Confident Cavs try to establish a new normal
During the pregame warmups, Quin Blanding told a teammate, “See you in the end zone.”
He wasn’t talking about what his teammate would accomplish. Blanding was talking about what he would accomplish.
Those are pretty bold words considering Blanding plays safety for the University of Virginia, and, as he well knows, a safety can go his entire college career without an interception, much less an interception with a touchdown return.
“No,” said Blanding, “I
knew it was going to happen one day, and today was my day.”
And so it was. Blanding grabbed a deflected pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown against Duke on Saturday at Scott Stadium. It put Virginia ahead 7- 0.
“It was pretty amazing,” Blanding said of his interception and touchdown return. “I’m not going to lie.”
As long as no one here is lying, let’s all admit it’s a bit amazing Virginia is 4- 1 after its 28- 21 victory over the Blue Devils.
There probably are many who thought Virginia could be 1- 4 by now. But 4- 1, which includes a victory at Boise State and now a victory over Duke in a game that wasn’t quite as close as the score indicates? Not many would have thought that. OK, it’s not as if Duke is the standard by which all other ACC and college football programs are measured. But Duke once was Virginia-like in the sense that the Blue Devils were hapless and often hopeless.
Now the Blue Devils are respectable. And they have victories over Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina on their resume this season.
Duke is good enough now that in a normal season, it would have come here, overcome its mistakes and claimed a victory in a game the Cavaliers should have won.
Not this year. Maybe not for years to come.
It’s a bit early to say for certain.
“I think it does speak to it,” said Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall. “And it speaks to it through five games. We’re just at the beginning. But it is showing. I think that’s noticeable to most.
“And the mindset on the sideline as I’m watching our players’ body language, there’s just a resolve, ‘ Oh, that just happened, oh that ... OK, next play.’ There aren’t these wild and emotional way ups and way downs. There’s just work to be performed.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t one Virginia had to win. This wasn’t a titanic struggle between two great powers battling for national dominance.
But it was a game Virginia needed to win if it was to make the point it is the real deal, at least through five games, this season.
“The players have named what we’re doing ‘ The New Standard,’” said Mendenhall. “They’ve recognized they want that to be normal. They’re striving for it. They’re investing in it. I’m glad to help them, but it has to be theirs. And it is right now.
“It’s fun to see them happy. It’s fun to see them exhausted but have a tangible outcome they can look at to justify ( their work) and continue the momentum they’re generating.”
Mendenhall is in his second year at Virginia. Last year he was surprised at how quickly and thoroughly the players bought into his way of doing things.
This year, everyone is a bit surprised at the team’s success.
Well, not everyone. Just as he knew one day he’d score a touchdown, Blanding knew the Cavaliers would turn the corner onto Find A Way To Win Boulevard.
“We trusted the process,” said Blanding, a senior. “We’re going week to week and day to day. We face a lot of adversity in practice. We have a lot of challenges put on us, and we’re ready for anything, any sudden change, any turnover. It doesn’t matter what it is. We’re going to keep playing.
“What we do in practice is translating to the field.”
It’s one thing to say that. It’s one thing, as offensive tackle Brandon Pertile said, to work hard for six, seven, eight months and want to win. Practically every player on every team in college football can say the same thing about its effort and desire for success.
A team actually needs to win to build the confidence to win, no matter how dire the situation might seem.
“That’s what we’re doing right now,” said Blanding.
That’s no lie.
U.Va. coach BroncoMendenhall praised his team’s mindset and said the players are more emotionally steady during a game’s ups and downs.