CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia is off to a 3-1 start for the first time in a decade, but a week without a game was no time for celebrating.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall had his players work in full pads every day during the bye week, and they got an early start on preparing for Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Duke (4-1, 0-1). It will be the Cavaliers’ fourth home game, and an opportunity to show continuing progress.
“Coach Mendenhall didn’t give us a day off,” defensive end Juwan Moye said Monday. “He believes bye weeks are work weeks. They’re weeks to get better. They’re not the week you take off and just enjoy yourself. That’s how you get caught. Everybody else is working, so you have to work.”
Mendenhall said he made sure his team knew the “brutal facts” going into the week, and has liked what he’s seen.
“They really want success. That’s evident,” he said. “They worked very hard. I haven’t seen or sensed any lulls. The behavior has been really good. Sometimes in the college game, especially on bye weeks, players have a tendency to drift a little bit in terms of social conduct. I’ve seen none of that.”
Instead of drifting, center Dillon Reinkensmeyer said he started watching film on Duke on the flight home from Boise State, where Virginia picked up its most impressive victory — and only its second road victory since 2012 — 42-23 . Several other players said they started watching film Sunday, wanting to keep it going.
The other road victory? That was by 34-20 at Duke last season, one of just two wins the Cavaliers managed in Mendenhall’s first season.
The Cavaliers have yet to draw 40,000 fans for a game this season. While the players say they have received a lot of positive feedback around campus and would love to see that translate to more fans in their 61,000-seat stadium on Saturday, Mendenhall is content to let more winning bring the fans back.
He noted that a concert to benefit Charlottesville filled Scott Stadium on Sept. 24 and expects to see that at football game too, in time.
“When I came to UVA, that’s the picture I have in my head is there will be a time where it looks just like that for a game and it looks like that each and every week and it will be one really cool thing for the people of Charlottesville and the state to come, to bond around and to support,” he said.
Moye hopes that support is more evident this week.
“I believe the community is really getting behind us and believing in us,” he said, and fans think this team “can do something special.”
Quarterback Kurt Benkert agrees, but spent the past week making sure his teammates keep attending to the focus that made the start possible.
“I think we’re doing well. I think our coaches are doing well too, making sure that we’re grinding every day, putting a lot of work in over the bye week,” he said. “We had padded practices like it was camp. It wasn’t your typical bye week that I feel like most people have. So they’re doing a good job of making sure we’re still at work.”