Atlantic Coast Conference Football Media Conference

Tuesday November 21, 2017

Bronco Mendenhall

Virginia

BRONCO MENDENHALL: We're excited to have earned our second straight appearance on national TV versus a ranked opponent, looking to improve and grow and continue to learn and help our kids and our program reach a new level. This will be the next step as we take that on. So I'll take questions.

Q. Good morning, Coach. Last year you guys were minus 8 in third down percentage, offense-defense. This year you flipped it, and you're plus 7. Was that a point of emphasis during the off-season, and to what do you attribute that dramatic improvement?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Yeah, there was a lot of things that we had to address to show progress and to help our program improve, and certainly third down was one, not all, obviously, of the things we had to improve, but it was one. So we targeted that. We focused on it. It was an off-season study. And we've shown significant improvement.

While we're not perfect and still believe we have a ways to go to improve. I think you normally get what you emphasize, and our players are anxious to -- and believe what we tell them. So a combination of all those things has helped us improve in that area.

Q. And then on the defensive side, how much has the emergence of Juan at cornerback helped not only improve third down but just the overall defensive performance?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Well, it's really been a unique shift because our plan way, way, way back at the beginning of the season was Tim Harris at corner and Juan playing what we call our saber position. That was our ideal. That Juan went back to corner and played as effectively as he has despite the little stretch there of being injured, that's really helped.

But probably the thing that's helped even more is the emergence of Brenton Nelson being able to add one more player. So it's been a cascading effect. But I would say the bigger story is Brenton over Juan just because he was a relative unknown to us.

Q. Good morning, Coach. To look at your quarterback and just what you can say about Kurt Benkert, just what he's done this season. With the team looking to get to a Bowl game, I know you've finished strong. Just what you can say about his advance throughout the year.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: Kurt has a special place in my heart as we both came through together. We've gone through unique challenges, and we've had some successes. It's just been gratifying to have someone to work with and partner with in that position that really wants to be a good player, really wants to help our team, and really wants to do things right for not only himself, but the program.

I'm grateful to him, first and foremost, for coming to UVA and working as hard as he is, but I'm also excited for him for the successes that he's had, the interest he's garnering from and what his future might look like and the chance to lead our team two more times and in postseason. He is the quarterback that's bringing this team back to postseason after a significant drought.

Q. And just what you can say about the team as a whole and their response to you, what you did coming in, because you've been able to turn things from a dismal season where there's a lot of adversity over last year to going to the bowl season this year. And I know you typically don't give a lot of credit to yourself, but what can you say about the buy-in to the team, kind of your message, and just how quickly the team went from watching a Bowl game to going to a Bowl game.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I'm just humbled and grateful that they've chosen to listen and be teachable. I don't think you can teach anyone that doesn't want to be taught. Somewhere along the line, they've seen enough of substance and competency to where they've really embraced what we're trying to do. My job is to help, and I think they see that, and I want nothing more than for them to be successful, and I think they see that as well.

So I'm lucky to be here, lucky to be working with this team, with this program, and helping it learn and grow.

Q. Bronco, Virginia hasn't had huge crowds since you've been there. How important is crowd support this week and going forward?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think it's reflective of connection with the program, belief in the program, and sincere and authentic partnership with the program. So I've recognized and noticed all those things. While we're still at the front end of building our program, my hope is -- and I have a picture right outside of my office that shows Scott Stadium completely full. I'm looking at it now. I can't see an empty seat. The grass hill is completely full. I aspire for this community in this state to want and be connected with our program at that level again. And I know it's earned.

So hopefully, what we've done so far this season is maybe recapturing some of the hearts that might have been lost over time, rekindling some interest, and then hopefully with continued success and sustainability, we'll see those seats be full maybe one at a time.

This is a process. I don't know how much I can control that, but I think the bottom line is I want our players and this community and the school to have an amazing, amazing college team with a connection between the players and support. So I'll continually look for ways to do that.

Q. Do you think it translates into wins?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think what it does is it helps with the momentum and home field advantage that possibly could turn a game. I'm not going to say more than -- I'm not going to overstate that, but I think it can make it difficult for opponents in critical moments to take over a game, and I say that just from my experience last week where momentum started to shift and Miami's crowd and that venue started to make it difficult for us to recapture the momentum. I think that's what it could be.

Q. Hi, Bronco. Just talk about your team. Last week you took an early lead on Miami, 14-0. Is that something you guys have been working on all year to try to jump on those good teams in a hostile environment? I know it didn't finish up well at the end, but jumping on them real early.
BRONCO MENDENHALL: We love and emphasize starting fast. It hasn't always shown, but that has been a program emphasis. It pays and makes -- has a particular and special effect when you do it on the road against a very good team. We held that and basically ran at a really high level as a team until about the six-minute mark, and then basically that was our threshold, and we didn't sustain at that point. So we're looking to build competency and capability, but starting fast is really helpful, and it's one of our program's models. We just haven't do it consistently yet in the two seasons that I've been here.

Q. And what type of quarterback is Josh Jackson for Virginia Tech? I saw him earlier this year against West Virginia, and it was his first start. He got a little help by Tom Brady a little bit, a little phone call from him. So what type of quarterback is he?
BRONCO MENDENHALL: I think he's capable and competence and effective. He plays in a very good system, and he's coached well. So he's led their team to a No. 24 ranking and I guess a lot of good teams. So it's pretty impressive for a young player to have done that.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #181 at 2017-11-21 16:31:00 GMT

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