Scattershooting: W&M Is UVA East; Tony Bennett Speaks To VBC

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Media Relations

Scattershooting around UVA, while wondering how strange it’s going to be Friday night to look across the field to the William & Mary sidelines and see so many familiar faces …

Certainly Mike London will be the most familiar, having been Virginia’s head coach from 2010-15. His coaching staff is filled with former Wahoos: Darryl Blackstock, Ras-I Dowling, Keenan Carter, Matt Johns, Gordon Sammis and Josh Zidenberrg, along with former UVA linebacker coach Vincent Brown, who is London’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator.

This will be the second time that London has coached on the visitor’s sideline at UVA’s Scott Stadium. He was head coach at Richmond in 2008 when the Spiders came to town.

 

Wahoo Nuggets

# UVA linebacker Jordan Mack, who missed a portion of the Cavaliers’ win at Pitt last weekend due to concussion symptoms, returned to practice and is expected to play against the Tribe on Friday night.

# True freshman nose tackle Jowon Briggs made his collegiate debut at Pitt but was not credited with a tackle, which isn’t a huge surprise because he was busy taking on blocks so that linebackers could fill the gaps. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall noted that Briggs started in the Cavaliers’ base defense (3-4) and was in for 25-to-30 plays for the night.

“I would say it was a solid starting point with plenty of room to grow,” the coach said of Briggs’ first game.

# Just as we wrote and predicted on this site last week, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi stuck with the same game plan against UVA QB Bryce Perkins on Saturday night as he used last year in Charlottesville. Mendenhall confirmed that during his weekly press conference on Monday.

“Pitt did a nice job a year ago as well keeping Bryce contained,” Mendenhall said. “[Pitt] has a strong front seven and did a nice job not only pressuring us, but when [Perkins] did scramble, with the exception of a couple of occasions, their plan from the previous year wasn’t much different than this year.”

# Perkins’ backup, Brennan Armstrong, is probably hoping for a lopsided UVA win on Friday night so that he can get some playing time. Mendenhall said that Armstrong is so good an athlete that he’s capable of playing other positions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see him in some other spots beside quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “He could be lined up as punt returner or receiver or running back or other areas.”

The coach said there is a possibility that both Perkins and Armstrong could be lined up in the backfield together. That would be intriguing and somewhat of a dilemma for a potentially confused defense.

At Pitt, Armstrong was on the UVA punt team.

# Looks like junior De’Vante Cross has finally found a home at the safety position. Cross has played in the secondary, quarterback and wide receiver during his first couple of years at UVA.

At Pitt, Cross posted three tackles, broke up a pass and had a QB hurry.

“He really did a nice job,” Mendenhall said. “His play recognition, positioning, a couple of the balls that players were open for Pitt, and then he came to the post late, was as well-played as anyone that I’ve seen do that, which wasn’t his primary responsibility.”

The coach said that Cross tackled well and was assignment-sound, which is important because some of his mates at safety, Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson, have a history with durability. With Cross and Chris Moore, UVA’s safety pool is deep.

 

Tony Bennett speaks to VBC

Don’t know how many out there are aware, but the Virginia Basketball Club, which goes way back to at least the days of Terry Holland if not before then, is still in existence and meets regularly at the DoubleTree Hotel.

UVA coach Tony Bennett showed up Thursday for the noon luncheon and brought his entire coaching and support staff, which delighted the crowd.

Bennett thanked the crowd for its undying support over the years and talked about the march to the national championship. The group presented Bennett with a plaque with some of last year’s accomplishments, and supplied Jefferson Cups for all the staff, which Bennett proudly handed out to each one, telling a little story about each staff member (see attached video of Bennett talking about his interview with now-associate head coach Jason Williford).

It came up during the luncheon that Virginia oddly will open the season on the road at Syracuse, mostly due to the ACC Network wanting to make a big splash the first week of the season.

If the ACC coaches, or at least half of them, were upset about having to open the season against a conference opponent on the road, that wasn’t reflected in their voting during the ACC meetings back in May. The coaches voted unanimously to approve the idea of playing an ACC foe to kick things off, agreeing that if it was good for the conference then, “let’s do it.”

Now, here’s the rub for Virginia. The Cavaliers will be only the second national champion in history to open the following season on the road in 83 years. The other? UCLA with Lew Alcindor on Dec. 2, 1967, when the Bruins opened the season at Purdue.

Still not sure why the ACC or ESPN would suggest that the defending national champs would open on the road. Then again, I can’t figure out why UVA has to play on the road for the second consecutive year in the ACC/Big10 Challenge (last year at Maryland, this year at Purdue).

 

Them Changes

So when Wahoo fans walk into Scott Stadium on Friday night for the season opener, they’ll notice numerous changes, all documented in a piece on this site earlier in the week.

