Wow. Where did this team come from? Last Friday saw UVa travel to the blue turf in Boise and look as if they were playing at home against VMI. This was easily the best and most complete performance of the Mendenhall Era. It was easily the best and most complete performance of the last 5 years. And it was quite possibly the best and most complete performance of the last decade. It was the most comprehensive victory over a “traditional” college powerhouse since 2007 when UVa shut out Miami 48-0. Since that time the Cavaliers have shown flashes of potential winning games here and there against big schools. And there have been huge blowouts of small schools. But nothing with a margin even approaching this 19 point beatdown of a school with some serious football tradition.
Despite the final score line things did not start out smoothly. Brett Rypien marched the Broncos right down the field and into the end zone sending shivers down the spines of wahoos everywhere who saw Rypien torch UVa in Charlottesville back in 2015. An ensuing 3 and out for the Cavaliers did little to alleviate any of the anxiety. Thankfully some pressure on Rypien halted the next drive and Jordan Ellis plowed his way down the field eventually finding the end zone with a 3 yard TD run. From there on UVa never really looked back. Benkert really dialed things in and would hit touchdown passes of 30, 27, and 64 yards. Halftime would see UVa’s lead at only 21-14. That would be as close as Boise would get the rest of the way. On the first drive of the second half Benkert hit Levrone for the 64 yard touchdown and that seemed to break the Broncos spirit. Zaccheaus would get in on the act with a 56 yard touchdown run later in the 3rd. Ellis would finish off our scoring in the fourth quarter getting his 5th touchdown of the season. Boise would finally get back on the board late in the fourth quarter getting a safety and hitting a deep touchdown bomb from their backup qb. It was very impressive. However, UVa fans need to stay grounded. Boise is not as strong as they have been. And while UVa may have been flying under some people’s radar, a Friday night, nationally televised performance like this will have teams taking you more seriously. ACC play awaits after a well-earned bye week. Going 3-1 out of conference sets us up nicely to make a serious run at bowl contention. Based on performances so far you have to think Boston College, Pitt, and UNC are the most likely games to get us to the 6 win threshold. But with Pitt and UNC both on the road, the upcoming game against Duke could be a chance to ease the tension on either of those games.
Offense – A : After the first drive they settled down and turned into a well-oiled machine. Ellis led the way on the ground with 24 carries for a hard fought 93 yards and 2 touchdowns. Benkert absolutely lit up the Idaho night going 19/29 for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Levrone led all receivers with 141 yards and 5 receptions. It was quite refreshing to see a UVa team run the ball successfully and be able to stretch a team deep. If they can continue this kind of quality with any consistency they’ll be a real handful for all the remaining teams on the schedule.
Defense – A : Despite surrendering 353 yards through the air, they really shined by holding 9 different Bronco rushers to a total of 30 yards on 24 attempts. The interception in the fourth quarter was icing on the cake as they surrendered only 21 points at altitude on short rest.
Special Teams – A : Easily, by an exponentially large margin, their best performance as a unit of the season. Despite never kicking any field goals Mejia nailed all 6 extra points. They did surrender 142 return yards on kickoffs but that came to only an average of 23.7 yards per return. Punts was where things really shined for UVa. Three punt returns netted only 14 yards for Boise. Coleman put another punt out of bounds inside the 20 plus had a fifth fair caught also inside the 20. Late in the game a punt was blocked which put a slight damper on the outing but considering their levels of performance during the previous 3 games, this was highly encouraging.
Coaches – A+ : Traveling west of the Mississippi, to altitude, on a short week, against a traditional football powerhouse had all signs pointing to a big loss. The easy opening drive TD for Boise seemed to confirm these fears. The coaching staff did an amazing job keeping things calm and leading the Cavs to a win. Play calling was impressively varied on both sides of the ball. Special teams showed significant improvement. And Mendenhall got a signature win in his second season.
Focus now turns to ACC play. Duke comes to town on Bicentennial weekend in Hooville. A win could set up a big party atmosphere on grounds as bowl eligibility would be firmly in sight. Mendenhall will have his work cut out for him to keep this team grounded and in the moment over the bye week.