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Nov. 25, 2017

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Virginia vs. Virginia Tech
Nov. 24, 2017

Virginia Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall

Opening Statement:
“Physical, touch, and heated game. Field position and turnovers had a lot to with the outcome today. I give Coach Fuente and Virginia Tech credit. Their defense played exceptionally well and had us behind the chains the majority of the day, which made it difficult to convert on third down. Every opportunity that you have a chance in a game like this, you have to capitalize. So we had a chance for a field goal that would have tied the score, and we had a drive that we were sustaining and I believe that we had a chance to possibly get a touchdown there. Ultimately, in a 10-0 game, three to five plays make up most games, and that was no different today. We fell short, especially offensively executing well enough, long enough, and in critical moments enough to match the score of our opponent.”

On Virginia Tech’s defense:
“We had a lot of respect from the beginning. Again, they are giving up about 15 points a game, and I think they’re coached well defensively and they did a really nice job. We knew we had to have the ball get to the perimeter and downfield some to soften that, and we didn’t get the ball on the edges or downfield enough. And so those matchups went in their favor.”

On the reversed call on Doni Dowling‘s catch:
“Well I think it took wind out of the sails, but as a program you got to overcome those and we still had another down. If nothing else, we have to get a field goal there. The frustration and some of the penalties we had down the stretch have to be now shaped and moved into preparation in advance to execute at a higher level.”

On Andrew Brown‘s ejection and Doni Dowling‘s personal foul:
“I don’t believe in it and I don’t tolerate, obviously, the accountability for it and all it does is hurt the team. My job is to continue to elevate the threshold of our program to where that kind of behavior is gone and all we see is touch, physical play within the whistles and that’s all we see. Any of the other stuff that happens and any of the residue that’s left over from before, my job is to flush it all out. There’s still some that showed up today.”

On the missed field goal:
“We were really confident from all the practice work we’ve seen. Even though we haven’t attempted many, I’m not sure any of us gave it a thought that we wouldn’t make it. We had a lot of confidence in [A.J. Mejia] and just were surprised when it didn’t go through.”

On the cavalier’s defense:
“[Quin Blanding] and [Micah Kiser] led the preparation all week. The game mattered to them, our performance matters to them, our program matters to them, and they led by example. Our assistant coaches worked really hard, our whole staff worked really hard. The matchup went in Virginia Tech’s favor. The gap has closed and that’s obvious, I think, to anyone. But, not enough to where we won the game. Anyone that doesn’t say that I don’t think watched the game.

On the cavaliers struggling to run the ball:
“[The impact was] huge because it puts so much pressure on our quarterback, and our quarterback is a very good player. Not kind of a good player, he is a very good player. And while the catch by [Andrew Levrone], I mean did you all see that, I mean holy cow, that’s one of the greatest catches I’ve ever seen, where he tracked it over his head and that throw and catch. All we needed was just a couple more of those and this game is dead even. Unfortunately, we didn’t make them. But not being able to run it made us one-dimensional, and when you’re one-dimensional you’re easier to defend. But, I like our players; I thought they competed hard. We just didn’t make enough plays today.

Virginia Player Quotes

Sophomore Inside Linebacker Jordan Mack

Closing the gap on VT Program:
“I just think the mentality has changed a lot in the program. It signifies what culture we have. We are not going to go down easily. We are going to continue to fight no matter who were are playing or what situation we are in.

On what was effective defensively:
“Honestly, the mentality. The defense going out there and doing their job to the best of their ability and doing it with a fearless mindset.”

On expecting a low scoring game:
“Not really, but whenever you can have a defensive shutout, I always enjoy that because I am a defensive guy. You just got to enjoy things like that.”

On this game being frustrating when offense is not scoring:
“You just got to blank it out. You can’t control that. You just got to get behind them and support them because they’re your teammates. When you get out there you have just got to do your job.

On the future of the defense:
“There is promise. There are a lot of guys who will step up and fulfill those roles and a lot of talent. No worries at all. It is unfortunate that we are losing players like them [Kiser, Blanding]. You have some guys who are behind them who are learning a lot.”

On Mandy Alonso:
“He’s just proved himself week-in and week-out that he can handle what the coaches are asking of him. He is consistent in his performance. He is just earning a role.”

Senior Wide Receiver Andre Levrone

On close first quarter catch:
“It was a tough catch. Kurt felt a guy bearing down my back, he let it go and it came off hot. It touched my fingers, so it has got to be a catch for me. It could have changed the course of the game. I believe we would have went up seven points. It was a bad play on my behalf. Got to catch those.”

On catch where he was marked:
“I am just playing the game. Every catch is the same. I had a catch early on where I was open and it was the same for me. When you look at it after the game, I guess you can see how impactful it would have been, but I was just tracking the ball, trying to make a catch for my team.”

