studied them much yet, other than, from that game, seeing the ball going downfield a lot, behind Clemson’s secondary.
If indeed that’s representative of how South Carolina plays, Mendenhall says that he’s glad, because Virginia’s secondary is one of its strengths and is one of its deepest and most talented positions.
Mendenhall and company have not yet designed the preparation model yet, but will do so with two things in mind. First, Virginia’s exam period goes from December 10-18, and Mendenhall stressed the importance of exams, adding that at the University of Virginia, exams are something they take very seriously, the classes are difficult, and the education is phenomenal.
Lookin’ right at you, South Carolina.
The other primary consideration will be specifically as it relates to Bryce Perkins, who is continuing to rest and heal his ankle. A lot of the preparation work will depend on how Perkins performs in practice in the upcoming weeks, as “his readiness will have a lot to do with our team’s readiness.”
Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn as we continue to look ahead towards Virginia’s second bowl game in as many years.