The former Brigham Young coach inherited a four-win team, but brought his brand of football to the program and has the Cavaliers on the rise in year three.
The Wahoos are 6-2 on the season, crashed the AP Top 25 this week at No. 23 and the team is ranked for the first time since 2007. Virginia has won five of its’ last six games and sits atop the Coastal Division tied with Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. The opportunity is there for the Cavaliers as they face the Panthers this Saturday and their in-state rivals in the season-finale.
A win in those two games and could potentially propel Virginia to play in its’ first ACC Championship Game come December 1. The resume is solid and Virginia has taken down three teams with a winning record. A buzz is starting to build around Charlottesville. There’s momentum around campus that hasn’t been felt for quite some time.
One noticeable change for Virginia this fall has been on defense. The unit is No. 2 in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 18.3 points per game. Virginia is also No. 3 in the league in total defense, allowing 327 yards a game.
The defensive secondary has been a strength for the unit. Senior free safety Juan Thornhill has shown his ball-hawking skills and is tied for second in the ACC with four interceptions. Junior cornerback Bryce Hall leads the conference in pass break ups with 16. Senior linebacker Chris Pace is the leader of the front seven and has 10 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season.
Virginia’s offense has also improved drastically. Junior signal-caller Bryce Perking has proved he’s a true dual-threat with 1,623 yards through the air for 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has the second most rush yards of any quarterback in the ACC with 575, to go along with six scores and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
Senior running back Jordan Ellis has provided 683 yards on the ground for seven touchdowns and averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Senior receiver Olamide Zacceaus is No. 2 in the league in receptions, hauling in 56 passes for 690 yards and six touchdowns.
Mendenhall is no stranger to defeating Power 5 teams and during his tenure at BYU his teams beat Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Washington, Washington State, California and even Virginia. Now all the coach has to do is keep his players focused on the task at hand and that’s reaching back-to-back bowl games, clinching a berth in the Conference Title Game and finishing the season with a winning record for the first time since 2011.