If Bronco Mendenhall did not know what he was getting in to when first signing on to be the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers football team, then surely his opening game against the Richmond Spiders provided some sort of wake-up call.
Mendenhall’s response to whether or not the game held any special meaning at ACC Media days was unremarkable, saying, “I think it has special meaning more in relation to it being year three rather than the same opponent.” Although he effectively downplayed the rematch, the value of what this contest might bring remains the same as two seasons ago.
As mentioned, Mendenhall opened up his career in Charlottesville with a resounding 37-20 loss to Richmond at Scott Stadium, an ugly reminder of what the Mike London era had left behind. Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta torched UVA for 337 yards and three touchdowns, while the Spiders defense forced three fumbles and an interception. Now, the team has a chance to eradicate some of the pain endured.
2017 Season: 6-5 (4-4 CAA)
Richmond entered the 2017 season with lofty expectations under first year coach Russ Huesman, starting play ranked seventh in nation within the FCS. Several close losses doomed the Spiders, though, as they lost four times by only one possession. The team did end their season on a high note by defeating William & Mary, 27-20.
Players to watch:
QB Kevin Johnson - A 3-star recruit coming out of high school according to 247Sports, Johnson has not played since the 2016 season. It will be interesting to see how quickly he and the rest of the offense can mesh following the departure of Lauletta, who ranked 11th in the FCS with a QB rating of 153.2 and was a recent fourth round draft pick of the The New York Giants.
DL Andrew Clyde - Led the CAA in 2017 with nine sacks.
ILB Justin Rubin - Team-leading 92 tackles last year.
WRs Tyler Wilkins, Cortrelle Simpson, Dejon Brissett - The FCS’s top receiving trio in 2017, combining for 2,791 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Mascot grade: F.
Seriously, who likes spiders?
Because the S&P+, our go-to advanced rating system, does not cover FCS teams, we do not have as detailed projections for Richmond’s 2018 season. We do know, however, what’s expected of UVA, who enters this year ranked 73rd overall in the FBS - 108th and 32nd in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. This disparity between the two sides of the ball underlines the unknowns that currently surround the team’s offense. Will Bryce Perkins’ dual-threat ability supplant last year’s explosive, yet inconsistent offense, or will the team have to rely on their proven secondary for another season? We’ll see where UVA stands after this game.
It’s hard to claim that a victory against an FCS opponent can be a statement win—it won’t—but it can be an indicator of the team’s progression. Richmond is not as good as they were in 2016, mostly due to Lauletta’s departure, yet they are still a formidable foe. Mendenhall and the rest of the coaching staff can begin validating their ever-improving expectations with an early, dominant win, and that is exactly what I anticipate to happen.
Score: UVA, 38-10.