Bronco Mendenhall loves playing option teams. Just ask him. Ask him in 2012. Or 2013. Or 2016. Or 2017. The Virginia Cavaliers head coach loves playing option teams so much, he even breaks out the old VHS player to scout option attacks from the 1960s.
That passion turned into the crucial 6th win in Virginia’s 2017 season—a rain-soaked affair in Charlottesville that took a late dime from Kurt Benkert to Andre Levrone to seal UVA’s bowl eligibility.
The Hoos have to go on the road to historic Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta this year for a pre-Thanksgiving showdown in the Coastal Division. Will Bronco’s passion net another win for Virginia?
2017 Season: 5-6 (4-4 ACC)
Normally going .500 in your conference is enough for a Power Five team to end up going bowling. But thanks to two tough out-of-conference tilts against SEC opponents—a double-overtime loss to Tennessee, and “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” against the eventual national runners-up Georgia—Georgia Tech could only snag one win out of conference. They did have a date with (national champions) UCF get hurricane’d out; unlike some other ACC schools, they didn’t scramble to find a patsy game to get their sixth win.
Players to watch:
TaQuon Marshall, QB: In typical Paul Johnson fashion, the same player led the team in passing and rushing. Marshall put up more than 2,000 total yards in 2017 and scored 27 total touchdowns. He’s back for one more go as the Jackets’ offensive catalyst.
KirVonte Benson, B-Back: In similarly typical Paul Johnson fashion, two players had more than 1,000 yards rushing—Marshall was one, Benson the other. From his B-back position behind Marshall, Benson averaged better than five yards a carry and scored six touchdowns.
Victor Alexander, LB: Tech’s leading tackler is back to anchor the defensive unit again. Alexander recorded a season-high 11 tackles against Virginia in 2017. The senior has played in every Georgia Tech game since he arrived on campus (36 straight).
Jaylon King, CB: It’s a good thing when your top recruit is at your thinnest position. King was a solid four-star coming out of La Vergne, Tennessee, and should see the field plenty in his first season with the Jackets.
Mascot grade: A+
Buzz is fine. Buzz is pretty classic—some foam on the head, a little more on the
butt sorry, stinger, and the rest just an engineer running around in tights and Chuck Taylors.
What elevates the entire mascot oeuvre in Atlanta to greatness, though, is two things: the car, and the song.
Reference to moonshine? Check. Drinking rum out of a bell? Check. Calling out your rival by name? Check, and #THWG.
One of the best ways to internalize how analytics describe football is to see what they say about a distinctive style you know by heart. So what do we learn about Georgia Tech in 2017? A very high success rate despite ranking near the bottom of average yards gained on 1st down says they were good at continuing to move forward and picked up chunks of yardage on second down. Their mediocre explosiveness but high success rate yields a good rushing S&P+. In the passing game, we know they rarely pass, but when they do it’s a deep bomb; a really bad completion rate but a really high yards per completion means middle of the road passing S&P+.
At the start of the season, this looks like a “could win” game for UVA: not quite “should win,” but not out of reach either. By the time kickoff rolls around, though, it could be a “must win” with a road trip to Blacksburg still on the schedule. The Virginia defense might be better overall than it was in 2017; if injuries don’t further deplete a thin defensive line, there just might be enough scheme left in Mendenhall to stymie Johnson’s option attack once more.
Virginia 38, Georgia Tech 35