MENDENHALL KNOWS NOT TO TAKE LIB­ERTY LIGHTLY

Daily Press - - Sports - By David Hall Staff writer

At first glance, Satur­day’s 3 p.m. non­con­fer­ence game against Lib­erty looks like one Vir­ginia should win hand­ily.

The Cava­liers, af­ter all, play in the mighty At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence, and their op­po­nent is a for­mer FCS school mak­ing the tran­si­tion to play with the ma­jor schools at the FBS level.

But third-year U.Va. coach Bronco Mendenhall is out­wardly wary of the Flames (4-4), whose 329.3 pass­ing yards per game would rank ninth na­tion­ally if their tran­si­tion were com­plete.

“And so the statis­tics jump out,” Mendenhall said.

“Not hard to see on film that they have some ta­lented play­ers, a nice scheme de­sign and are very clear about what their iden­tity is and the speed in which they want to do it.”

The good news for the al­ready bowl-el­i­gi­ble Cava­liers (6-3, 4-2 ACC) is that Lib­erty plays right into a U.Va. strength. Hold­ing op­po­nents to 197.3 pass­ing yards per game, Vir­ginia is fifth in the ACC and among the na­tional lead­ers in the cat­e­gory.

The Cava­liers, led by se­nior safety Juan Thorn­hill’s four in­ter­cep­tions, are fifth in the league with 10 picks this sea­son.

The strength-against-strength matchup on NBC Sports Wash­ing­ton has im­pli­ca­tions beyond mere Com­mon­wealth brag­ging rights. U.Va. sits alone in sec­ond place in the ACC Coastal Di­vi­sion, and with some help from first-place Pitts­burgh’s op­po­nents, is still in the hunt for a di­vi­sion ti­tle.

Never mind the Cava­liers’ lapses in last week’s 23-13 loss to Pitt, which switched places with

U.Va. in the stand­ings.

With games at Ge­or­gia Tech and ri­val Vir­ginia Tech re­main­ing, the Wa­hoos can only move for­ward

“I'm very con­fi­dent (we'll bounce back),” ju­nior line­backer Jor­dan Mack said af­ter the Pitt game. “We have a great group of guys. We will take this, learn from it and move on to the next one.”

The next one, at last, has ar­rived.

Mendenhall said noth­ing gets the sour taste of de­feat out of a team's mouth like get­ting back at it.

“None of us like to lose,” he said. “That feel­ing isn't some­thing you want to linger. So there is an ur­gency added, re­gard­less of the next game, where you want it to go away, that feel­ing.”

Lib­erty quar­ter­back Stephen Calvert presents a chal­lenge at any level. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound na­tive of Plan­ta­tion, Fla., has passed for 2,528 yards and 18 touch­downs, but he's been in­ter­cepted 11 times.

Calvert has dis­trib­uted the ball to 14 re­ceivers, none more ca­pa­ble than 6-4 ju­nior An­to­nio GandyGolden, whose nine touch­down grabs lead the team.

The Cava­liers, con­versely, showed ev­i­dence of weak­nesses in their pass­ing game against Pitt. Ju­nior quar­ter­back Bryce Perkins was held to 205 pass­ing yards and sacked five times, some of them at key mo­ments.

He con­nected with ver­sa­tile play­maker Olamide Zac­cheaus, the school's all-time lead­ing pass­catcher, just four times, a num­ber Mendenhall said has to im­prove.

Asked whether Perkins should've done a bet­ter job of get­ting rid of the ball, se­nior tail­back Jor­dan El­lis said the team's con­fi­dence in its leader had not wa­vered.

“We trust him with the ball when he is able to scram­ble around,” El­lis said. “He has done it all year, and we trust him every time he scram­bles around and tries to make a play. I mean, he is spe­cial with the ball in his hands, so any­time he can scram­ble around, he is just try­ing to make some­thing hap­pen, and we've got to give him the credit for that.”

Perkins, who trans­ferred from Ari­zona Western Com­mu­nity Col­lege be­fore the sea­son, has earned his team's trust by pass­ing for 1,828 yards and 16 touch­downs while rush­ing for 568 yards and six more scores in U.Va.'s run/ pass-op­tion of­fense.

Perkins, though, owned his mis­takes.

“I got to be more crit­i­cal, es­pe­cially in those tight sit­u­a­tions in the fourth quar­ter,” he said. “I can't take those sacks. I got to be more smart and play smarter, es­pe­cially when it comes down to crunch time.”

For the Cava­liers and the rest of the jum­bled Coastal Di­vi­sion, a larger crunch time has ar­rived. Af­ter last week's set­back, which bumped U.Va. from 23rd in the na­tional rank­ings, the play­ers and coaches are just happy to get an­other shot — no mat­ter the op­po­nent.

“You just want that feel­ing to go away and re­place it with some­thing bet­ter,” Mendenhall said. “Some­times who you're play­ing helps; other times it's just we just need an­other game as fast as we can play.”

JAY WEST­COTT/AP FILE

Lib­erty 6-foot-2 quar­ter­back Stephen Calvert presents a gen­uine chal­lenge at any level, hav­ing passed for 2,528 yards and 18 touch­downs this sea­son. But he’s also been in­ter­cepted 11 times.

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