On how far this team has come:
“We have come a long way. For five years I have been here under a different staff, to see the lack of discipline and all types of off the field issues, to see just the drive in all my teammates. Everyone is just living their best life right now. I can’t stress how much Coach Mendenhall has done for this team. He may not even understand, but just by implementing the plan that he has and the discipline he has given this team and the new confidence he has given this team. He has done it by turning over to us and telling us we can and it is on our time. We have embraced that. This year we have had great senior leadership. I love every one of our teammates, especially my seniors that I have been here with for so long. Love going to war with those guys every day, all day long we are talking about the game. On the field you just look them in the eyes and you just know that they are going to fight with you. We came up short today, but I think that this team can go the distance eventually and it is going to be a lot faster than people think.”

On Kurt Benkert:
“I’ll say it again, he is the most talented quarterback in the country. When he gets time to throw the ball and when he is healthy, he can dice the defense up. I think he is going to have extreme success in the next game we have and at the next level. I just pray that he will have a team that will protect him because that guy is immensely talented. From a leadership standpoint, he is not the most vocal guy, but I know that he is going to compete. People talk about Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma, JT Barrett at Ohio State – he is right in the same category. He is a competitor. When I look at him, I hate to let him down. That one pass early, I wish I could have come up with it for our team. I hate to let him down, I know he is going to come right back to me, as he did. He has done a lot for our team. He will truly be missed. We have one more game, I am looking forward to one more game.”

Senior Quarterback Kurt Benkert

On the loss:
“I thought it was the year, too. We didn’t come out on offense, and I didn’t do good enough to put us in position to win this game. There’s no way that we should’ve had zero points on the scoreboard.”

On Virginia Tech’s defense:
“I think their front obviously was very dominant. They were able to get pressure with four or five guys. Their DBs were bigger guys, so we weren’t able to run by them without them being physical.”

On the opportunity of having a bowl game:
“I think it’s really big, especially for the younger guys. I think it’s a good time for development. It’s kind of like an extension or starting early of spring ball.”

Senior Defensive Back Quin Blanding

On the play of the team:
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys, and I couldn’t be happier for them. We came out there and fought. That’s the bottom line. Sometimes things don’t go our way. We fought the whole game.”

On how the bowl game will help the younger players:
“I think it’s going to motivate them. I think it’s going to be something that drives them. We’ve reached that accomplishment this year.”

On the respect the defense has earned:
“We’re always going to earn respect. We come in and we earn every little drop of respect from each offense. Our defense doesn’t quit. That’s the bottom line. Our defense earned respect this year, and they’re going to keep earning respect until they’re dominant, until people are scared to play them.”

Senior Linebacker Micah Kiser

On comparing last season’s game versus Virginia Tech to the game tonight:
“Last year was miserable. I told the guys, ‘The feeling I have right now is not good, but it is way better than last year.’ We fought; we were competitive. They made more competitive plays than us. Their defense outplayed us. That’s it.”

On if having another game this season eases the pain of this loss:
“I mean, a little bit. I just feel like the next little bit is really for the younger guys. I am really happy we got to a bowl game, but it just feels kind of like an end; Quinn [Blanding] and me being here, for some reason, it just kind of feels like an end of an era, I guess. I am passing the baton to Chris Peace and those guys, really. I love that we made it to a bowl game. It is their team really now.”

On the outlook for Virginia’s defensive unit next season:
“We are going to be better on defense next year too. We lose me, Quin [Blanding] and [Andrew Brown], everyone else will be back. Malcolm [Cook] might be gone too, but everyone else is back. Getting deeper on the [defensive line]. We are going to have our great [defensive backs] back. Jordan Mack is going to be a leader. Chris Peace is going to be a leader. You have the twin-towers with Charles [Snowden] and Elliott [Brown] stepping up after a year. The sky is the limit on defense. I am proud of the guys and am kind of passing the baton to Jordan [Mack] and those guys.”

Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente

Opening statement:
“First of all, I’d like to congratulate our seniors. They have served as great examples to our team, to everybody really, and to our coaches. We talked this week about what a team victory this would have to be since we have so many guys out. So many people had to step up and go play, whether it was in the secondary or wide receiver or on special teams to go and win a rivalry game against a team that is obviously much improved from a year ago. I know we obviously got a shutout defensively, they could not run the football and offensively we could run the ball a little bit and find a way to win a hard fought, tough game. That was as good of a team win as I have ever been a part of and I hope everybody is proud of these kids because they have battled. To pour it out on the field a week ago and to come back in less than a week and play as hard and as smart and as tough as they did speaks a lot about their character.

On holding Virginia to single-digit rushing yards:
“We felt like, and Bud [Foster] can speak to the specifics, but just in our conversations, we needed to obviously control the line of scrimmage. We felt like we had an advantage there and would have an opportunity to do that. But to completely make them one-dimensional like that was pretty impressive. To me, it was going to be about defending the shots down the field because we knew they were coming from all sorts of angles. They are very creative and innovative in how they find ways to push the ball down the field and that quarterback can sling it and they’ve got some guys that can run. Between controlling the line of scrimmage and defending the deep balls, it was a pretty impressive performance.”

