Virginia Did What It Was Supposed To Do: Blow Out W&M

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Zane Zandier of Virginia exults after making a third-down tackle in the Tribe’s backfield.

There was a time when Virginia struggled mightily to put away teams it was supposed to beat.

Saturday night was an example of how far the Cavaliers have come, much quicker than most anticipated. Virginia 52, William & Mary 17.

Bronco Mendenhall’s team is 2-0, the first time the program has enjoyed that kind of start since 2012. Springboarding off last year’s winning season and a convincing bowl win, most of college football’s lords expected the 2-0 start, but perhaps didn’t expect it to be this lopsided.

Last week’s 30-14 win over Pitt at Pitt, where Virginia had never tasted victory, was certainly a surprise as the Cavaliers ended a four-game losing streak to the ACC’s defending Coastal Division champions.

Clearly, the Cavaliers are in unchartered waters for the first time in a very long time. Not only were they expected to be 2-0 at this point, but they’re also expected to win the division for the first time. That’s pressure, especially when considering that Virginia is the only member of the Coastal that has never sat on the division throne.

Saturday night was no contest. The Cavaliers dominated as soon as they stepped off the bus at Scott Stadium. Mike London, who saw good times, bad times, and some “almost” times as Mendenhall’s predecessor at UVA, was frustrated that his William & Mary team was no match for his former school.

Virginia was ahead 21-0 before London could blink and it really never got any better. The Tribe’s defense was overmatched and had no answer for UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins, who had an easy 260-yard night and three touchdowns.

On the other side, W&M couldn’t block the Cavaliers’ aggressive defense, which has now dominated opposing offenses back-to-back.

The visitors from Williamsburg brought in a new-fangled offense labeled the “Go-Go Offense.” Turned out it was the “No-No Offense,” as in zero, nothing, nada.

The Tribe couldn’t get off the schnide, mustering a mere 63 yards on the ground (1.8 per carry) and passing for 103 yards in 13 attempts (39 of that coming on one pass).

In the meantime, UVA’s defense kept W&M’s freshman QB sensation Hollis Mathis under duress the entire night until he was replaced late in the second half. By then, all was secure in Wahoo World.

“What we believed in watching the one game on tape is that if [Mathis] was allowed to have a head start and get in the open field, that’s going to be a challenge,” Mendenhall said. “We saw that in him scrambling early. We actually wanted to stop him before he ever got started.”

Virginia increased the pressure on the freshman QB, which forced him to keep his eyes on the rush rather than on going downfield.

As a result, Mathis didn’t complete a single pass, and the “Go-Go” got up and went.

Mendenhall had to be ecstatic about the complete game his Cavaliers turned in as they dominated every aspect. Joe Reed’s 100-yard kickoff return — only the fourth in school history — was another highlight, AND Virginia did not have to punt the ball in a game for the first time since 1989 against Steve Spurrier’s co-ACC champion Duke team in an easy Wahoo win.

For those who love aggressive defense, well this defense is for you. The Cavaliers are blitzing the daylights out of everyone and it’s paying huge dividends.

Co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga said before the season began that one of the keys to this defense — a Top 20 defense nationally a year ago — taking the next step was to put more pressure on quarterbacks. During the course of Mendenhall’s 14-plus seasons as a head coach, his teams have a mindblowing 92-percent win rate when they record more sacks than their opponents.

How does nine QB sacks sound over the first two games of this season?

W&M couldn’t block Virginia, allowing linebackers to go after the quarterbacks most of the evening.

“I don’t know if [Virginia] rattled [Mathis] as opposed to got after him and they covered all the gaps and made sure that he was going to be under duress when he threw the ball, and that’s what happened,” said London. “I think they scored every which way they could. We didn’t do enough to make sure we held onto the football.”

The Cavaliers’ defense had no trouble predicting what William & Mary’s exotic offensive scheme was going to do for the most part and took away it’s strengths.

“We had a lot of guys refusing to be blocked and having the right mindset to go and make plays,” said UVA linebacker Zane Zandier, nicknamed ZZ Stop by his teammates. 

Zandier led the defense in tackles for the second straight week, this time with nine, two for lost yardage, including one of the five sacks.

“It was important for us to come out and just play fast,” Zandier said. “We knew what we put on the film last week. We wanted to be better and improve from last week at Pitt. It was important to come out and execute at a higher level.”

That’s exactly what the Wahoos did on offense, defense, special teams.

It’s what was expected from the football lords. It’s what Mendenhall wanted, his team to dominate a team it was supposed to dominate.

Sometimes that’s not easy.

“It’s a unique challenge in itself — going on the road to Pitt and all the focus being on that the entire offseason — and then to have that success and turn around and play a team that I think is well-coached and a good football team,” Mendenhall said.

“On paper, we should win the game and should be favored to win the game. To play and win convincingly is a challenge and it is a test and it reflects maturity and experience. I take that as a step in the right direction. To do it on a short week was tough.”

That’s what good football teams do.

The next challenge will determine just how good. Florida State comes to town looking for a resurgence in its own downtrodden program. Virginia can make a huge leap forward if it can jump to 3-0, something it hasn’t done since 2005.


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