There will be a new sound system, changes to entry procedures, concessions offerings — including alcohol sales of beer and wine in designated “beer gardens,” if you will, that will open 90 minutes before kickoff at both the East and West gates.

The “Adventures of Cavman” has been replaced with a new video as a prelude to the Cavalier riding into the stadium on horseback. There’s also a new public address voice, Tim Zawacki, who handles those chores at UVA men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse games.

For an extensive list of all those changes, go to our archives and look for “Alcohol Sales Highlight UVA Game-Day Enhancements at Scott Stadium.”

UVA AD Carla Williams and her staff has been working hard to make the game experience easier and more entertaining for fans, and should be saluted for the effort. Having worked at football powerhouses Georgia and Florida State, she knows that football is the engine that drives the train, financially speaking.

She also knows that an exciting, winning team puts more fannies in the seats than anything, and that’s Mendenhall’s job.

Certainly, Bronco is so consumed with putting a winning product on the field that he’s not part of any of the decision-making process about gameday experiences. Still, he would like to see more support in the stands. 

Last year, UVA averaged 39,705 fans for six home dates, with announced attendance reaching the 40,000-mark four times. The season-opener against Richmond drew 40,524; Louisville 34,446; No. 16 Miami 42,393; rival North Carolina a season-high 43,128; Pitt (with the Coastal Division title on the line) only 36,256; and Liberty 41,485.

With the official capacity of Scott Stadium at 61,500, well that’s an average of 21,795 empty seats for six home dates or 130,770 empty seats over the course of a season. That’s a whole lot of lost revenue that could help fuel Virginia’s entire athletic program.

Asked about the turnout, Mendenhall said he hopes for more.

“No, it’s not where I want it to be, but I do see progress,” the coach said. “It was noticeable last year. The level of fan engagement was more vibrant, passionate, audible. I could hear it and feel it and sense it much more so than years one and two.”

Mendenhall said he was told that ticket sales are up 10 percent this year, which could escalate if the Cavaliers get off to a great start.

“Really the things I can control is just what kind of product we have on the field, what type of young people we bring, and hopefully the outcomes that are produced are something that over time builds a strong enough sentiment where the UVA fans and folks in Charlottesville really want to be there and want to support and view it as something they can’t wait to do.”

The coach said that the growth is a work in progress and believes the administration is doing a nice job of being creative in its approach.

More often than not, UVA’s atmosphere and attendance numbers are greatly influenced by the student turnout, which Mendenhall believes is growing. He said that last season not only could he see them, but he could hear their passion and excitement for the team.

 

About that Beer Garden…

We all know that Mendenhall, a man of strong faith, isn’t exactly a fan of alcohol, and that’s fine. When asked about that change in the gameday experience, media sensed the coach wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea.

“I think there is always separation you have to have,” he said. “Yeah, as a non-alcohol drinker myself there is a personal view, and then there is kind of an amateur-sport view, and then an entertainment view, and also a revenue view.

“And so, again, the primary thing I can do is attract young people that will represent the school really well, have them play in a manner that would have folks to really want to come and support them. That’s what I can influence.”

Mendenhall made it clear that he was told about the alcohol by administration and that he had no involvement in the process whatsoever.

“It appears that college sport is following suit of the NFL and I’m sure there is a revenue component to that. I really have no control over it, and my hope is just that fans come to support our team.”

 

Book Signing, Pick ‘Em Contest, and Radio Show, Oh my!

  • We will have a book signing before Friday’s home-opener with William & Mary, 4-6 p.m. at the UVA Bookstore. Fans can pick up a copy of “Team of Destiny, Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship.” Chris Graham and yours truly will sign them before we head over to the stadium.
  • We will also have another book signing before next week’s home game with Florida State. That one will be at Mincer’s on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 4-5:30 p.m.
  • If you haven’t joined our weekly football pick‘em contest, you’re missing out on the fun. It’s free. All you have to do is pick your 20 winners and email them to us (see contest for instructions). Weekly winners get gift certificates to Riverside Lunch. Don’t know if you saw a recent piece on Riverside Lunch (Hazel Street), but local chefs rave about the place. All the weekly winners automatically qualify for the grand prize, which we are still working on, but I’m telling you, if you’re a Virginia fan, you will definitely want to win it.
  • “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show” on ESPN-Charlottesville on Saturday morning (9-10 a.m.) should be fun. We’re talking to L.A. Rams linebacker Micah Kiser, former UVA All-American, along with Dr. David Diduch of UVA Orthopedics (each week we discuss the specifics of a different injury you may see at a stadium or on TV, and it’s quite fascinating). We will also have a complete recap of Friday night’s UVA-William & Mary game. As usual, if you miss any of our shows, you can find the podcasts on this site’s archives.


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