1. I thought Mendenhall was a really good hire for UVA, despite the record, how are Cav fans feeling about him so far?
I personally am a big fan. I think in the Wahoo fanbase you'll find some people who think the same way I do, a large chunk that are optimistic but still have a lingering London-era hangover, and a tiny chunk who think we're terrible, will always be terrible, and why bother. Realistically, the truth is in there somewhere. Much like Tony Bennett, I think Mendenhall is a guy who will succeed immensely and for extended amounts of time after he is able to implement his type of players into his type of systems. Right now he's still working on fitting round pegs into square holes, and a lot of those round pegs have injuries. The players have responded positively to Mendenhall and his approach of "earned not given". All-in-all, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in Charlottesville.
2. From a scores perspective, UVA isn't getting blown out in their losses, so what would you say is the biggest contributing factor for the team's struggles this year?
Ugh, yeah some of these games (cough, Louisville, cough) have been typical Virginia heartbreak fashion, while others (cough, Wake Forest, cough) have been typical Virginia snatching defeat from the jaws of victory fashion. I think the biggest factor is the adaptation of players into new roles and new schemes. It's such a cop out answer, but I feel like the biggest difference between 2-8 and 6-4 is the inability to stop or make the big plays. In the opener against Richmond, they just let previous bad habits seep into their minds. UCONN we're talking missed FG from like 25 yards. Louisville and Lamar Jackson are just damn good and despite solid defense made that TD pass happen. Wake, it was that awful pick six. That's four games that could easily be in the win column and I'd be answering questions about how going to a bowl game felt. Instead, well...
3. I saw this week that Matt Johns has taken back over the starter role from Kurt Benkert. What was the coaching staff's reasoning for a change this late in the season?
Benkert has regressed (overall - the Louisville game was pretty solid for him) since the bye week. The late, 4th quarter interceptions have become 'his thing', which is definitely not something that is pleasing to anyone. Mendenhall has praised Johns's leadership ability all season, and this is not only an opportunity to let Benkert observe from the sidelines (I'm not convinced he is 100% healthy, but I digress), but to reward a senior player like Johns who has given so much to the program. I'm all for it.
4. Georgia Tech's defense has been terrible most of the season, but played one of their best games in recent memory last week. Despite the showing against your rivals in Blacksburg, what ways can you see the Wahoo offense exploiting a generally soft Tech defense?
Virginia has to be solid in the run game to give themselves any chance. Bringing Johns in this late in the season - especially with this record - doesn't put a ton of pressure on him, but the ability to gain some momentum going into Virginia Tech next week is huge. Smoke Mizzell set an ACC record last week by becoming the first ever player to record at least 1,500 yards in both receiving and rushing in their career, which is awesome. He will be big, as well as fellow running back Albert Reid. If Virginia establishes the run as a threat, that should give Johns a little more comfortability in the pocket.
I also see Olamide Zaccheaus being big factor in this game as he is a versatile run/receive threat that is more than capable of the big play.
5. What matchup in this game, offensively or defensively, gives you the most concern going into Saturday?
Despite Bronco Mendenhall having a very good record against option teams, I'm always hesitant when facing teams that employ that style. Our defense has improved and guys like Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding are absolute monsters, but there have been so many drives where Virginia just couldn't get off the field. We all know of the bajillion-play, 13 minute drives that GT can produce, so that makes me nervous most of all.
6. And finally, how do you see this game playing out? What's the final score going to be?
Well, let's see. I predicted a win for Virginia in our weekly column, so I won't back down now. Hoos get back on track and steal a road win 28-24 with three Matt Johns touchdown passes in the game (I immediately regret this decision).
Thanks again to Caroline for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to swing by the UVA blog and say hello this week. Kickoff is at 12:30 on Saturday. Go Jackets!