For Virginia Cavaliers fans, last week’s ACC Championship Game rematch was far more palatable than the actual game played last year, one that left Virginia reeling heading into the holiday season. Though both games ended in a loss for the Hoos, Virginia fans are able to look back on last weekend without too much regret. Here are the odds and ends that I walked away thinking.
Is this a moral victory?
First of all, there’s no such thing. It doesn’t get logged in the record book as a MV, it gets logged as an L. But, were there a lot of really good takeaways here. Both the offense and defense put up respectable, if not encouraging, numbers against the top-ranked team in the land.
“We were more prepared, as a coaching staff,” Bronco Mendenhall said after the game. “Our players were certainly more prepared after seeing what Clemson looked like a year ago. We were anxious to play, eager to play and believed we could win.”
“I liked our conditioning, our toughness, our resiliency, I liked our execution, but a handful of plays was the difference. A significantly different story than a year ago, and that’s how I see it.”
Safety Joey Blount felt good going into the half down 24-10 to a team that had previously outscored its opponents 79-0 in the first half, knowing the Hoos would get the ball first in the second half. His focus going into the coming weeks will be for the team to play complementary football on both sides of the ball.
With as many question marks as there were surrounding Virginia’s offense heading into the season, there were multiple bright spots to be found on Saturday. The offensive line gave up three sacks against a Clemson defense that averaged five per game heading prior to Virginia (6th in the country).
The offense also picked up 417 total yards—147 rushing and 270 passing—on one of the top defenses in the country. Coming into the game, Clemson ranked fifth in the country in total yardage defense, giving up just 246 per game (61.5 rushing (6th) and 184.5 passing (13th)). Only two teams last year were able to hang more than 400 yards on the Tigers: Ohio State and LSU.
What’s up with the time outs?
For a second on Saturday, I found myself squinting at the TV wondering if that was Pete Gillen out there on the Virginia sideline. It wasn’t but 91 seconds after kickoff that Virginia called its first timeout of the game, at the 13:29 mark. The Hoos used their second timeout only a couple minutes later, less than five minutes into the game at 10:32, and with 0:30 left in the first quarter, Mendenhall had used his third and final timeout of the half—and he still had another whole quarter to play before he’d replenish.
After the game, Mendenhall told reporters that this was a part of the plan, and that given the choice, he’d do it over again exactly the same way.
“Here is the simple thought behind that,” he said. “Clemson is hopeful to have shock and awe right from the beginning and put you on your heels and never let you recover. I was absolutely willing to use timeouts and slow the pace to make sure our guys were ready, and they were. That was absolutely something that we would do again and was prepared to do because of how fast, how explosive and how easily they jump out on teams so quickly. Looking to stall and use them if we needed to and I believe we needed to.”
At the end, it may not have had a tremendous effect, and Mendenhall acknowledged this. Clemson would score a field goal on the very next play following the first timeout, and a touchdown on the next play following the third. The second timeout was on a Virginia drive that stalled out.
Virginia heads into Week Six as a nine-point favorite over NC State, a team that upset No. 24 Pitt last weekend 30-29 on the road with a game-winning touchdown drive with just 24 seconds left in the game. Virginia’s red zone defense will be put to the test as the Pack have scored on all 12 red zone appearances so far this season, 11 of which were for touchdowns. That game kicks off Saturday, October 10 at 12:00 noon ET on the ACC Network.