When Bronco Mendenhall came to UVA I was stunned. I personally thought he would be a BYU lifer and would retire as the head coach of the Cougars. Coach Mendenhall was having success in Provo, Utah with a hard-nosed aggressive squad and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His overall record at BYU is 99-43, including 11 straight bowl appearances.
Then he moved on and took over the Virginia Cavaliers. UVA was a struggling program that finished 4-7 and were ranked 71st in the S&P+ just prior to his arrival in 2015. Coach Mendenhall put on the slow burn and the Hoos have crawled to 8-5 and 42nd per the S&P+ in 2018. Their pre-season S&P+ ranking is 41st. The Cavaliers 2018 squad beat a plucky Ohio, then ACC foes Miami, UNC, and Duke; before a bowl win over the SEC’s South Carolina Gamecocks.
Personnel and Scheme
At BYU Bronco Mendenhall and his offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, had adapted their offense to fit their quarterback and have continued that trend at UVA. These are the guys that built success around statuesque John Beck and uber-athlete Taysom Hill (I wrote about Tate Martell and Taysom Hill’s shared qualities here). In Charlottesville, UVA has someone leaning on the Hill side in Bryce Perkins who threw for 2680 yards and accounted for 34 scores while also rushing for 923 yards (and that includes sack yardage lost).
UVA is one of the few teams in 2019 to have fullbacks, tight ends, and nose tackles listed on their roster. That just tells you the kind of football UVA wants to play. Mendenhall has used a 3-4 defensive scheme since his time as BYU’s defensive coordinator and wants to employ a multiple offense that can ground it up in 22 personnel (two running backs and two tight ends) or 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end).
Two DC’s battled it out
In 2018, the Miami Hurricanes went on the road and lost to the UVA Cavaliers 16-13. Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry combined for three interceptions while Bryce Perkins threw three of his own. The two defensive coordinators, usually pressure happy, went away from that philosophy for the most part. Both sat back with seven men dropped into coverage and let the QB’s have time to throw most in part to force them to throw.
The result was six interceptions between the two squads where neither had a quarterback who could read a defense or make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Luckily for Miami Rosier is gone but sadly Perry and Perkins return to throw footballs deep into obvious coverage (and you can read about the offensive adjustments necessary for Miami here)
How did UVA beat Miami?
Besides letting Miami shoot itself in the foot, UVA won by maximizing on their strengths when they needed to score. When UVA got into the +10 (the 10-yard line going in to score) they brought in the tight ends and fullbacks and ran the football down the weaker, softer Miami defense.
When you watch the GIF above, that’s a combination of running through and over a defense when it matters the most. Miami tries to blitz (when in doubt, blitz it out says Manny Diaz), it backfires, and a safety is left trying to tackle a rocket shot out of the backfield to no avail.
Honestly, if that’s how tackling is being taught at Miami it 1) explains the neck injuries, 2) explains the poor tackling, and 3) is coaching malpractice. Proper tackling in 2019 is the hawk or rugby tackle from the Seattle Seahawks. Notice that his eyes are up, his head is out of the tackle, and he’s on his feet. I don’t love his base as his legs are too wide and he doesn’t have his hips under him.
Miami lined up and ran UVA’s style right into the teeth of the Hoos defense- and failed. Any time you line up and run the same type of scheme at someone you had better be the better of the two at either deployment or development of talent.
You’re Miami, it’s 4th and 1, you have a ton of speed compared to UVA and you try to pound it into their defense? I would’ve gone with an empty set and a throw like Y-Stick that gets the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly. Why not run that swing-draw Malik Rosier had ran with so much effectiveness against Notre Dame in 2017?
In the book “What is Open?,” Dub Maddox talks about youth rhythm plays being your base offense. Wouldn’t you want to call up something from your base offense, or even a read play which is an adjustment to situations and personnel? Instead you’re going with the 22 personnel look and a zone dive to the fullback is the call against a team that has practiced against that same look and play for three seasons.
For whatever reason, no matter their head coach, UVA has been a thorn in Miami’s side. Since 2010 UVA has pulled off five wins over the ‘Canes in nine games. The Cavaliers should never have a 5-4 run against Miami yet they do- even dating bad to the really bad Mike London years. Hopefully Manny Diaz and Dan Enos have better answers for beating UVA than Randy Shannon, Al Golden and Mark Richt.
Prediction: Miami by 7