CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Consecutive lopsided losses caused Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall to do an about face.
Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room — the Cavaliers' need to win at least one more game to be bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 — Mendenhall finally acknowledged the situation hoping to help refocus his teetering team.
"The brutal fact is, yes, this is the case," the coach said. "This is what the rest of the season will look like, this is the quality of opponents, this is how we're playing, this is what we need to do to improve it. So now that hopefully we've said all that and got it out, now can we go back to preparing and playing the way we're capable of."
He'll find out whether embracing the situation worked when Virginia (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays host to Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) in what could be a Coastal Division elimination game. Miami would clinch the division with a victory against Virginia Tech, but a Hurricanes' loss keeps the race wide open.
Mendenhall's team handled Georgia Tech and coach Paul Johnson's triple-option offense twice in as many tries when he was at BYU, and the Cavaliers played the Yellow Jackets tight last season before coming up short, 31-17 .
The Cavaliers appeared to have turned a corner when they started this season winning five of their first six, but with bowl eligibility there for the taking, they lost 41-10 at home to Boston College and 31-14 at Pitt.
"They came out of the gate really strong, and they kind of hit a buzz saw against BC, but BC has been playing well," Johnson said. "And then last week at Pitt, that game kind of got out of hand with the punt return."
The punt return was a 75-yard touchdown for Quadree Henderson, and gave the Panthers a 21-0 lead.
"I think it kind of changed the game. But yeah, I think they're better," Johnson said.
Here are some other things to watch when Georgia Tech visits Virginia on Saturday:
BIG PLAYS: The Cavaliers limited Georgia Tech to 199 rushing yards last season, but were done in by big plays. Marcus Marshall scored on a 67-yard run, Justin Thomas hit Clinton Lynch for a 54-yard scoring pass and Qua Searcy scored on a 60-yard run. Those three plays accounted for 181 of the Yellow Jackets' 321 yards of offense, and Lance Austin removed any chance of a Virginia comeback with a 24-yard interception return touchdown with 4:03 left.
GIMME THAT: Georgia Tech is the only team in the nation that has not thrown an interception, but the Yellow Jackets have fumbled the ball away 10 times and are minus two in turnover margin. The Cavaliers are plus three, but only because of a statistical oddity: they have recovered 12 of their own 13 fumbles this year.
PAGING BENKERT: Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert has been very good in some games this season, but has been missing receivers with high throws of late and the offense has struggled. A banged-up throwing shoulder is partially the cause of his inaccuracy, but better pass protection would also help, as well as a few early downfield completions to open up the offense.
NUMBERS GAME: Georgia Tech is first in the ACC in rushing with 347.9 yards per game, and Virginia is last with 120.8. ... The Yellow Jackets are last in passing with 69.7 yards per game, and Virginia is seventh with 255.5. ... Both teams convert on third down at a high rate (Georgia Tech leads the ACC at 46.6 percent. Virginia is at 44.1 percent).
HISTORY LESSON: The series has featured some epic battles, none more important than the 1990 matchup. In that game, Scott Sisson kicked a 37-yard field goal with seven seconds left as the Yellow Jackets beat No. 1-ranked Virginia 41-38. Georgia Tech went on to win the national championship that year.