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Virginia Insider Previews BYU-Virginia Game

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

As BYU prepares to host Virginia Saturday night, we spoke with Zach Carey at Streaking The Lawn to preview UVA. You can read his responses below.

VTF: What have Bronco and the staff said about returning to BYU?

Streaking The Lawn: It’s definitely been… interesting to hear what Bronco’s been saying about this game. He’s made it clear that he didn’t want to play this game for years now, but accepts that it’s out of his control.

In his presser on Monday he actually opened with a lengthy statement on BYU, as he emphasized that “BYU is near and dear to my heart. They gave me an opportunity to be a head coach,” and pointed to how “13 years I was at Brigham Young University. My father played there. My brother played there. I lived close by.”

On this game, he said that “it’s an amazing experience to now be able to return,” yet he was quick to say that “it’s been six years, and I’m the coach of the University of Virginia and so thankful to be here and to continue to learn and grow and progress.” Of course, he adds that

“I’ll always be thankful for the opportunities I was given, for the institution - I’m talking about BYU - and for the unique set of values that align with my faith and the development of young people.”

As I’m sure many BYU faithful do, Mendenhall clearly has conflicted feelings about heading back to Provo. But, there doesn’t seem to be any lingering resentment, just some awkwardness.

What makes QB Brennan Armstrong and this offense so effective? How do you slow them down?

The story behind this offense’s effectiveness is really pretty straightforward. Armstrong is capable of making every throw — and he knows it. Then, there’s a significant volume and diversity of talent among the skill position players as the ‘Hoos have almost too many mouths to feed in the receiving core. The offensive line is stout, particularly in pass protection. And, while the running game isn’t anywhere near as deadly as the passing attack,

Why has the defense struggled? Where are they most vulnerable?

The defense lacks the studs it had in the past who’ve characterized Mendenhall’s commitment to that side of the ball. Now, there’s a real weakness on the defensive line as the ‘Hoos have had real issues stopping the run this season. Then, while the linebacking core is solid and has come on stronger throughout the season, the secondary is questionable despite the experience that the group has.

Outside of Armstrong, what players should BYU fans keep an eye on?

Dontayvion Wicks is Armstrong’s favorite target and is having arguably one of the greatest seasons among wide receivers in program history. He’s incredibly versatile as a speedy deep threat, a jump ball guy, or a slasher over the middle.

Then, while there are too many weapons to list, UVA’s designated “football player” Keytaon Thompson is a former quarterback who does it all on offense. He’ll line up in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, in the shotgun, wherever. He’s second on the team in both rushing and receiving yards and is absolutely critical to what Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae wants to do schematically.

What worries you about BYU?

No disrespect to BYU as a team, but the most daunting element of this matchup is its environment and circumstances. Traveling over 2,000 miles to play a late game (10:15 ET) at altitude means that I see this as a game that could go any which way. And, in reality, I don’t think Virginia has much to lose. BYU is a good team and a loss on Saturday wouldn’t derail the goals UVA has for this season. A blowout would hurt morale heading into a bye week and then a home game against Notre Dame, but it wouldn’t be devastating.

How do Virginia fans like Bronco?

For the most part, UVA fans are pretty happy with Bronco so far. He’s established a culture that is synonymous with UVA’s athletic program and other top teams and has reached heights that the ‘Hoos hadn’t hit for a while before his arrival.

That said, there are some lingering doubts about how far he can take this program. Frankly, the last four games of this regular season plus what happens in bowl season will likely determine a lot of opinions on Mendenhall. He and his staff have emphasized this season as the standard or benchmark for the future of the program. If that turns out to be an 8-4 regular season with a win over Virginia Tech, people in Charlottesville will be ecstatic. There’s a lot riding on the final third of this season.

What is your prediction for this game?

My heart is telling me Virginia is going to come to Provo and pull off a huge win to extend its winning streak to five games. But, my head knows that while this winning streak has redeemed the Wahoos’ season, some of the results have been a bit soft. That, plus the fact that UVA is traveling so far for a game in a very different environment against a very solid BYU squad leads me to believe that the Cougars will pull this one out in a high scoring affair, maybe something close to 35-27.