Sit down. I have some shocking news.
The Virginia Cavaliers are actually good at football. Like, American football.
In Bronco Mendenhall’s third season in Charlottesville, the Wahoos are sitting at 5-2 overall with a 3-1 mark in the ACC. Virginia has big wins over then-No. 16 Miami and on the road against Duke and have made it through the toughest part of their conference schedule.
In fact, there is a real possibility that this Cavalier squad could win the rest of their games and finish 10-2.
Here’s what is left for UVA in the last five weeks of the season:
- vs. North Carolina (1-3 ACC)
- vs. Pitt (2-1 ACC)
- vs. Liberty
- @ Georgia Tech (1-3 ACC)
- @ Virginia Tech (3-0 ACC)
The Hoos will be favored in three or four straight games, potentially leading to a winner-take-all rivalry game.
Virginia Tech is in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal, but the Hokies still have Pitt, Miami, Georgia Tech, and Boston College to go before playing UVA. Miami’s matchups with Georgia Tech, Boston College, Pitt, Duke, and Virginia Tech are no gimmes, either.
The ACC Coastal — which is, as always, a complete mess — is wide open for the taking.
A mere win over North Carolina would send Virginia to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004-05. Yes, you’re reading that right.
If Virginia can pick up one win in the last five — which includes a home game against Liberty — UVA will have two bowl trips in as many seasons for the first time in 13 years. Granted, in order for the Hoos to represent the ACC in the conference title game, that means they would most likely need to beat Virginia Tech as well, something that hasn’t happened since 2003, when Matt Schaub and Heath Miller headlined the offense.
Things have been bleak in Charlottesville for over a decade, as they struggled to find consistent success under head coaches Al Groh and Mike London. Under Groh in 2008, Virginia started 5-3, but dropped its last four games of the season. With London at the helm in 2014, they got off to a 4-2 start, but finished 5-7.
Since the ACC Championship became a thing in 2005, Virginia has only sniffed at the title game twice.
In 2007, the Hoos and Hokies were both 6-1 heading into the final conference game of the season. Virginia lost their fourth straight to VT and finished one game out. In 2011, UVA once again went into their rivalry matchup with a berth to the ACC Championship game on the line. The Hoos lost that game in embarrassing fashion, falling 38-0 in their eighth straight loss to the Hokies.
This season just seems different.
First of all, Virginia’s defense is outstanding. Only Miami and Clemson are allowing fewer yards and points than the Cavaliers in the ACC, and UVA’s 10 interceptions on the season are behind just Boston College and Miami. After getting off to a shaky start, Virginia’s defensive backs have been elite, picking off five passes combined against Miami and Duke.
Cornerback Bryce Hall is first in the ACC and tied for first in the nation with 14 pass breakups, and safety Juan Thornhill is tied for first in the ACC with four interceptions. In their two conference home games, the Virginia defense held Louisville and Miami to just one touchdown combined. Against Miami, Hall clocked in at 22 miles per hour while tracking down Travis Homer for a touchdown-saving stop.
Offensively, it has been a while since the Cavaliers had anyone as dynamic as quarterback Bryce Perkins. A transfer from Arizona State via Arizona Western Community College, Perkins is 119-for-192 (63 percent) on the season for 1,406 yards and 12 touchdown passes to go with seven interceptions. On the ground, he’s added another 463 yards (sack adjusted) and five touchdowns. Oh, and he’s caught a pass for nine yards because why the hell not.
He has an accurate arm, but when he hits the open field, he can do this:
Saturday against Duke, Perkins showed off his arsenal as he passed for 189 yards and a touchdown and added 61 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground. Holding on to a 20-14 lead over the Blue Devils, Perkins pulled off a magic act to find his tight end Evan Butts in the end zone to effectively seal the game.
That doesn’t even take into account running back Jordan Ellis (619 yards, seven touchdowns) and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (582 yards, six touchdowns), both of whom are in the top-5 of their respective ACC positions.
Mendenhall was a bona fide winner at BYU, and we’re starting to see that in Charlottesville.
“Time working increases execution, and when increase your execution under duress like that when you play an opponent, the outcome usually starts to shift over time,” Mendenhall said after the Duke game. “The outcome starts to shift over time and that’s what’s happening now at the two-and-a-half year mark. We can just [see] it shifting, not shifted, but shifting. We’re watching it happen right in front of us.”