There is one thing that is certain when No. 3 Clemson plays Virginia next week in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, the Tigers are going to play a well-coached football team.
The Cavaliers (9-3, 6-2 ACC) qualified for the championship game by winning its first Coastal Division Championship with their win over Virginia Tech this past Friday. They are not a flashy team that puts up gaudy numbers. They are just workmanlike.
When he came to Virginia from BYU four years ago, Bronco Mendenhall took over a program that was not very good and struggled to be competitive at times. And though the first couple of years were lean, his teams were prepared and seldom beat themselves.
As he has brought in more talent, the Cavaliers started competing and their coaching put them in even better positions to be successful. They followed up last year’s 8-5 season, which included a Belk Bowl win over South Carolina, with a 9-win regular season, capped off by beating Virginia Tech for the first time since 2003.
“He has done an outstanding job. He did the same thing at BYU. He’s a really good coach,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Sunday, as part of the ACC Championship Game conference call with the media. “You can just tell that he believes in the fundamentals of the game, and not beating yourself. When you see a team that has those characteristics, that’s the sign of the type of coaching they have.”
It has not been an easy ride for Virginia to the ACC Championship Game. It had to overcome the loss of a few players on defense, including All-ACC cornerback, and unit leader, Bryce Hall, who is out for the season.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins has been banged up at times this year and had to deal with tonsillitis while preparing for the Hokies last week. It was severe enough to force the quarterback into the hospital.
But through it all, Mendenhall has kept his team pushing forward and believing they could accomplish their goals, even when they lost a couple of conference games at Miami and at Louisville midway through the season.
“He’s put a good staff together. They’ve hung in there,” Swinney said. “He took over a tough situation. In just a very short time, here they are in the ACC Championship Game. Coaching matters. I say that all the time.
“Players play, but you got to be able to put it all together. I think they’ve just done an awesome job of that, giving their guys the opportunity to win week in and week out, then just to grow. They add some new pieces each year. Again, it’s been fun to watch that take place.”
Clemson and Virginia will kick off at 7:30 p.m., next Saturday from Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The game will be televised on ABC.
Order your shirt today to remember Clemson’s 38-3 win over South Carolina