Virginia football drillmaster Bronco Mendenhall spent the aboriginal decade of his career on the arresting ancillary of the ball.
He additionally was the arresting coordinator at BYU during the majority of his administration as the Cougars’ arch coach, and he alone afresh began experimenting with acceptance addition abroad to alarm plays at Virginia.
Mendenhall accepted arresting coordinator Nick Howell’s comedy calling in a ascendant win over Louisville. That was not the case afterwards a accident the afterward anniversary at N.C. State.
“We did not comedy acceptable abundant aegis today to win the game. That’s aloof affectionate of amount of fact,” Mendenhall said afterwards the Cavaliers’ 35-21 accident in Raleigh.
Mendenhall is not one to cull punches aback he offers feedback.
“That acknowledgment is brutal,” chief central linebacker Malcolm Cook said. “You can either let it breach you or you can accept to booty it, apprentice from it and move on.”
With that in mind, and because Saturday night’s d adjoin Miami in Scott Stadium marks the official mid-way point of the season, we cycle out the additional chapter of midseason address cards. Yesterday, the breach and appropriate teams were beneath the microscope. Today, grades appear out for the aegis and the apprenticeship staff.
Grade: B-. Top of the class, but absorption to detail is needed.
Notes: All three approved starters — chief Juan Thornhill and sopres Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson — accept impacted games. All three accept an interception, and Blount and Thornhill advance the aggregation in tackles. Thornhill was alleged ACC arresting aback of the anniversary afterwards acrimonious off a canyon and blocking a acreage ambition adjoin Indiana, and Nelson was the 2017 ACC Freshman of the Year. Blount’s assailment aback he accomplish bottomward into the box in run abutment has been abnormally impressive. He leads the aggregation with 32 tackles, and he leads the safeties with 3.5 tackles for a loss. Thornhill is third on the aggregation with four canyon breakups.
The cast side: As absorbing as their accouterment numbers are, that animality either hasn’t translated to the casual d or embodied itself in the anatomy of penalties. Blount was alleged for a brace of cher canyon arrest penalties in a accident at Indiana, and none of the three accept begin means to consistently win contested passes. That was abnormally credible aftermost weekend at N.C. State. The Wolfpack’s additional touchdown t of the d was a absolute apple of the secondary’s performance. The canyon was already in the air and beyond the ambition band aback Nelson and N.C. State’s Emeka Emezie collided in the end zone. Nelson bounced off him like a rag doll. Emezie stood his arena and fabricated the catch.
The adamantine truth: As accomplished as the Cavaliers’ safeties are, Virginia’s aegis will not adeptness its abounding abeyant until they amount out how to consistently accomplish plays aback the brawl is in the air.
Grade: B . A absolution to accept in class. Wish there were added acceptance like them.
Notes: If the Cavaliers’ arresting MVP was absitively today, that appellation would go to inferior cornerback Bryce Hall. Like any corner, he’s absent a few battles and accustomed up some big receptions, but Hall has additionally accurate absolutely able in one-on-one situations. He bankrupt up analytical passes adjoin Ohio and Louisville, and he isn’t shy about bottomward his accept to accomplish a tackle. He’s sixth on the aggregation with 23 tackles and has 2.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, a affected lix and an interception. Hall led UVa aftermost division with 10 canyon breakups. Through bristles amateur this season, he already has nine. Opposite him, green Darius Bratton has captivated his own. He hasn’t apparent Hall’s adenoids for the ball, but he’s won his allotment of the battles and has six canyon breakups.
The cast side: Chief Tim Harris is the alone added cornerback who has consistently apparent the field. He’s in his sixth division at Virginia, so he brings admired experience, but he’s additionally been the arresting aback opposing quarterbacks accept best on the most. Aback Nelson larboard aftermost week’s d with a concussion, redshirt freshmen Germane Crowell stepped in at nickel corner. It should be Hall’s and Bratton’s job for at atomic one added year, but injuries are consistently a looming affair and alive d activity is the alone way to advance affection depth.
The adamantine truth: If Hall were to go down, Virginia would acceptable accept to move Thornhill from assurance aback to his aboriginal position at cornerback. There artlessly isn’t abundant accurate abyss on the agenda to carbon Hall’s bendability any added way.
Grade: A. Top of the class. Leaders others appetite to follow.
Notes: What Virginia’s coaches believed afore the division was the Cavaliers’ centermost assemblage has accepted to be absolutely that. Six-foot-6 green alfresco linebacker Charles Snowden has been the best affable surprise. He was the ACC Linebacker of the Anniversary afterwards a sack and an interception adjoin Louisville, and he led UVa with 11 tackles at N.C. State. Chief OLB Chris Peace is constant and explosive. He leads the aggregation with 5.5 tackles for a accident and adds a abstracted appearance to a unit, which aback became absolute adolescent afterwards accident both central linebackers. Cook, a sixth-year player, was afflicted afore the Ohio game, and inferior Jordan Mack will absence at atomic six weeks afterwards adversity an abrasion afore aftermost week’s cruise to N.C. State.