On the winning streak against Virginia:
“Well, I was a little concerned about it this week to be honest with you. I felt like we were going to count on a lot of guys that hadn’t played a whole lot of reps and I didn’t think beating the streak into them was the way to go. I felt like talking about what the game means and making sure we were emotionally prepared to go play the game was the way to go. It was meaningful. I’m certainly not diminishing the meaning behind that. I just didn’t want our guys pressured up about it because we were going to play some different guys that hadn’t played a lot of snaps this week. We did have some pretty neat messages from former players that sent them in that we showed the team throughout the week. It was really kind of special and impactful, I thought, in terms of talking about the rivalry and Virginia Tech and the pride we have.”

On having Junior Running Back Steven Peoples back in the backfield:
“I thought it set up some other things for us. We’re still not good enough to just line up and force-feed it down anybody’s throat. But I liked the way those kids ran. It was nice to have Steven [Peoples] back. You know how we feel about him. When he is healthy, he gets out there and gets carries because he does run hard and tough. And then Deshawn [McClease] was a nice little mix up in there to get some speed and quickness. It was good to run the ball a little bit.”

Virginia Tech Player Quotes

Redshirt-Junior Defensive Tackle Ricky Walker

On meaning of the 14 year streak of victories over Virginia:
“14 years in a row now, I am proud of these guys and this team. We wanted to do this for the seniors once again. That was a game of sixty minutes. We competed. It was two great halves. Our defense did great. To shut out someone nowadays, no matter who it is, at this level isââ’¬¦we came out and we stopped the run. That is our goal, each and every game and we definitely did that. We made them throw the ball and we got out of the middle, so that was a great win.”

On holding Virginia to five rushing yards:
“Just playing technique, fundamentals, playing in the backfield is key, just getting penetration. And I think that we did that. That is just one of our goals as a defense, and we definitely did that. I am proud, that is great. That is hard to do. I mean, UVA has great backs, #1 [Jordan Ellis] and #22 [Daniel Hamm], those are both good guys and they are more than capable of having five yards. That is just LPD [Lunch Pail Defense] for you, a nasty D.”

On third shutout of the year:
“I think this is probably the best team win of the year. We had young guys stepping in, [Safety] Khalil Ladler and [Receiver] Hezekiah Grimsley on the offense. I mean, [Defensive End] Emmanuel Belmar, guys like that stepping up. I think this is probably one of the special wins of the season and I will remember this one forever.”

Redshirt-Sophomore Tight End Chris Cunningham

On his third-quarter touchdown:
“I honestly wasn’t thinking. I just played the play, did what I was coached, and go make a play for the team. It felt wonderful, actually, the seven points that we put up as a team on that play, it just felt great. To finally be able to pull away instead of having three points, it kind of stretched the lead a little bit.”

On how the third-quarter fumble recovery affected the offense:
“It just kind of sparked the offense to have the momentum. The defense did a great job, [Defensive End] Houshun Gaines did a great job recovering the fumble. The defense played lights out. As an offense, we were ready to build off that momentum and get in the end zone.”

Redshirt-Sophomore Defensive End Houshun Gaines

On importance of early third-quarter fumble recovery:
“Our mentality every time we go on the field is just trying to get the ball back and trying to help the offense out as much as we can. I don’t feel like it was any different, we just expected to make plays and help our team out. Coach Bud Foster always harps on run to the ball, never giving up, there’s never a dead play. And I just ran to the ball, [rover] Reggie Floyd just popped the ball out, and I was just there and I got to get on the ball.”

On mindset before first career start:
“Like Coach Foster always says, the next man up mentality. Our expectations as a defense never goes down for whoever comes in, and just to come in and make plays and help our team out as much as I can.”

On emotions of the game:
“Coming into their house, this is rivalry week. So it is always going to be a little chippy here and there, but that’s what you sign up for, its nighttime, the lights are on, everybody’s out here, this is a good environment. You thrive off of that.”

Redshirt-Freshman Quarterback Josh Jackson:

On missed opportunities to score:
“Well [Center] Eric Gallo told me that [on the third quarter missed snap], they yelled out snap count, our cadence. So I wasn’t even ready to go and I see the ball run over my head. And on the other one, when you have that good of a defense that can shut them out the whole game, you’re not too worried or stressed about missing there. I told Hezekiah [Grimsley] to get up the field, and he probably could have gotten the first, but when you have that good of a defense and such a great coordinator, you don’t get too worried when you’re up two possessions.”

On first game in the rivalry with Virginia:
“I had to get ready for it. But as soon as you get there, it is a big time game. And to send the seniors out with this win, to send them out undefeated against Virginia, it is just big. We got supposedly thirty minutes worth of videos of alumni sending videos saying how important the game was. It came from Sam Rogers, everybody, those are the ones they showed us. And it was really cool to see that. I just wanted to make sure that I’m not the quarterback that ends the streak. That is kind of what was motivating me, I guess you could say. I want to continue that until I get out of here. It definitely made me work hard. I had a good week of practice. The first half was kind of rough but the second half I think we started to started to click.”

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