Twice in the 15 home games for the Virginia Cavaliers football team under Bronco Mendenhall have the announced attendance numbers at 61,500-seat Scott Stadium gone above 41,000 — 49,270 for his first game in 2016 against the Richmond Spiders and 48,609 last season against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
As Saturday night’s date with the Miami Hurricanes approaches, Mendenhall wants to capitalize on the progress his team has made in the last 34 months.
“A year ago, we were playing well in that game [for] a long time — not long enough. The message is not simply one of capability, it’s consistency,” Mendenhall said on his radio show Tuesday night. “And as the program grows, again, it goes from capability to consistency. And then when that happens, man, there’s some of those games that ... sometimes in the industry they call them signature games or signature wins and they end up generating significant momentum going forward.
“And those opportunities, there’s plenty of them each year, and this lines up to be one of them for this year.”
With an average home attendance of 39,356 (less than two-thirds) in the last two-plus years under Mendenhall, the dwindling numbers in Charlottesville make the halcyon years of regular sellouts on Alderman Road in the 2000s seem like a decades-old memory. The stadium hasn’t sold out since the Hoos’ 2008 opener against the USC Trojans, and Saturday night home games aren’t much more common with just two Saturday kickoffs of 7 p.m. or later since then (2008 against the Maryland Terrapins and 2014 against Miami).
“As I’m learning about the University of Virginia and sensing this climate and this landscape, it appears to me that there’s momentum generated and the crowd and the fans seem to be engaged and excited and vibrant at night,” Mendenhall said. “And so the results are still early, but I think what it does it allows increased exposure, [and] I think it makes a statement too that we are playing good football, we have an intriguing matchup. I think the entertainment world, which is TV, viewed the same thing. Which, that doesn’t happen randomly.
“I think that’s an earned spot, hopefully the fans and our supporters see it that way and will come out and have an amazing night and help us.”
Kickoff for the pivotal Coastal Division matchup is at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.