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WATCH: Virginia head coach reacts to 62-17 loss to Clemson


by - Assoc. Editor -

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall and quarterback Bryce Perkins spoke to the media after their team's 62-17 loss to No. 3 Clemson in the ACC Championship game on Saturday night.

Virginia Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall and Quarterback Bryce Perkins

BRONCO MENDENHALL: First of all, congratulations to Clemson and Coach Swinney on an ACC Championship, and deservedly so. It's a very good football team. Really talented. They were well prepared, executed well, and so I was very impressed.

Regarding our performance, I thought there were strong glimpses, especially offensively throughout the game from what I saw from Bryce, but also there were times where we were controlling clock, moving the football and holding on to momentum.

Ultimately, the number of big plays by Clemson down the field, we didn't have consistent answers for their passing game, for their receivers, and certainly just couldn't make enough stops and didn't make enough stops to have a chance to be effective in the game.

I'm proud of my football team. I love them, and I thought their preparation was strong. Our execution didn't hold at this level consistently enough to have a chance to win the football game, and so at this point we look forward to learning everything we possibly can from this game, playing one more, and hopefully achieving a tenth win, which would mean a lot for this program, and another bowl victory.

Q. Bryce, you guys have talked so much about the idea of the unbroken growth. Where does this fit into the picture in terms of how much more has to come in this program before you can compete with a team like Clemson?

BRYCE PERKINS: This game showed us exactly where this program has to go to be able to compete with one, two, three, four. Every year we've gotten better, UVA has gotten better, so I think this game is going to allow everybody else coming back and for the years to come to know exactly how much to give and how much more they have to give and execute and how much more we have to execute at a higher level to be able to finally take over the ACC and achieve all our goals which we set out for.

Q. Bryce, just talk about where you think things turned around. It looked like you did some good things in the first half. Where do you think you gotta stray?

BRYCE PERKINS: I mean, we started going fast, kind of picking up tempo, and we were trying to balance that between controlling the clock and finding a right rhythm, which we found ourselves having more success when we were kind of going fast but also trying to decide when and where to control the clock.

Bouncing back and forth allowed us to have some success, and guys played great, catching difficult balls, and the locations that they were in, and the line played incredibly. I'm super proud of those guys. All night, no matter what, those guys really played well.

Q. You answered my first question saying it showed where you were to get to that top-4 level. I'm curious some things went well, a lot of things didn't go well. As you walk away tonight do you feel you're closer to that top-four level or further than you thought coming into tonight?

BRYCE PERKINS: I mean, I feel like we know as a team exactly what we need to do to improve. I mean, we're going to look at this film and get ready for the bowl game with the same mentality and a greater mentality because we're going to play a really good team, and no matter who we play. We'll look at this film and kind of fix the mistakes and recognize what we need to do as an offense to execute and score more points.

Q. When did you realize or know that Joe would be unable to play this evening, and how does that affect your offense?

BRYCE PERKINS: I mean, it was a day by day kind of thing. He was rehabbing like crazy to get back to this game on Saturday. But he didn't make it, and Billy Kemp, he got more action tonight as he has in the past couple weeks, and other guys like Dejon and Dontayvion has gotten more action. All the trust in those guys, we practice with them all week, so they knew what they had to do and execute at a high level. Missing Joe, he's a great asset to the offense, so we missed him a lot. But the guys stepped in and stepped up a lot tonight.

Q. Bryce, you mentioned this game gives you an idea of exactly what you need to do to improve. Could you list a couple things that come to mind that you do have to improve on?

BRYCE PERKINS: I mean, we've just got to -- our physicality has to be greater. Mental errors also, we have to eliminate those, and in games like these against teams like that, we can't afford to have that many mental errors, and we can't afford to not execute on plays because as we've seen the game can get out of hand, and the great teams will capitalize off the mistakes. So we've got to fix those, and our physicality level has to be greater.

Q. You talked about the challenge of playing without Joe. Hasise and his game, what did he do so well, and did he maybe prove something tonight?

BRYCE PERKINS: Yeah, definitely. He's a competitor no matter where we are. When we're in practice, he competes. No matter what he does. All the faith in him, and I know that he's going to compete for the ball, and he's going to make the play. He probably has the best hands in America, and when the ball touches his hand, he's not going to drop it. I think he definitely put a lot of people on notice.

Q. You had a couple hundred-yard rushing games in November against Virginia Tech and North Carolina. What did Clemson do tonight to try to keep you contained?

BRYCE PERKINS: Yeah, they had a lot of kind of spies going on. No. 11 was there on many of them, many of the plays, and they would switch back and forth, so I think it was 43 was in the box a couple times. They had a great game plan going on, but we definitely could have executed and scored more and kind of moved the ball. We kind of stalled at times because of our own lack of execution at times.

Q. You guys finishing with 387 yards of total offense against this defense and especially without Joe, what do you take away from that performance?

BRYCE PERKINS: I mean, it shows the possibility and the capability of this offense, and we had 387, but we feel like we could have had more. We feel like we left a few yards out there. But it shows the growth from just I think October to now and how far we've come as an offense and how far we have to keep going to improve to be elite and to be considered as one of the best offenses in the nation.

Q. How would you describe the gap between Clemson and the rest of the ACC?

BRYCE PERKINS: Oh, I mean, it's big. Coming out here tonight and just seeing it firsthand, they're a great team, and I think the gap between them and the ACC is big, but I feel like we're closer than people think, and we played extremely well at times, and we executed, and there was glimpses of this Virginia team that can be one of the teams that battles with them from year to year, from here on out.

