CHARLOTTESVILLE— To make sure Virginia Tech’s football team goes into each weekend understanding how costly mental errors can be, Justin Fuente likes to show this players video of other games where those type of gaffes had major impacts.
Last Saturday’s game between Miami and Florida – a Gators’ win that saw the two teams combine for 23 penalties and five turnovers – figures to feature prominently in Fuente’s first edition.
“There was plenty of material in that game,” Fuente said Monday.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall watched Florida’s far-from-crisp 24-20 victory with his children.
“Both teams were trying really hard,” Mendenhall said diplomatically Monday. “Really, in the opening game, as much as we would like to say we know where we stand, you really don’t until you play. That’s exactly where we’ll be.”
Both the Cavaliers and Hokies open their seasons on the road Saturday and, in the new reality of the conference needing content for the freshly-launched ACC Network, both are playing league games, starting with contests that could go a long way to determining how their seasons end up.
Unlike many years, where the majority of conference games don’t take place until the fourth week of the season or later, Tech and UVA won’t have the chance to get any snaps under their belts before playing games that impact the league standings.
All the errors, gaffes and miscues associated with a team’ first game? Those will be magnified.
“You put a conference game into that setting, man, that’s fuel to the fire,” Mendenhall said.
Last season, Virginia Tech defeated Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla. on Labor Day night in the opener for both teams. That was the only ACC matchup in the first two weeks of the season. Every other conference team had the benefit of playing at least two non-league games before jumping into ACC play.
This year, with the conference eager to have games to air on its new network each weekend, Virginia Tech plays at Boston College and Virginia opens at Pittsburgh.
The following weekend, Miami plays North Carolina and, by the third week of the year, three different ACC matchups are on the schedule, including Florida State at UVA.
“From summer workouts to camp, everything had to be sharp,” Virginia senior quarterback Bryce Perkins said. “We had to get the fine details tuned faster than it would have been. We have to start fast and then carry that throughout the season, so we don’t have time to meander into it.”
Virginia has gone 2-1 in openers during the three years Mendenhall has been coaching, with all three of those games coming at home against FCS opponents. UVA’s program hasn’t played a season opener on the road since opening with a loss at UCLA in 2015, Mike London’s final season coaching.
The Cavaliers haven’t won a road opener since beating Temple in 2003.
This year, they go into the season as the preseason favorite in the Coastal Division, but the opening month of the schedule is not without potentially-perilous pitfalls.
Two of the team’s first three games are ACC contests.
“Any time you open up with a conference game, there’s a heightened urgency, because it’s like, right off the bat this is going for the conference,” said senior cornerback Bryce Hall.
At Virginia Tech, the Hokies have some recent experience with that. They opened last season with a road win at Florida State. That was Tech’s first season-opening ACC affair since beating Georgia Tech in overtime in Blacksburg to kickoff the 2012 season.
“I don’t mind playing these games. I like the way we go about trying to prepare our guys early in the year,” Fuente said, before adding, “I’d like to play one of these games at home every now and again. I hope the ACC Network is listening.”