CHARLOTTESVILLE – To settle his mind after a frustrating game, Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall likes to spend time tending to the horses on his ranch. With his team knocked from its horse in Saturday night’s blowout loss at North Carolina, and with a short week leading up to Friday night’s meeting with Wake Forest, Mendenhall needs the Cavaliers back in the saddle quickly.
“That residue lasts through the entire Monday, at least it does for me,” said Mendenhall. “Even though we're working and already immersed starting yesterday on Wake Forest. Once you start applying on Tuesday, you can't look back.”
Looking back, Mendenhall and his charges will see a disheartening defensive letdown. A cacophony of missed tackles and blown assignments that led to a 59-39 road loss, one in which the Tar Heels amassed 699 yards of total offense.
So complete was the UNC offensive onslaught, that its players earned ACC quarterback, running back, receiver and co-offensive linemen of the week honors, the league announced Monday.
“Execution was very inconsistent and poor at best,” said Mendenhall. “And lack of assignments and just basically being where we needed to be frequently or infrequently led to just lots and lots and lots of yards, plays, points.”
So many, in fact, that even a record-setting performance by quarterback Brennan Armstrong and the offense wasn’t enough to secure a fifth straight win over North Carolina. Armstrong threw for a school record 554 yards and tossed four touchdown passes in the loss.
Those statistics didn’t take away any of the sting of the final score, though.
“I really don’t think about the record,” Armstrong said after the game. “I think about the loss.”
Of course, now is the time to stop thinking about that loss and move forward.
Virginia (2-1, 0-1 ACC) has had mixed results bouncing back from losses under Mendenhall. Without including his first year in Charlottesville, a 2016 season that saw UVA finish 2-10, Mendenhall’s teams are 7-8 following a defeat, including losing four of the last six in that scenario.
“Every loss is a frustrating loss. Mindset-wise, these guys are all ready to come back and get ready to go again,” said senior offensive lineman Ryan Nelson. “I think we all looked at each other in the locker room like, ‘this can’t happen again. We’re a better team than this.’”
Now, the team gets one less day than usual to prove that and prepare for another imposing offense. Wake Forest, coming off a 35-14 undressing of floundering Florida State, ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring, averaging 39.3 points per game under former Richmond coach Dave Clawson.
Quarterback Sam Hartman, a four-year starter for the Demon Deacons, has thrown for the fifth most touchdowns in the ACC this season (6), while completing the fourth highest percentage of his throws (68.7) going into Friday night’s meeting at Scott Stadium.
With a pair of explosive wide receivers in Jaqaurii Roberson and A.T. Perry and the effective running of Christian Beal-Smith, Wake (3-0, 1-0) presents another round of challenge for the UVa defense.
“There's a player in conflict most all the time if you choose to play zone,” said Mendenhall. “And if you choose to play man, they like the personnel they have at wide receiver, running back, quarterback, so they like their match-ups. That's led to that kind of point production.”
He speaks from experience. Last season, Wake beat UVa 40-23 in Winston Salem, N.C., with Hartman throwing for 309 yards and a score and the Deacons running for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cavaliers are 3-3 under Mendenhall when having less than a full week to prepare for an opponent, but Mendenhall hopes Saturday’s loss moves quickly from being painful to pedagogic.
“Lots exposed, lots to work on,” he said. “But wow, what a huge opportunity for us to see it, have it right out there in the open and get to work on it.”
NOTES: Mendenhall said running back Wayne Taulapapa remains in concussion protocol after being injured during the UNC loss. His status for Friday night has yet to be determined. ... Safety Joey Blount, who was also hurt against the Tar Heels, and safety Nick Grant, who missed the game with an undisclosed medical issue, are both expected to play against Wake Forest.