Virginia took down Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon for the first win of the season and the first of the Bronco Mendenhall era. Even after giving up four straight touchdowns with a 28-0 lead, the Hoos showed the kind of will and character that Mendenhall has been talking about so much since he took over in December. Finally, then, Virginia fans were able to enjoy the positive result that goes with the game-to-game improvement that we’ve been noting each week. What did we learn from Saturday?
1. Kurt Benkert finally brings it all together
A single-game school-record of 421 passing yards tells the story enough — Benkert’s poise in the pocket and Robert Anae’s playcalling made for a very impressive showing on the offensive side of the ball for most of the game. His pick six late in the third quarter to make it 28-21 was a telegraphed throw that CMU defensive back Amari Coleman read like a book, but aside from that, Benkert had an outstanding game. His fourth-quarter touchdowns came at a critical time for the team to regain momentum and get the crowd back into it before putting the final nail in CMU’s coffin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his record-breaking performance carried over into another strong display this Saturday in Durham.
2. Get used to a sub-par defense if you haven’t already
The defense gave up 495 yards on Saturday, bumping up their season average to 482. You have a young and undersized group working with a new scheme, and the schedule won’t get any easier during ACC play. Looking ahead to this week, Duke put up so many yards (498) and points (31, not counting a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown) against Notre Dame on Saturday that the Irish fired its defensive coordinator on Sunday. I think small, incremental improvements for the defense might be more along the lines of what to expect for the defense this season, even if they don’t always translate into immediate results on the field. On a more positive note, former five-star recruit Andrew Brown does seem to be adjusting well to the new 3-4 scheme, earning his second sack of the season (just the fourth of his career) after picking up his first at UConn in Week 3.
3. This team could be competitive in ACC play
Do I think UVa is going bowling with a 1-3 record heading in conference play? Probably not. But can the team get to at least 5-7 by finishing with a .500 conference record for the first time since 2011? In my opinion, absolutely. We saw on Saturday a team that played three good quarters, after having none against Richmond, one against Oregon, and two against UConn. I was encouraged to see the team respond to giving up four straight scores by putting up three of their own, a sign that what Mendenhall and his staff is preaching is working. Duke’s All-American kick returner and safety DeVon Edwards suffered a season-ending knee injury on Saturday against Notre Dame, which could be an added advantage for UVa. Will that result in an important win for a group that hasn’t won a road game in almost 47 months? I don’t know, but I imagine that this past weekend’s performance has a good chance of carrying over against Duke.