Virginia’s season rides on Friday’s game.
If the Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 ACC) beat Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC), they will break a span of losses to their hated rival that spans across two decades. A win also gives Virginia its first ACC Coastal Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history.
Friday’s game carries significant weight for UVa’s program, which has been on the rise since a 2-10 campaign in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season in 2016. The Cavaliers are one win away from taking a significant step forward as a program. Mendenhall spoke to the media for his weekly Monday media availability, and he was followed by linebacker Jordan Mack and wide receiver Joe Reed.
Break the streak
The last time UVa beat Virginia Tech, Matt Schaub quarterbacked the Cavaliers and Al Groh was the team’s head coach. It’s been a long time since the Cavaliers defeated the Hokies.
Since 2003, Virginia has failed to knock off the Hokies, losing 15 consecutive contests.
It’s impossible to ignore the importance of the streak, and Mendenhall won’t ignore the history of the rivalry this week.
“Acknowledge it, just brutal fact wise, and then say, ‘It’s ’19 vs. ’19,’” Mendenhall said. “Meaning that Virginia Tech’s 2019 team is playing the University of Virginia’s ’19 team. Anything else is completely interference and not relevant to me. It’s this year, this team, this week, after clearly acknowledging what the record has been.”
Despite using a one-game-at-a-time mentality all season, the Cavaliers have a countdown clock that keeps players and coaches constantly aware of the time between them and the Virginia Tech game. It’s an important week.
“To try to pretend the game isn’t important or that it’s not different, is not real,” Mendenhall said. “It is, and it’s important to the university, it’s important to the state, it’s important to the UVa alumni.”
Despite the importance of the game, Mendenhall and players don’t prepare differently for Friday’s game. It’s still the same game, and the same factors influence whether the Cavaliers or Hokies will emerge victorious.
“I think there’s a misconception that now that it’s this week, all these things become different,” Mendenhall said. “We’re really gonna practice hard now, and we’re really gonna try hard in the game and coaches are really gonna work long hours. I mean, we try every week to do that and so do the players. The rivalry games just make the impact and the outcome of the game so much more tangible and vibrant for the supporters because we’re in the same state.”
Win the Coastal
A win Friday puts Virginia in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 7 against Clemson. It would be the first Coastal title in program history for the Cavaliers. Every other team in the Coastal has won a division title.
Beating Virginia Tech gives the Cavaliers a division title, while also ending the streak against the Hokies. Earning a spot in the ACC title game and reaching new heights as a program means quite a bit to the Cavaliers.
“Each and every single year, we just work hard to improve from what the last class and the guys have built that came before us, build upon that each and every single year,” Mack said. “So slowly just work hard and do what we have to do to leave the program better than we found it.”
After finishing 2-10 in Mendenhall’s first season, Virginia is a win away from a 9-3 regular season and a spot in the ACC Championship.
For Mack and Reed, it’s even sweeter to have this much at stake after the struggles they went through to begin their Virginia careers.
“Just looking at the team now, we’re just telling the younger guys basically just how lucky they are to be in this program right now, like they came in at the perfect time,” Reed said. “The program is only getting better.”
Final home game
Friday marks the final game at Scott Stadium for 10 seniors on UVa’s two-deep roster.
Bryce Perkins, Mack and Reed will be among the players taking the field at home for the final time in their collegiate careers.
The game, which would be emotional regardless given the circumstances and opponent, becomes even more emotional for the seniors playing their final game at Scott Stadium.
“We just talk about it each and every single day, how we just have to seize the moment,” Mack said. “It’s been bittersweet. It’s been a long four years, but to have the opportunity to play at Scott one last time, it means a lot.”
Virginia is 6-0 at Scott Stadium this season, and a win gives the Cavaliers their first undefeated season at home since they went 5-0 in 1998.
Mendenhall provided no additional update on Chris Moore, who missed the Liberty game due to a violation of team rules.
Running back Wayne Taulapapa, who missed last week’s game against Liberty, is expected to be at full strength Friday.
Reed expects to be used as a kick returner this week after being limited the past two games with a minor injury.
Mendenhall says his facial hair, which has drawn interest from fans, is a playoff beard. He dubbed the final four games of the season a playoff run for the Cavaliers.
De’Vante Cross was named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week on Monday. Cross had two interceptions in the Cavaliers’ victory over Liberty on Saturday.