Mack is a arrest apparatus and Cook may be the best amateur of the bunch. Their replacements accept accurate capable, though. Green Zane Zandier looks like a brilliant in the authoritative and adolescent second-year Rob Snyder’s solid admission at N.C. State was overshadowed by the Wolfpack’s absorbing abhorrent performance.
The cast side: Struggles with gap assignments popped up in losses to Indiana and N.C. State, both of which begin affluence of success on the ground. The linebackers don’t accept to accept all of that accusation (we’ll get to the arresting band and the comedy calling in abbreviate order), but they accept to own some of it. An alfresco linebacker’s job adjoin the run is to set the bend to force runners aback central area there’s traffic. An central linebacker’s job is to apprehend his keys, be it a affairs bouncer or some added advance blocker, breeze to the brawl and accomplish a play. Accustomed that they’ve been broken by a brace of freshmen (Indiana’s Stevie Scott and N.C. State’s Ricky Person Jr.), it’s safe to say those jobs haven’t been done to perfection.
The adamantine truth: Snowden is the best amateur to band up at linebacker for UVa in the bigger allotment of a decade. That’s an absorbing list, which includes the brand of Ahmad Brooks, Darryl Blackstock and Eli Harold.
Grade: C- – Shows flashes but appearance and apathy is an issue.
Virginia’s coaches knew in the offseason that they had to advancement this unit, so they went out and begin a brace of transfers in Dylan Thompson and Cassius Peat. It’s safe to say neither has formed out. Peat is no best on the agenda and, admitting they snuck him into one of the final drives of aftermost week’s accident at N.C. State, Thompson has almost becoming his jersey number, abundant beneath fabricated an absolute appulse on the field. Arresting end Richard Burney looked able in his aboriginal division as a amateur afore an affliction concluded his year. Arresting end Mandy Alonso has been slowed by injuries, and while arresting accouterment Eli Hanback is the unit’s best constant run defender, he’s not abundant of a blackmail as a canyon rusher.
The cast side: If there’s a argent lining to Thompson and Peat not animadversion out, it’s that accurate freshmen Jordan Redmond and Aaron Faumui were apprenticed into action, and they haven’t shied abroad from the spotlight. Redmond has become a accoutrement at adenoids tackle, which may be the best physically ambitious position on the line. Faumui has apparent a decidedly quick aboriginal step, and he got in on a sack adjoin Louisville. Both freshmen, Hanback, Burney and Alonso are all accepted aback aing season, and the Cavaliers are in the action of aggravating to defended addition year of accommodation for Thompson. Add to that the exact charge of 2019 four-star arresting lineman Jowon Briggs, and this assemblage could eventually advance into one of the team’s deepest.
The adamantine truth: There’s affiance for the future, but the arresting band has not played able-bodied abundant to attempt in the ACC.
Grade: B-. Bright and intelligent, but charge to attenuated their focus and stick to their strengths.
Notes: Quarterback Bryce Perkins’ adeptness to booty one to the abode aback plays breach bottomward makes the Cavaliers’ abhorrent play-callers attending absolutely smart. Virginia’s coaches have, for the best part, done a acceptable job of blockage out of the way and absolution Perkins use his accustomed athleticism. They do accept a addiction to go abroad from the active game, though. Mendenhall said himself that UVa’s affairs of acceptable advance aback active aback Jordan Ellis gets added than 20 carries. That has accurate true. Ellis agitated the brawl 20 times in wins over Richmond and Louisville, and 19 times adjoin Ohio. In losses to Indiana and N.C. State, he agitated it beneath than 15 times.
Defensively, abounding of the aforementioned appointment issues that amount the Cavaliers adjoin Indiana came aback to abode them afresh at N.C. State. Some of that acutely boils bottomward to execution, but it’s additionally a anathema annotation on the apprenticeship staff’s adeptness to adapt the troops. They’ve additionally been a bit too bourgeois aback it comes to assault calls, abnormally aftermost anniversary adjoin N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley. Virginia’s alone adventitious was to burden him and force him out of the pocket, but the coaches were too afraid about accepting exhausted by a abysmal accumulation of receivers to accelerate the added canyon rushers bare to get there.
The cast side: Heading into aftermost Saturday’s accident at N.C. State, Virginia’s aegis had accustomed up a absolute of 16 credibility in the additional bisected of games. Even in the accident at Indiana, the Cavaliers shut the Hoosiers out afterwards halftime. That’s a acclaim to the apprenticeship staff’s adeptness to accomplish in-game adjustments. Mendenhall’s staff, as a whole, is appealing young, and the majority of the coaches accept been calm for a continued time. They all bought in a continued time ago, and that is activity to crawl bottomward to the roster.
The adamantine truth: It takes time for any drillmaster to about-face a affairs around, which, accomplish no mistake, is what Mendenhall was tasked with doing. It’s affective in a absolute direction. It aloof still has a way to go.
Ron Counts covers University of Virginia contest for The Daily Progress. Contact him at [email protected], (434) 978-7245, or on Twitter @Ron_CDPsports.
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