Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is a believer that past lessons are essential to future success. He and the Cavaliers get to see if that's true when they play No. 1 Clemson.
Virginia (1-0, 1-0 ACC) was taken apart, 62-17, by the Tigers last December in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Since then Mendenhall has seen his players grow and now comes the measuring stick.
The ACC title game “accelerated our program,” Mendenhall said. “It exposed deficiencies. 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.”
That could be difficult against the Tigers (2-0, 1-0), who have appeared sharp and relentless in starting with easy wins over Wake Forest (37-13) and The Citadel (49-0).
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns against the Cavaliers last year, looks every bit the Heisman Trophy favorite with his play so far. He's connected on 81 percent of his passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns — all while resting much of the first games after Clemson opened a big lead.
But Virginia showed it might have something for Clemson's pass attack in its opener, picking off Duke five times in a 38-20 win last week.
Cornerback Nick Grant, who had one of the five interceptions, said the title-game loss was the first time many of the Cavaliers felt the embarrassment of a truly lopsided defeat on a national stage. These days, they understand that to succeed in the ACC, “all roads lead to Clemson.”
“It's just another step that we have to take to really attain one of our goals and be the best team that we want to be.”'
Some other things to watch when No. 1 Clemson plays Virginia:
Clemson may have some inside information in prepping for Virginia this week. Ex-Tigers quarterback Chase Brice is the current Duke starter and watched the Cavaliers up close last Saturday. Brice threw four interceptions in the Duke loss. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence said he texted with his friend Brice some about the game already and may talk more the rest of the week.
Virginia came out fast last week — really fast. The Cavaliers ran a play about every 25 seconds, according to coach Bronco Mendenhall, something that was planned against Duke. “We thought we had conditioned well. We thought it might be to our advantage,” Mendenhall said. “We thought it might be something the opponent wouldn’t expect.”
Clemson will have its starting cornerbacks on the field together for the first time all season. Derion Kendrick has missed one game this season and Mario Goodrich two due to the coronavirus protocol. Both are expected to open against Virginia on Saturday night.
FACING NO. 1
It's been a long time since Virginia faced the country's No. 1 team — or played at Clemson. The Cavaliers fell to top-ranked Florida State 35-10 in 1999 during the Seminoles' national championship season. It has been 11 years since Virginia played in Memorial Stadium, losing 34-21. The Cavaliers last win there was in 2003, 30-27.
This will be Clemson's first home night game of the season — and during reduced capacity restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Tigers have been a night-time TV attraction the past few seasons. This will be the first with just 19,000 people allowed in 81,500 seat Memorial Stadium. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney is happy for any game in this altered season. “Whatever juice our fans can bring, I know it will be in the stands,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.
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