UVa head coach "thrilled" to play Clemson, said title game exposed Cavs' deficiencies


by - Senior Writer -
Mendenhall's Cavaliers defeated Duke 38-20 last weekend. (Photo: Amber Searls / USATODAY)
Mendenhall's Cavaliers defeated Duke 38-20 last weekend. (Photo: Amber Searls / USATODAY)

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall is thrilled to be playing Clemson again, saying that last year’s loss in the ACC Championship Game showed the deficiencies in his program.

Clemson defeated the Cavaliers 62-17 in last December’s ACC title game, and the teams will face off again this Saturday in Death Valley (8 pm, ACC Network). The Tigers opened as a four-touchdown favorite.

“Oh yeah, I'm thrilled to be able to get a chance to play Clemson again,” said Mendenhall. “Having earned the chance to play them in the ACC championship game last year, it just accelerated our program. It exposed deficiencies. We learned so many things about that setting, that stage, that opponent. We're anxious to learn and apply and improve from what we showed a year ago.

“But without that game, and the outcome of that game and how it was played, we wouldn't have been as effective or played the way we did versus Florida, so I thought we played a better football game against the University of Florida because of what we learned in our game against Clemson.”

Mendenhall said his program will only get better from playing the nation’s best team.

“To grow and expand and develop our program, the best teams on the biggest stages accelerate growth,” he said. “So, every time we have a chance to be in a setting against a quality opponent, growth happens faster than it would if we weren't in that stage, especially now going into year five.”

He then said that the Cavaliers can take plenty of information from last December’s game.

“You can glean a lot,” Mendenhall said. “Dabo Swinney is still the coach. The coordinators are the same. So much of the personnel remains, and the system is so effective and has been for a long time. So Clemson is the point of reloading. There's certainly an adjustment or a tweak here or there by their personnel or their personnel, but Dabo’s record and Clemson's record since he's been there, doesn't warrant wholesale changes. It usually just means reloading.

“The next player has played usually significant amounts of time from the year before in games that have been one-sided. And so there's experience always being developed. One of the ways you build great programs is not having significant changes once you reach a certain level. And that's one of the things they've done really well.”

Despite being a huge underdog, Mendenhall said his team simply needs to focus on executing their game plan and not worrying about the opponent.

“The second part is my philosophy,” he said. "I certainly acknowledge Clemson and who we are playing and they're very skilled, and they've been really good. They're one of the best teams in college football. Now that I've said that, it just really goes back to putting our plans in place, doing the best we can to execute the things that we think will work, highlighting our personnel.

“I, after the initial planning, don't really acknowledge the opponents. I just try to give our team every chance to have success, regardless of who we play. This is a quality opponent, no question. And everyone knows that. So now what are we going to do? And how do we help our team? That's really where all my focus goes. That's weekly, not just against Clemson.”

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