Virginia leads the ACC Coastal Division after an exciting 38-31 road win over North Carolina on Saturday night.
The Cavaliers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) are a pair of wins away from winning their first Coastal Division crown. If a few things break their way, they may only need one victory to clinch the division.
With its goals in front of it, UVa faces a meaningful November stretch. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall took the podium for his weekly Monday press conference. Mendenhall and three UVa players took turns discussing the team’s upcoming games and the importance of beating UNC.
With two ACC games and a nonconference bout with Liberty left on the schedule, the bowl-eligible Cavaliers feel like November has a playoff atmosphere. Virginia has a chance to win a division title and beat Virginia Tech in the same month.
“Glad to be at home now for closing it out,” Mendenhall said. “And if you consider it or if you frame it basically as a playoff race, home-field advantage is something we have for the remainder of the way, which gives us as good a shot as anyone to finish the way we would like to.”
Mendenhall and the players were open about their goals of wanting to make a bowl game, win the Coastal Division and beat Virginia Tech. With bowl eligibility secured, the Cavaliers can focus on the other two goals with three games left until the end of the regular season.
Leading the Coastal
With the Coastal Division lead in hand, the Cavaliers don’t feel overconfident, but they’re also not overlooking any team on the schedule. Even with a 2-6 Georgia Tech team on the schedule, players know that the Yellow Jackets beat Miami on the road, a feat UVa failed to accomplish.
“We still have to prove ourselves,” Virginia defensive lineman Mandy Alonso said. “We still need to earn our way to the top.”
UVa, Pitt and Virginia Tech are the only other Coastal teams with only two losses, but Pitt (three) and Virginia Tech (two) both have fewer conference wins than UVa’s four. Virginia sits in a good position, but it can’t afford a Saturday slip up against a beatable Georgia Tech squad.
“Every win matters,” Mendenhall said. “And all the North Carolina game did was make this one more important than even that one.”
Virginia’s defense, especially its secondary, is feeling the injury toll. The Cavaliers lost safety Brenton Nelson for the season last week, which comes a few weeks after losing cornerback Bryce Hall. Antonio Clary, a freshman defensive back, is also ruled out for the season. The Cavaliers are reliant on a few freshmen to provide secondary depth this week.
Redshirt freshman Jaylon Baker was called on in the win over UNC. While he was far from perfect, he performed adequately and improved as the game went on.
“I think he did pretty good,” defensive back Chris Moore said. “Just being a young guy, especially being thrown in that role in such a big game, I think he did a good job. He started off kind of nervous. I could kind of see it, just how far back he was playing off. But I just told him, ‘Be confident. We’ve all got confidence in you. Just play. Like, I trust you.’”
Despite losing key contributors, the defense still feels it can improve and make plays the rest of the way.
Fortunately for Virginia, Georgia Tech ranks 124th nationally in passing. Only six teams throw for fewer yards per game than the Yellow Jackets, and three of those run the triple option. Georgia Tech ran the triple option last season, but it is transitioning to a new offense under first-year head coach Geoff Collins.
There’s not a better ACC team to face with an injured secondary than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Terrell Jana starred against North Carolina, securing 13 receptions for 146 yards. Finding him was part of Virginia’s game plan, and it forces opposing defenses to scout more consistently to defend Jana, Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed.
With the receivers clicking and Bryce Perkins appearing fully healthy, the Cavaliers hope to maintain their offensive output in future weeks.
“I like exactly where we are,” Mendenhall said. “If we could replicate that game three more times, I would take it today and not play the game. I was really encouraged by what I saw.”
Perkins, who was named ACC Quarterback of the Week, accounted for a school-record 490 total yards of offense and five touchdowns in win over UNC. According to a UVa press release, Perkins accounted for 10 plays of at least 15 yards in the victory.
The offensive line played one of its best games of the season, giving Perkins plenty of time in the pocket. The line’s week-to-week improvement is evident, although it’s still a work in progress.
“This weekend is what we should have been doing this whole time,” offensive lineman Chris Glaser said. “It’s kind of like our job is to protect as long as possible and when we do our job, I feel like that’s what we did this weekend.”