In Bronco Mendenhall’s first season as coach at Virginia, the Cavaliers’ week-to-week focus remains more on what they are supposed to do in his defensive system than on what the opponent does.
That’s true this week, too, even with Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson and No. 5 Louisville coming to Scott Stadium.
The Cardinals (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are ahead of five unbeaten teams in the Top 25.
Mendenhall, though, is still in a teaching mode more than a reacting mode.
“We’re so focused on just our own execution, which there’s significant lapses in consistency right now,” Mendenhall said. “My point simply to the team is we have plenty to work on just within our own organization, and so my intent is to keep their focus on us, on us, knowing the external environment will be talking about Louisville and their quarterback.
“I’ve got to work to make sure that the voices that are the listened-to voices and the trusted voices and the ones they want to, are the ones that are most compelling are coming from inside.”
Jackson has accounted for 34 touchdowns (18 passing, 16 rushing), while Virginia has scored just 26 TDs.
Being impressed by an opponent, though, can lead to intimidation.
“He’s a great player like everyone can see,” nose tackle and tri-captain Donte Wilkins said. “Might probably win the Heisman this year, but I think it’s going to be fun to play against him and see what we can do.”
The Cavaliers spend more time working on how they play than working on how they play an opponent.
“Just worry about what we can control and run the defense how he wants us to run it,” Wilkins said of Mendenhall. “It’s not necessarily studying (Jackson). He’s a great player. Everyone knows that. It’s just doing what we do and doing it right.”
Offensively, the same applies even if the Cavaliers’ offense will never be on the field with Jackson.
“We’re more so focused on what we have to do to pick up our performance,” offensive lineman Eric Smith said. “… We’re not necessarily focused on what they’re going to bring, but focused on the little things to tighten up on.”
The Cardinals lead the nation in scoring, averaging 52.6 points, and are second in total offense, averaging nearly 617 yards per game. The Cavaliers, still learning Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense, allow 392 yards per game.
But Louisville has also been stout on defense, ranking 16th by allowing less than 18 points per game.
“I think our defensive players understand and I tell them every day that we score points because our defense gets turnovers and gets short fields and scores and our special teams,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said.
“It’s all about the team and, when you score points, it’s the team that scores points.”
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