Con­fi­dent Cavs try to es­tab­lish a new nor­mal

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS - Paul Woody pwoody@Times­Dis­patch.com

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.

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MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

U.Va. coach Bron­coMen­den­hall praised his team’s mind­set and said the play­ers are more emo­tion­ally steady dur­ing a game’s ups and downs.

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