It is big, but we have the opportunity in the years coming up to close that gap.

Q. You've talked so much about the idea of unbroken growth, and obviously you've taken huge steps forward this season. Is tonight a setback or a logical step in your growth of this program?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it's more of the second. To qualify to get to the game is difficult and an accomplishment. The learnings from the game will propel us forward in a manner that wouldn't happen if we weren't in the game, and to play against the consistent winner of our league, the national champion, two of the last three years, now we know what that looks like. So without earning the chance to be here, measuring ourselves against that, seeing where the deficiencies are and how big they might be, hard to accelerate it even further without the reference points. I think it's the next step, and the next logical step as well as the next bowl game that we play, knowing most likely it'll be a bigger stage, a quality opponent, and those are all things necessary to advance the program. I think it's logical, I think it's sequential, and yeah, I think it's been earned by this team.

Q. To ask your scout team offense to simulate what Clemson does is just an impossible task?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think maybe for almost anyone in the nation to match their personnel and their execution would be difficult. They're very, very skilled at quarterback at an elite level, very skilled at running back at an elite level, very skilled at at least three of the receiver positions with a very strong offensive front. So the personnel is national caliber, National Championship caliber, and ACC Championship caliber, not only across the board but then including some depth.

Yeah, the chance to match that, very difficult.

The challenge that I think teams face when they play Clemson, at least what I learned and saw glimpses of throughout the week on film is just where is it to steal an extra number, and as soon as you do that, the quarterback can run it, the running back can run it, the quarterback can throw it, the wide receivers can catch it short and long and they can break tackles, so lots and lots of weapons and a very good scheme.

Q. What happened with Jordan Mack? Was he injured going into the game? Was he injured more during the game?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: He was injured going in. He's been really limited the past three weeks and is trying his best. He gets a couple reps each Thursday to try to get ready to play, but really his ankle doesn't allow him to prepare any more than that, and he's well under 100 percent. Nick Jackson, our first-year inside linebacker, is the one that's been filling in a role for him.

Q. How does that affect your ability to defend a team such as Clemson? What did you have to do to compensate?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: The call sheet went deep, and so yeah, the running game for Clemson was effective tonight, but really what was more effective was the quick strikes that were long and fast and deep on us. So we were inconsistent defending the run. You saw a few of them scored out for 20 or 15 yards, and that was just misfitting gaps, and that comes through a few extra players in there that didn't have quite as much experience, and just with consistency and then having to beat blocks and get off those blocks that are a little bit more quality than what we've been doing, and then the combination of that then with the run and play action with the RPO where it looks like run, safeties then are playing run and the corners are isolated with downfield throws to very good wide receivers. We didn't have enough answers to defend those plays, and the ones we did have, we didn't execute well enough, so give Clemson credit.

Q. What special problems does Tee Higgins present?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Wow. Just speed, athleticism and a dynamic football player. Those things are -- but I really can't say that just about him. You could put that moniker or those labels on just about anyone that touches the ball for Clemson. I think he's one of a group of very strong weapons.

Q. Understanding how talented they are at these positions, but how disappointing was some of the tackling on the perimeter that turned short plays into long plays?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Oh, yeah. So that was one of my messages to the team was I was impressed with Clemson and thought they were a very good football team, but I certainly don't think we played our best football defensively. I don't think we tackled consistently or well and nor did we play the ball downfield consistently or well.

So certainly acknowledging Clemson, their talent, their scheme and their execution has to be done, but to say I was satisfied with our performance, I'm not.

Q. When your team lost to Navy in the Military Bowl, you had to wait basically nine months before you could get back on the field and apply some of the lessons you learned. Do you like the fact that in roughly four weeks, three weeks maybe, you'll get a chance to go out and do it again with this group this season?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, I like that opportunity, and I like it for this group because again, we're looking, again, to continue to learn, grow and advance. So each year the bowl game quality and tier seems to be escalating, the stage that it's on seems to be escalating. So my job is to advance our program and have it match those stages at a really high level. And some of the challenges now as the roster becomes a little bit more limited and then the stretch that applies on myself and the staff to compensate and give our guys the best chance, we have to do a better job there.

Q. The opening drive marching down the field, how great was that to start off against a really good team like Clemson right out of the gate?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: It was great for our mindset. It showed a really nice level of preparation offensively and what we were capable of. And I think that held pretty much throughout the night. I think Clemson struggled to stop us consistently. We certainly stopped ourselves a couple of times. But we moved the ball probably better than maybe anyone has against them this year, and that's -- that doesn't mean that that's a moral victory, but I thought our plan was good. I thought our execution for the most part was sound, and then we missed some opportunities.

Q. Along those lines, you were 10 of 18 on 3rd down, which is far better than anyone has done against Clemson this season. What were Bryce and his receivers able to do, and is that where you thought you might be able to do some business tonight?

BRONCO MENDENHALL: We hoped that we'd be able to continue to convert 3rd downs at a high level, which would then allow us to hold on to the ball longer and score. As the score started to expand, then we used tempo and we thought then that we might be able to keep them on their heels, which we did a little bit. They struggled with communication here and there as we increased our tempo. So a lot went into our offensive plan, and Robert and I over the past about six weeks, there's been a significant amount of work and improvement that's gone into our offense that has really helped kind of cover up some of the deficiencies that have shown up defensively through injury, and it just wasn't quite enough tonight on either side to make the game competitive from beginning to end. But I liked our offensive plan a lot.

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