Virginia could be on the cusp of a Coastal Division title, and that’s a big surprise to most ACC fans. One person who’s not as shocked by the Hoos’ run is Ahmad Hawkins, a UVA legend — he caught the game winner the last time the Cavaliers won in Blacksburg — and a current analyst for the team. We checked in to get some insight on this year’s Hoos.
Q. Virginia is 6-2 and most folks are pretty surprised. Could you see this coming?
A. You could see some of it coming, but the thing that’s surprised me the most is how we’ve adjusted our defensive scheme due to the injuries and the lack of pass rush. They used the bye week to form some new schemes to help alleviate the need to get to the passer as much and help the secondary perform better. We knew that was our strength.
Q. Bryce Perkins isn’t putting up numbers like Tua, but it seems like he’s really transformed the Virginia offense with his athleticism. What’s been the impact from your viewpoint?
A. Just having a quarterback that’s mobile. That’s something Coach Bronco has wanted from Day 1. They inherited Kurt Benkert, who was more of the classic pro-style quarterback, and he’s with the Atlanta Falcons now. He had a live arm, but he didn’t move like a Taysom Hill type. When they brought Bryce in, I knew he’d help overshadow some of the deficiencies we had on the offensive line and allow that group to actually gel and scheme for those inside zone-reads. And his ability to use his legs really occupies those linebackers and doesn’t let them get a beat on what we do offensively. He’s not going to wow anyone with his passing numbers, but the one thing in college football that’s so scary is having that dynamic quarterback that can run with the football.
Q. I love chatting with Bronco Mendenhall because he’s unlike any other coach out there. He’s thoughtful about so many things most coaches probably take for granted. What’s been your experience dealing with him?
A. Coach is very thoughtful. He’s very strategic even when you’re having a good time with him. One thing is, he wants to make sure the energy he puts out is genuine and positive and he understands that people hang on every word you say, and he doesn’t want to say anything out o character. He’s a lot of fun to be around, and I said when he got hired, he’s the type of coach you run through a wall for.
Q. I don’t feel like Virginia is playing the “Nobody believes in us” card so much as they just really believe in themselves. Fair assessment?
A. Oh yeah. It’s basically the “if you build it, they will come” mantra. They understand our fan base hasn’t viewed a consistent winner. So you can’t complain about fans if you’re not putting out a great product. Last year, we got to six wins, but the product wasn’t as attractive. Now, the product fits what you see with the record. We’re 6-2, but this team is also fun to watch. And the fans have been there, but we want to get them to come to the stadium, too.
Q. What does UVA have to do to beat Pitt on Friday?
A. It’s going to be tough physically because Pitt comes right at you. They’re going to hit you in the mouth, they’re going to pull guards. It’s power football. When they take a shot in the passing game, it’s off of play-action. So that’ll test our defensive front and our linebackers to be very disciplined and understand that all that weight lifting and conditioning you did is going to come in during this game. We’ve played some finesse teams, and now we’re going to see the run-it-down-your-throat team. It’s going to test our fortitude.