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Bronco Mendenhall talks the William & Mary win, the Illinois matchup, and defensive schemes

On Monday the head Wahoo spoke with the media about a variety of topics as the team prepares for Saturday’s contest against Illinois.

William & Mary v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Talking to the media on Monday afternoon, Virginia Cavaliers Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall addressed Saturday’s win over William and Mary, the upcoming contest against Illinois, and various personnel decisions that the coaching staff has made heading into that game.

Looking back on the W&M win

To start, Mendenhall praised Brennan Armstrong’s performance on Saturday, noting that despite the cliche “the game continued to slow down, and he continued to speed up. So his decision making, his rhythm, his certainty, his confidence, his execution, it just got better and better and better.”

The head Wahoo pointed to the team’s “balance with over 200 rushing [yards] and over 300 passing [yards],” which was a part of an offense that “was gaining momentum throughout the course of the night,” as “Armstrong just got sharper and sharper as we went.”

In reference to the defense’s shutout performance against the Tribe, Mendenhall was no doubt pleased as he emphasized that “it’s really hard to shut anybody out,” and added that, “I made the comment to my team today, it’s hard to shut someone out just playing against air. It’s challenging.”

Injury updates

Speaking on a few players with injuries, Mendenhall noted that Jelani Woods “is good to go. No ill effects [from Saturday when he missed time] and [is at] 100 percent.”

He also provided an update on North Dakota State transfer cornerback Josh Hayes who is dealing with a “lower body, lower leg” injury, as Mendenhall said that Hayes is still “recovering,” but “is on track” despite the fact that there isn’t an exact time frame. “It looks like it’s just going to be a bit longer than we thought,” he adds, “but we’re still hopeful that he comes back and contributes this season and certainly in the beginning of the season.”

Looking ahead to Illinois

With kickoff set for 11:00 am eastern time on Saturday, Mendenhall is confident that the early start shouldn’t affect his team. “We’re an early morning practice team,” he said “and so this really fits our normal routine in terms of when we practice. So I wouldn’t anticipate — man, I hope it won’t affect us much in terms of our normal routine.”

When asked about the Fighting Illini’s offense and — in particular — wide receiver Isaiah Williams, Mendenhall praised the Illinois staff and pointed out that “I think they’re well coached, and so when you look at the history of their head coach and you look at the successes and then the style, there’s a proven track record there.”

He continued, “when you’re able to complement and do that and then have strong receivers in addition to a good running game, that makes it more difficult to defend,” and concluded that they’re a team of “just capable, well-coached football players.”

Regarding Illinois’ quarterback situation with starter Brandon Peters potentially returning from an injury in the team’s season opener against Nebraska and replacing backup Art Sitkowski, Mendenhall emphasized that “you have to [prepare for both quarterbacks],” and noted that “you defend the offense the best you can, the concepts the best you can. You anticipate whatever changes might happen.”

He went on to point out that “at that position a great example in week one is we weren’t preparing for the quarterback that started for William & Mary. We were preparing for another quarterback, and the styles were similar but not identical.” So, Mendenhall said that “you really try to identify the core of what an offense does, why they’re doing it, who are the best players and supporting cast, and then you adjust from there.”

Thoughts on defensive personnel/scheme changes

Heading into Saturday’s game against Illinois, the Wahoo staff has made a number of changes to their defensive secondary both personnel and position wise.

In general, Mendenhall said that the adjustments were more so based on the opponent rather than long term moves. “We love flexibility and we love adaptability,” he commented, “so we try to put the best 11 football players out there really in any configuration we can on any given week. [These moves] kind of just reflect some of the flexibility there.”

Mendenhall noted that “what we’ve learned is to win the Coast Division and make it through the ACC Championship game and to go to the Orange Bowl and keep doing all that, depth in the secondary is really important, so players cross-training and being available at multiple positions and training there and playing there — that helps with our depth.”

When questioned about a potential return to a 3-3-5 defense or personnel/opponent changes to the defensive scheming, Mendenhall acknowledged that these changes are “partly due to] both.” He went on to say that “the more and more years that I coach, the more scheme and knowledge and options become available to then deploy or use the existing best players that we have in our program against any given opponent.”