Six days after putting up 626 yards of total offense and looking opportunistic on D, the Wahoos were just on the outside of the danger zone early against Boise State. The Broncos had gone 80 yards in seven plays to take the lead on the opening possession and UVa's offense had responded with a three-and-out that amassed just a single yard.
Hard to believe it now but as Lester Coleman lined up for the punt, the Cavaliers were about to score 21 unanswered on the way to a dominating and unexpected 42-23 thrashing at Albertsons Stadium, snapping Boise State's 24-game non-conference home winning streak.
And for UVa, it was the program's first road non-conference win since 2011 and perhaps a true signal of what's to come.
"I just love my team," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said later, "and I love the progress that they’re making."
For the second straight week, Virginia (3-1) looked dramatically improved on offense compared to not just last year but the first two week's of this season. In scoring their 42 points (most by UVa in a non-conference road game since 2004), the Cavaliers again made hay both on the ground and via the pass. The chunk plays through the air were plentiful in the passing game while Jordan Ellis ran for 93 yards total (30 coming on UVa's first scoring drive) with two TDs. The first of those scores capped a 53-yard drive that set the tone for the rest of the night. After Kurt Benkert hooked up with Andre Levrone for a 30-yard touchdown with 4:11 left in the first half, the senior QB hooked up with Doni Dowling on a 27-yard strike with 1:07 left before intermission.
By the time Levrone hauled in a 64-yard bomb with 13:31 left in the third and Oladmide Zaccheaus broke free on a 56-yard TD run about six and a half minutes later, the rout was very clearly on.
"None of this was about statistics, or records, or turf, or anything," Mendenhall told assembled media members later. "It’s just about continuing to learn and grow and move our program forward. None of that other stuff was mentioned. We just came to play UVa football and all that changed was the location."
On Friday night, the Hoos won their first road game since 2012 and in so doing handed the Broncos their first non-conference home loss in 17 years. It was an improbable result that clearly gives UVa a very different outlook going into its bye week.
And it was as thorough as it was surprising.
"Virginia," Boise State's Bryan Harsin said, "is a good football team and we knew that. We didn’t underestimate those guys. They showed up and played well and played hard. Credit to them coming here on a short week and playing here. Those guys did a good job and we have a long ways to go and a lot to learn.”
It was very uncharacteristic for most college football observers to see the Broncos thrown around a bit on the blue turf. UVa was the tougher team, the stronger one. And also the squad that was ready for the big stage.
"The thing I stressed to the team early on was this game was going to be run in the trenches," Mendenhall explained. "It’s not all the tricks, all the gadgets, all the momentum, or the setting of the turf. It’s just going to be blocking and tackling. We were able to run the ball effectively and they struggled to run the ball. That gave us the chances to win it."
In the weeks to come, expect "new standard" to be a rallying phrase of sorts for these Cavaliers. Not only is it what the players, like senior captain Quin Blanding, had to say after. But it's the mentality the team and coaches want to carry forward.
The result, they are eager to prove, was not a fluke.
"This has been what we’ve been preaching," Blanding said, "this new standard that everyone doesn’t understand. You just saw it tonight. This is our new standard, and our defense is going to keep getting better and better this week. That doesn’t mean nothing. We’re still going to continue to work hard and get better, that’s just our new standard."
"I think we all saw it coming," Benkert told reporters. "It’s good to get out of here with a big win. We still have a lot to improve on so this is huge for us. I think it’s a culmination of everything. We have really good receivers, really good running backs, we had our good offensive line, and our defense is dominant.
"If you have all of those things," he added, "it just takes a little bit of time to come together."
While Blanding had a game-high 10 tackles and picked up his 400th as a Wahoo, UVa's defense held the Broncos to just 4-for-16 on 3rd down. The offense once again played clean in helping Virginia win the turnover battle. Levrone finished with five receptions for 141 yards and two TDs (both career highs). And Benkert, who has tossed at least one TD pass in eight straight games, threw for 273 yards on 19-for-29 passing with three touchdowns.
Coming off a 2-10 season in Year 1, Mendenhall has preached early and often in 2017 that this was a process. The victory in Boise is just the latest in a line of results he believes show the way ahead.
"It’s a great win for the program, in a setting that’s really great to be a part of, and it’s on national TV," he said. "Momentum is being generated as we speak."
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