CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia’s seniors have already achieved one first in their careers by qualifying for a bowl game.
Not that the Cavaliers (6-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) are hung up on the length of the losing streak.
“Nope,” linebacker Micah Kiser, the ACC’s leading tackler said when asked if the players talk about ending the streak. “I haven’t been here 13 years.”
That’s exactly the kind of approach second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall wants his team to take.
“I’ve talked about it all that I intended to … just the brutal fact it’s been a long time,” Mendenhall said. “Now that I’ve said that, there’s plenty of reasons … out of this current team’s control that have contributed to that.”
The No. 24 Hokies (8-3, 4-3) claimed one of their most lopsided victories during the series last season, a 52-10 win in Blacksburg. It was a loss some Cavaliers admitted stung for a while.
Now, it’s sooner forgotten.
“It was a bad outing for us,” quarterback Kurt Benkert said. “We got whupped in every phase of the game, but I haven’t watched the film of it. I probably won’t watch it this week. I’ll just watch what they have from this season. They’re a different team this year. They have a different offense, different guys on defense. And we’re a completely different team. We have different guys in different spots doing different things. So I don’t think anything from last year is really relevant.”
The Cavaliers have won six games for the first time since 2011, but this season could have been even better. Mendenhall said his team had never been more disappointed than it was Saturday, when it led 28-14 at No. 2 Miami before losing 44-28.
“That was immediately in the locker room after,” he said. “I think they knew they had control of the game and we didn’t finish it. And I think they all knew what, immediately after, what that could have meant for them and the program.”
When the Cavaliers reconvened Monday morning, they looked “positive, optimistic and more confident,” he said.
The game will be the last at Scott Stadium for fourth- and fifth-year players in their final seasons, but Mendenhall and his staff have been consistent in their message to the players: Don’t get caught up in winning one for the seniors. Don’t think about the streak. Just do your jobs.
“It presents a great opportunity, but at the end of the day, we’re just looking to win another game, man,” senior wide receiver Andre Levrone said.
Levrone repeated the advice the team got from offensive coordinator Robert Anae: “‘Don’t play the streak. Don’t play the Hokie mantra. Don’t play the team from 2008. Don’t play the team from last year. It’s 2017 Virginia Cavaliers vs. the 2017 Virginia Tech Hokies.’”
Mendenhall understands the challenge of ignoring the outside pressure in the week leading up to the game.
“I heard it right off the bat. ‘You could win one game and if it was that one, that would be a successful season,’” he said. “That was hard to frame in my own mind how that might work. And there are others that are far less appropriate. I don’t even think I should share.”
Instead, he shared with his team how they can best prepare to finally achieve another milestone on Friday night.
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