After BC beat-down, UVA looks to refocus against Pittsburgh
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Bronco Mendenhall walked into the home locker room after his Virginia football team had absorbed a 41-10 thumping at the hands of lightly regarded Boston College and readied himself to deliver the message that would steer the Cavaliers’ course for the upcoming week and possibly the rest of the season.
He didn’t have to.
“I closed the door and went in the locker room, and when I closed the door, Quin Blanding already had the entire team called up and was addressing them,” Mendenhall said Monday. “I didn’t have to say a thing.”
Blanding, Virginia’s All-America senior safety, delivered a message urging his teammates to stay the course and remember how the surprising Cavaliers (5-2, 2-1 ACC) brought themselves to the brink of their first bowl appearance since 2011.
And to remember how they got their doors blown off Saturday by the Eagles.
“That one game, tough loss, learned a lot of things, but it doesn’t define the season,” junior linebacker Chris Peace said. “Just a little learning curve not to get too ahead of ourselves. I think some of us probably jumped the gun on looking ahead instead of looking at the task at hand.”
Boston College, 1-3 in ACC play going into the U.Va. game, came off an upset of Louisville and outgained the Cavaliers 512-247. It jumped out to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter of a contest that was never really contested.
“What we can learn from that game was just a humble reminder that we’re still building and every week we’ve got to go out there and work,” sophomore wide receiver and defensive back De’Vante Cross said. “They’re not going to just hand us wins.”
Mendenhall said, in retrospect, he believes that — while he and the assistants didn’t talk about the prospects of becoming bowl eligible against BC — the players probably did, and it may have distracted them from being focused on the Eagles.
Mendenhall said he didn’t see signs of that during the week, when practices were rigorous and sharp. But it played out on the field at Scott Stadium on game day.
“I never addressed it and took it head-on because my intent is just to keep us right here, but I started to hear some whisperings around the edges as to, ‘This is what’s going to happen’ and ‘What’s that going to be like?’” Mendenhall said. “That took a little bit, I think, of the focus off of exactly what this needs to be. Our team needs every ounce of energy, every bit of concentration and every bit of preparation we can do to be on the field at the end of the game with a possible chance to win.”
Now, the coach is making sure his team is focused on bouncing back Saturday when Virginia visits Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh (3-5, 1-3). The Cavaliers have lost five straight games in NFL stadiums, including their past two visits to Heinz.
And while the team doesn’t want to get distracted thinking about it, this may be its last best chance to earn win No. 6. The Panthers, who edged Duke 24-17 on Saturday, are the last team on Virginia’s schedule with a losing record.
Mendenhall’s measured words, as always, were tempered with a view of the big picture. Where the coach wants to take the Cavaliers, ultimately, is not a destination they’ll be reaching this season.
Where this season may end, he cautioned again, is not something his team can spend time thinking about.
“With all the work we have to do, there’s no space for anything other than Pitt,” Mendenhall said.
Still, senior wide receiver Andre Levrone said that, after starting with five wins in their first six games, failing to win one more this year to reach a bowl would be an undeniable disappointment.
“When you’re one game away six games into the season, that’s essentially saying that we’re losing out,” Levrone said of the prospect of not making a bowl. “So I don’t see that happening. I feel like we’ll be all right.”
Note: The Atlantic Coast Conference said the start time for Virginia’s Nov. 4 “Family Weekend” game against Georgia Tech will be at 3 p.m. The game will be televised by regional sports networks. In Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the game will air on NBC Sports Washington, formerly known as Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic.