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By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– Bronco Mendenhall has coached there three times, all with BYU, but his players have no such familiarity with the site of Virginia’s next football game: Notre Dame, Indiana.
At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, in a game NBC will televise nationally, No. 18 UVA (4-0) plays at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1). A sellout crowd of 77,622 is expected at Notre Dame Stadium, and almost all of those fans will be rooting against the Cavaliers.
Virginia has little experience in such environments. The Wahoos visit Virginia Tech’s 65,632-seat Lane Stadium every other season, but they haven’t played at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium (81,500) since 2009 or at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium (79,560) since 2014.
Like many college teams, Virginia often pumps in crowd noise at practices ahead of road games, and opponents’ fight songs, such as Notre Dame’s “Victory March,” are played over and over, until the players can hear them in their sleep. Luke Goldstein, UVA’s assistant athletics director for video services, controls the music and volume level from his laptop.
Morever, said Mendenhall, who’s in his fourth year at Virginia, “I orchestrate and create crises during the week in as many different ways that I can, and that helps to some extent … So emotion is something and chaos is something we work to create in practice.”
The Cavaliers fly into South Bend International Airport on Friday, and, as on any other road trip, they’ll proceed to the stadium after landing. That’s “a chance to see the field and get familiar with the locker room and make the unknown known for those that haven’t been there,” Mendenhall said Monday during his weekly press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.

With BYU, Mendenhall went 0-3 against the Fighting Irish, losing 49-23 in 2005, 17-14 in 2012, and 23-13 in 2013, each time at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish were ranked No. 9 at the time of the 2005 game and No. 5 when the 2012 game kicked off.
He doesn’t remember much about those games, Mendenhall said, and he’s focused on Notre Dame’s latest team, not the program’s storied history.
“We’re playing this year’s team with this year’s players,” he said. “It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the different players that might have been there, the names of the past. While that’s historical and a positive thing for Notre Dame, we’re playing this team, this year … To think about more than that is just a waste of time.”
Notre Dame is a full ACC member in every sport except one. In football, the Irish play five ACC opponents each season. UVA hasn’t faced Notre Dame since their dramatic clash in 2015. The ninth-ranked Irish rallied for a touchdown in the final minute and defeated the Cavaliers 34-27 at Scott Stadium.
Defensive lineman Eli Hanback, who redshirted in 2015, is one of the few UVA players from that season still in the program. Now in his fourth year as a starter, Hanback is eager to be part of the Cavaliers’ first game in Notre Dame.

“I think anyone who’s a big college football fan knows about Notre Dame football and their history and their success, and the Touchdown Jesus and all that stuff,” Hanback said. “There’s a lot of history that goes into that, and it’s going to be an exciting challenge for us as a team, so I’m looking forward to it, and I think everyone else is.”
Senior cornerback Bryce Hall is among that group.
“I know South Bend is an amazing place,” Hall said. “They’ve got a great tradition, and so it’s going to be an exciting time. I’m excited to go and play there. Obviously, when you’re a kid and you hear about Notre Dame and the tradition, it’s hard to get past them and you know how great they’ve been.”
That the game matches top-20 teams “just adds to the excitement and the experience,” Hanback said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us, not only as a team this year but just as a program going forward, to have the opportunity to play on this stage, but also be 4-0. I think where we’re at as a team right and the fact that Notre Dame is a really good football team, not only historically but right now, that makes it more exciting and just a bigger opportunity for us.”
The Cavaliers are coming off a game in which they trailed Old Dominion 17-0 early in the second quarter. A week earlier, also at Scott Stadium, Virginia trailed Florida State 14-10 at halftime. 
In each case, the Hoos rallied to win: 31-24 over FSU and 28-17 over ODU.
“When you start winning and winning consistently, which we’re starting to do,” Mendenhall said, “wins come in all shapes and sizes and forms. Each one of those game scripts end up adding to a collective that kind of binds your team together.”
In the FSU and ODU games, Mendenhall added, “I saw a connection being formed there that had more depth and substance than could have been formed without the circumstance of being down, needing a play, making the play, and then the collective celebration and investment in each other. And so I think all those things will help us have our best chance to be poised and ready in the setting we’re going into, and not as reliant or concerned about how many people are there or who is there. Just that we’re there.”

The key in such situations, senior quarterback Bryce Perkins said, is “just remaining calm and not getting too worried, and I think that’s what the great teams that can overcome a deficit like that do. They stay calm and they go in and readjust and recalibrate what they need to do and they come back out and just execute. The trust is all the way up with the guys, and if you could listen to the huddle before we go out there, it’s very calm and it’s very eager to get back out there, but it’s not ever frantic or scared.”
For the Cavaliers, finding themselves down 17-0 against Old Dominion “was a little bit of a shock at first,” Hanback said. “No matter who you play, you don’t want to go down 17-0, but I think, especially from our leadership on both sides of the ball, offense and defense, we just kept encouraging each other and saying, ‘Believe. Trust the process. We’re going to get it done.’ “
The Hoos would prefer not to struggle early, Perkins said, but “we know that if we don’t start fast, we have the ability to come back. We definitely need to focus in, and we have been focused in, on trying to start fast and get an early lead and not rely on [second-half comebacks].”
Saturday’s game is a chance, Perkins said, to show “this is a different UVA team. Going out there we have an opportunity to put our mark on college football and do all the things that we said we came here to do, and just come out there from the start and just play aggressive.”
A unique environment awaits the Cavaliers in Notre Dame, and it’s “going to be exciting and a cool experience,” Hanback said. “But then again, we’re going there to play a football game. We’re not going there to sightsee or anything like that. We’ve got to be focused on what we have to do to be successful.”