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UVa football notebook: Cavaliers prepare for rematch with No. 1 Clemson

UVa football notebook: Cavaliers prepare for rematch with No. 1 Clemson

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Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall signals for a first down during the first game of the season against Duke on Saturday at Scott Stadium.

Virginia’s season opener wasn’t always pretty, but Bronco Mendenhall’s squad beat Duke 38-20 thanks to seven forced turnovers and respectable offensive showing.

UVa’s win moved the Cavaliers to 1-0 overall and in the ACC, while the loss dropped Duke to 0-3 in the ACC this fall. The winless Blue Devils pale in comparison to this week’s test.

After an 18-point win in Week 1, the Cavaliers head south to face Clemson. Dabo Swinney and the Tigers enter the week as the nation’s top-ranked team.

Last season’s matchup with Clemson didn’t go well. Virginia fell 62-17, as its defense failed to contain quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. Clemson racked up more than 600 yards of offense in the ACC Championship Game blowout.

“I’m thrilled to be able to get a chance to play Clemson again,” Mendenhall said during his Monday media session. “Having earned the chance to play them in the ACC Championship Game last year, it just accelerated our program. It exposed efficiencies. 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, we wouldn’t have been as effective or played the way we did versus Florida.”

In its first game since losing to Clemson, Virginia lost to Florida 36-28 in the Orange Bowl. Despite plenty of defensive miscues, the Cavaliers played much better against the Gators and entered the second half with the game still in the balance.

Mendenhall’s team improved following the loss.

Entering this fall, UVa’s defense is at full strength.

Safety Joey Blount suffered a leg injury at the end of the game against Duke, but Mendenhall sounds optimistic about Blount playing. With Blount healthy, the Cavaliers have their full arsenal on defense. They’ll need it with both Lawrence and Etienne back this season for the Tigers.

Through two games, Clemson is 2-0 and 1-0 in the ACC. The Tigers have scored 86 points and allowed just 13. Lawrence has completed a shade over 80% of his passes, and he’s thrown four touchdowns to no interceptions.

Since Mendenhall’s arrival at Virginia, the Cavaliers have gone to three bowl games. During that same stretch, Clemson has been to the College Football Playoff four times and won two national championships.

The Tigers are the best of the best, and the Wahoos weren’t up to the challenge in 2019. They’ll need a special performance to keep it close in 2020.

Players of the Week

After an impressive showing against Duke, freshman wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. and senior linebacker Zane Zandier received honors from the ACC on Monday.

Davis Jr. earned both ACC Receiver of the Week and ACC Rookie of the Week accolades. The 6-foot-7 freshman hauled in four receptions for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He led the Cavaliers in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns against Duke.

Asked during a media session Monday what makes Davis Jr. tough to cover, senior cornerback Nick Grant offered a perfect description of why the freshman presents a major matchup problem.

“Other than he’s 6’7”?” Grant asked with a smile.

Davis Jr. used his size well against Duke, and he’s used it well in practice. Coaches and defensive backs heap praise onto the newcomer.

“He makes circus catches all the time,” Grant said. “I mean if he’s in the back of the end zone, the ball is his. You might as well just count it to him. He jumps out the gym, and he’s already 6-7, so it’s very hard.”

Zandier earned the honor for the ACC’s top linebacker last week after recording a career-high 15 tackles. He was all over the field in his first game wearing No. 0, and he led a talented UVa defense in tackles to open the season.

Up next

Clemson waits for UVa this upcoming weekend. Next weekend, Virginia returns home to host N.C. State.

The game against the Wolfpack will kick off at noon on Oct. 10 and air on the ACC Network, making it three consecutive games for Virginia on the ACC Network.

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