Virginia focuses on itself as Abilene Christian visits

NCAA Football

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said his Virginia Cavaliers are preparing for Saturday’s game against FCS opponent Abilene Christian the same way they would prepare for No. 1 Alabama.

“The focus is on us,” he told reporters Monday. “That’s just the core philosophy that I have kind of extracted from John Wooden. Have the focus entirely be on us. The context is the next game. … There’s very little attention that we put on the next opponent. The focus is only on us.”

The contest in Charlottesville, Va., is the first meeting between the host Cavaliers (3-4) and Abilene Christian (1-4), a member of the Southland Conference.

The Wildcats from Abilene, Texas, are Virginia’s “plus one” on a schedule that includes 10 ACC games plus one nonconference contest. It will be their first game ever inside the state of Virginia.

Virginia has won two in a row, following up a 44-41 win against then-No. 15 North Carolina on Oct. 31 with a 31-17 win at home Saturday against Louisville.

Brennan Armstrong passed for 203 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 60 yards and two scores in the victory over Louisville, his third game this season with at least 200 passing yards, 40 rushing yards, while accounting for at least three touchdowns.

The UVA defense gave up 478 yards, including 317 on the ground (197 by Cardinals QB Malik Cunningham), but the Cavaliers also forced three turnovers and had four sacks.

“We call them havoc plays,” Mendenhall said of his team’s nine sacks and five takeaways in the past two games. “We’ve learned more about the identity of this particular team, this particular defense. We’re learning to manage specific players in this very unique year. … And it’s starting to show results — and at a good time with this stretch run coming down.”

Abilene Christian hasn’t played since a 34-21 loss to Angelo State on Nov. 7. Its game last weekend against Arizona Christian was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the opponent’s program.

Peyton Mansell has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,109 yards with five touchdowns and three picks for the Wildcats. Lionell McConnell has a team-high 31 catches for 299 yards and Jermiah Dobbins has rushed for 221 yards and five scores. Fourth-year head coach Adam Dorrel’s ACU defense is allowing 31.6 points and 402.4 yards per game.

Dorrel talked about the chance to test his program against a Power 5 school earlier this season.

“I think it’s going to be exciting for our student-athletes and our donors,” Dorrel told the Abilene Reporter News. “Obviously, (Virginia) had a really good last year in the ACC. So, it’s a huge challenge for us. … But our guys are just excited to play.”

Virginia suffered a few injuries against Louisville, with wide receiver Tavares Kelly Jr., tight end Tony Poljan and offensive lineman Dillon Reinkensmeyer all exiting the game. Multi-threat quarterback Keytaon Thompson was held out for what Mendenhall called a “private matter,” but is expected to play this week. Starting safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson have not played since the Oct. 17 loss at Wake Forest.

–Field Level Media

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