Bronco Mendenhall is hoping the idea of his team training early in the morning will help on Saturday when they face Illinois with a rare 11am start to the game.
“We’re an early morning training team, so it really fits our normal routine in terms of when we train,” said Mendenhall. “So I’m not anticipating – man, I hope this doesn’t affect us a lot in terms of our normal routine. “
Fighting Illini first-year coach Bret Bielema is hoping his team’s routine will line up well with the start of the game as well, but also laments that this isn’t the only similarity he finds when comparing the schedule. Cavaliers with his.
In Mendenhall’s first game at Virginia in 2016, the Cavaliers lost 37-20 to Richmond of the Championship Division Soccer. Bielema’s side won their first game, 30-22 against Nebraska, but lost 37-30 last week to UTSA, also an FCS program. This will be their first road game of the season.
“I was thinking of a manager in transition here, I had to go through that on Saturday,” Bielema said. “And as much as I didn’t like it. You don’t like it. Do not understand it. I don’t want to accept it. It’s true. It happened. And if I ignore it like it never happened, it’s never going to be something you can learn from. “
Mendenhall moved many of the Cavaliers’ operations to Scott Stadium after Richmond’s loss, feeling his team didn’t seem as comfortable as they would have imagined on their home ground, and Virginia no longer has that problem. They have won 18 of their last 20 home games, including last week’s 43-0 win over William & Mary in their first game of the season.
Bielema isn’t sure how his team will react, but said that “the greatest crime we can ever commit was to have this loss that doesn’t come down to learning to move forward,” and studying the film was key to this learning process. “I think it’s just a constant as a head coach emphasizes good football and corrects bad football.”
A few other things to watch out for when Illinois play Virginia:
Fighting Illini may have starting quarterback Brandon Peters back, but Bielema has said Artur Sitkowski, a transfer from Rutgers, will start. Peters injured his shoulder against the Cornhuskers. Sitkowski scored 22 for 42 for 266 yards with three touchdown passes against UTSA.
The Illini used a few successful stretches against Nebraska, and it’s an approach North Carolina State used effectively against the Cavaliers last year. “It has been a priority and a goal for us so I hope we have improved,” said Mendenhall.
The Cavaliers and Illinois have played twice before, both times in bowl games, and the Illini have won both. The game marks Illinois’ first road game against a non-conference Power-5 team since they faced North Carolina in 2015.
James McCourt scored 52 and 53 yards in the loss to UTSA, giving him six of 50 yards or more for his career. He is the first Illini field goal kicker in program history to score two baskets on at least 50 yards in the same game.
The Cavaliers have gained 545 yards against the Tribe and topped 500 yards in their last three home games. They gained 518 yards against Abilene Christian on Nov. 21 and 549 against Boston College in last year’s home final.
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