Postgame Notebook: Virginia offense posted big numbers against No. 1 Clemson

Bronco explains strategies, addresses Covid issue

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Wayne Taulapapa (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Clemson strutted into Saturday night’s game armed with a defense that was giving up less than two yards per carry after its victories over The Citadel and Wake Forest. The Tigers’ goal was to keep Virginia under that average as well.

Didn’t work.

The Cavaliers rushed for 147 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. In fact, UVA outrushed Clemson 100 yards to 50 yards in the second half when Virginia outscored the Tigers, 17-13.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong attacked Clemson’s defense all night and posted 89 yards (4.0 average) on 22 carries. His longest run was for 28 yards. Armstrong actually rushed for 105 yards, but was charged with 16 yards in losses from three sacks. Wayne Taulapapa rushed for 47 yards and a 3.6 average, while Shane Simpson contributed 11 yards and a 3.7 average.

Wahoo fans will remember how UVA was the first team to gain 300 yards against Clemson in 2019 when the Cavaliers nearly put up 400 on the Tigers. None of Clemson’s first 12 opponents managed to do that last season until Virginia, and then LSU in the national championship game.

Saturday night, the Cavaliers posted 417 yards of total offense, the first time Clemson has given up 400 in a game since 2017 against NC State.

Covid hits the Cavaliers

Seven UVA players were unavailable for the Clemson game and were either in isolation or quarantined. Also, one of the Cavaliers’ full-time coaches tested positive for Covid-19 and was in isolation.

In his postgame video conference with media, Bronco Mendenhall declined to identify the players or the coach.

“Our policy is going to be we’ll be transparent with the numbers but we’re not going to be transparent with the names,” Mendenhall said. “We hadn’t had any positives since the players returned. And yeah, got us by surprise. And then again, there’s players that are testing positive, then there’s contact tracing as well. So that’s been our first experience with that and how that’s being managed.”

Mendenhall said UVA received results from Wednesday’s test at about midnight Thursday, hours before another test on Friday.

“It was a long turnaround, for whatever reason, with both results,” the coach said.

Sources said no offensive or defensive starters were among the seven isolated players.

Forgetting Clemson

While Virginia turned in a better performance than most everyone expected, the Cavaliers are not dwelling on the game.

It’s on to NC State, which came from behind to beat Pitt, 30-29, in the final minute of play in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a quick turnaround, we’ve got to start watching film on NC State,” said UVA tailback Wayne Taulapapa. “Just leave this game in the past and continue to improve and get better for NC State, which is a great team. They just had a win today against Pitt, so we’re excited to play them.”

Sixth-year defensive end Richard Burney, who had a career-high 2.0 tackles for loss, including his second sack of the season, agreed with Taulapapa.

“As a team, we’re pissed we didn’t win, but we’ll look at the film and do everything to get better … just put that in the past and move on to NC State. One thing we talk about in our program is unbroken growth, so we’ve just got to keep going and keep pushing.”

‘Plane ride is gonna suck’

Inside linebacker Zane Zandier, who posted seven tackles against Clemson, was impressed with the Tigers, but believed the loss will help Virginia get better.

“They’re a good team, they had a good scheme going on, and the number one team in the country, they’re going to put up points and they made five or six more plays than we made,” Zandier said. “I thought we hung with them. I thought we’re capable of beating a team like that. I’m very confident that we are.

“Coming out of it, we don’t want any moral victories. We lost the game, and I mean, it sucks, and the plane ride home is gonna suck. Other than that, it was alright.”

About that running game…

Senior right guard Chris Glaser believed the Cavaliers’ rushing attack made a difference in the game.

“When we have a good running game, then it loosens up Brennan and it gives him time to throw the ball,” Glaser said, “so we’re trying to just be the best we can be and get Brennan all the times he needs.”

As a lineman, Glaser said it was fun to watch Armstrong take off and gain yardage on the run.

“Yeah, definitely,” Glaser said. “Especially when he gets those first downs, or when we have to work to get one more yard to get the first down. I mean, he’s fast. He’s twitchy. It’s great to have a quarterback like that.”

Glaser said he felt the Cavaliers closed the gap on the nation’s No. 1 team.

“We still have a long ways to go, but I think they’re a beatable team. Shout out to them, they played a great game, made some great plays, and we were just a couple plays short on beating them,” he said.

Taulapapa agreed.

“I thought we did a lot of great things and a lot of things that we need to clean up, especially just making a certain amount of plays that will help us win games,” the tailback said. “[Clemson is] a great team, but we’ve got to continue to [fix] those mistakes.”

The interception

Mendenhall said that even though Clemson’s interception in the end zone stopped the Cavaliers from scoring on three consecutive possessions on the opening drive of the second half, it didn’t stop UVA’s momentum.

“It didn’t take the air out of our sails,” Mendenhall said. “We kept trying to close within a two-score margin. Great teams have great players that make plays at the right time, and the one-handed interception in the corner of the end zone was a great play by a Clemson player (Andrew Booth Jr. vs. UVA’s Lavel Davis Jr.)

“Those are the kind of plays that help you get into the playoffs and help you win championships and help you become a really good program, so really nice play by that corner.”

Third-down breakdowns

Clemson converted 8 of 15 third downs, including at least four from no less than third-and-nine, which kept drives going and wore out UVA’s defense.

“It was a challenge the entire game defensively,” Mendenhall said of the third-down issues, “either with tackling, or Clemson’s receivers making plays, or Trevor Lawrence scrambling on screens to jersey No. 9 [Etienne]. 

“They have good players and they are really well-coached. They were just one step ahead in terms of making the plays they needed to on third-and-long, which is atypical. We are normally very good on third down. That shows the difference. We worked to adjust, we worked to blend, we worked to try different things. They out-executed us on third down, really pretty consistently throughout the game.”


UVA burned all three of its first-half time outs by the :30-mark of the first quarter and didn’t have any left down the stretch before halftime.

Mendenhall had no regrets. It was part of his strategy.

“Here is the simple thought behind that,” Mendenhall explained. “Clemson is hopeful to have shock-and-awe right from the beginning and put you on your heels and never let you recover. I was absolutely willing to use timeouts and slow the pace to make sure our guys were ready, and they were.

“That was absolutely something that we would do again — and was prepared to do — because of how fast, how explosive and how easily they jump out on teams so quickly. Looking to stall and use them if we needed to, and I believe we needed to.”

For more, click here for a complete statistical package and UVA notes, and also check out my column from last night’s game.


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