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Bronco Mendenhall: Virginia Football suffers WR, RB losses

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Plus, updates on the QB battle, the season opener, and more!

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Virginia vs Clemson Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Football head coach Bronco Mendenhall chatted with the media on Friday (August 21), giving some big updates on the state of the schedule and positional battles. Some of the news was not great, but there are some positive tidbits to be found as the Hoos work towards opening the season next month amid the craziness of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mendenhall shared that, as of today, there is no plan to replace VMI on the schedule. The Cavaliers were scheduled to open the season with the Keydets on Friday, September 11, but lost the game after the SoCon postponed fall sports. Now, Virginia is set to open Saturday, September 19 with a game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia holds a 1-game win streak over the Hokies after winning in Charlottesville in 2019.

“Yeah, the the latest I heard is it’s likely that we will not replace VMI,” Mendenhall stated. “That’s the latest I’ve heard, and so that then would lead to an opening game versus Virginia Tech. Again, it’s not definitive yet.”

On the player availability front, there was some unfortunate news. First, second year wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks is out for the season due to an injury sustained last week in practice. In a position group that already had some questions following the graduation of Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed, this is a significant hit. Mendenhall did go on to praise first years Lavel Davis Jr. and Demick Starling, and said redshirt freshman Luke Wentz is back from Germany and working with the WR group.

Another group that couldn’t afford to take a hit was the RB room, but the Hoos are going to be out at least one this fall as Mike Hollins is one of the five Cavaliers that have opted out. Mendenhall hasn’t released the names of the five players or the reasoning for opting out (not all five are COVID related), but was asked directly about Hollins’s participation. Transfer RB Ronnie Walker Jr. had his first eligibility waiver denied, but the Cavaliers are expecting an answer to the second one Friday, August 21. “Number one, I’m not sure how the waivers are even considered and not sure why it was denied. I don’t agree with it,” Mendenhall said of Walker’s denial. “Hopefully the appeal will work in his favor, in our favor, which would be fair.”

With those losses, the Cavaliers have just two scholarship RBs available this fall in Wayne Taulapapa and Towson transfer Shane Simpson.

Mendenhall was high on the play of the offensive line so far this season, happy to have experience returning and the overall health of the unit. “It’s, man, it’s been fun to have a healthy offensive line and have healthy offensive line numbers and be able to practice the run game at a higher level than we ever have and not worried about injury or so concerned if that one player gets hurt,” Mendenhall explained. “I think, for the first time, our quarterback position and our offensive line position — I’m talking in terms of depth now not just stability — are allowing us to practice and move forward in the running game and in a way that we haven’t been able to to this point. So, I’ve been really encouraged and impressed.”

We also got expanded information around the quarterback battle between Brennan Armstrong and Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson. As of today, Armstrong would get the “slight nod” from the head coach, but says there’s still about a month before any games. Overall, Mendenhall was happy with the performance of both Armstrong and Thompson, and praised both Lindell Stone and Ira Armstead for their roles in the group. Additionally, Mendenhall commented that the depth and health of the unit is better than he’s seen in his time with Virginia.

When asked about the conflict involved around potentially having players on Grounds if UVA decides to make all classes remote, Mendenhall was very candid. “I love the idea of student-athlete, in that order. It’s very difficult for me to reconcile having football players on Grounds and no other students on Grounds from a philosophical perspective,” he stated. “Now I look at my team and see how much they want to play and they want me to coach them and keep them safe. It’s really tricky.”

Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn for more updates as we get closer to (hopefully) having a football season.