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Virginia football channeling ‘honey badger’ mentality after upsetting UNC

Wahoos savoring victory but hungry for more success.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics

After their momentous 31-27 upset win over the #10 North Carolina Tar Heels Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers football program is hoping to channel the sweet taste of its first ever road victory against a top-10 opponent into sustained success down the line.

The challenge, however, is getting back to work after such a euphoric moment. In his media availability on Tuesday afternoon, Coach Tony Elliott called the win over UNC “a blue-dot game.” As Elliot explained, “on your phone you have a lot of blue dots from text messages… You get a bunch of those after a win, but after a loss there’s not many blue dots.”

Coach Elliott himself had a blue dot from Clemson Head Coach and former colleague Dabo Swinney, who said Tuesday that “he texted [Elliot] on the plane… at probably about three in the morning [on Sunday].” Swinney expressed a lot of excitement for Coach Elliott and emphasized the importance of big wins in building a successful program — “to see a moment like that for Tony is special… that’s one of those things that when you’re getting going can further the buy-in.”

With all the buzz around the program, Elliott called on the animal kingdom for a source of motivation in keeping his guys focused.

“You have to be in love with the process,” Elliott explained. “We saw a cool little video — one of the players sent it to me and I thought it was appropriate. It talks about the honey badger. The honey badger has to go face into the tree to get the honey. Now the rest of his body has the fur coat [that’s well-suited for bee stings] but his face is vulnerable.”

“The message was the taste of honey is worth the pain,” Elliott continued. Now that UVA has ‘tasted the honey’ with its win over the Tar Heels, Elliott’s hope is that it will inspire the team to keep grinding. “We’ve got to focus on the pain, the pain of discipline… Hopefully these guys will learn and grow in handling success. And if you want to continue on this road, you’ve got to pay the price…there’s nothing easy.”

Quarterback Tony Muskett has dealt with more than his fair share of pain this season. After earning the starting job over the summer, Muskett was knocked out of the opener against Tennessee with a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for Virginia’s next three games. The senior signal-caller returned to the field at the end of September, however, and has now led the Cavaliers to consecutive wins. On Saturday, Muskett finally got his signature Virginia moment, throwing for 208 yards and a TD while adding 66 yards on the ground as he bested projected first-round pick Drake Maye.

“I can’t give him enough praise,” Coach Elliot said. “Especially in this day and age. Here’s a guy that had a significant injury to his shoulder, but he’s committed to the program. He’s committed to his teammates. He’s a competitor… He works extremely hard, he prepares like a pro and just his leadership as well that he was able to bring in the door and just the impact it’s had in the locker room, especially from that position.”

Muskett echoed Coach Elliott’s sentiment about staying focused when speaking with the media on Tuesday. “I think it’s definitely a balance between confidence and complacency,” he said. “Because after a win like that, as a program, as a player, you gain some confidence. But you can’t let that turn into complacency. You still have to go back to work Sunday, Monday, [Tuesday], and keep on pushing so that this Saturday we get the same result.”

Coach Elliott also made sure to give credit to the running game on Tuesday, which after a slow start to the season, has had consecutive stellar performances. Against the Tar Heels, the ‘Hoos three-headed monster of backs — Perris Jones, Mike Hollins, and Kobe Pace — combined for 163 yards on 40 carries.

“I think coming off the previous week, being able to run the football decently, just gave them some confidence,” Elliott said. “And the guys just showed up and had the right attitude and said, ‘you know what, we’re going to believe that our will is going to be greater, and we’re going to find a way.’ And they did. [Going] back to the honey badger, when they tasted that honey, they were willing to take the pain to have success.”

The ‘Hoos, like a honey badger, were fearless on Saturday when they walked into Chapel Hill, but the road doesn’t get any easier. Virginia will have to repeat their performance as they travel to Miami this weekend to face a Hurricanes squad that received votes in this week’s AP Poll and has flashed premiere talent at times this year.

“It’s a challenge every week in the ACC,” Coach Elliott said. “So, the biggest thing with Miami [is] trying to get our guys to… understand that this football team is a few plays away from being undefeated and being potentially a top-10 ranked team. And they’re a different team than the team we played last year… They’re physical. They’re well-coached. They’re athletic. They’re fast… So it’s going to be a challenge regardless of what they did last week and what we faced. Because that’s the ACC.”