Bronco Mendenhall succeeded in ending Virginia's six-year bowl drought in his second year at the helm of the program. But the Cavaliers will have to wait to earn their first postseason win since 2005 after Thursday's 49-7 loss to Navy in the Military Bowl.
Here are three takeaways from the worst bowl loss in program history
Tommy GilliganTommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
1. Getting There Really Was Half The Battle
Yes, there's a little nod to G.I. Joe there -- this was the Military Bowl, after all -- but first and foremost, let's give credit to the strides that Virginia made in Year 2 under Mendenhall. It went from winning two games in 2016, including one in ACC play, to starting 5-1 and improved by two wins in-conference.
Granted, it was a struggled to get to that sixth victory this season, with the Cavaliers dropping their first two chances -- 41-10 to Boston College and then 31-14 to Pitt -- but they led then-unbeaten Miami 28-14 in the second half on the road and battled Virginia Tech -- a team Virginia hasn't beaten since 2003 -- in falling 10-0. A season ago, the the Hurricanes dropped the Cavaliers by 20 and the Hokies dealt them a 52-10 loss.
Progress was made in 2017, even if it ended with a season-low 175 yards of offense and saw the defense allow 450-plus yards for the third time the season.
2. About That Georgia Tech Experience
It seemed a point of confidence for Virginia that it had a working knowledge of the option-based offense that Navy runs. After all, in ACC play, only No. 1 Clemson held the Yellow Jackets to fewer yards on the ground than the Cavaliers did in giving up 220 on 52 carries.
But the flip side of that is the Midshipmen had film on how Virginia intended to slow down their offense ... and things didn't go well for the Cavaliers.
Navy's second-ranked rushing attack rolled up all 452 of its yards on the ground -- that's 154 more than Virginia had allowed in any game this season, and more than any game the program has played in since 2000.
It's worth noting that of the highest rushing games the Cavaliers have allowed in the past 17 years, the top three are all option teams as Navy surpassed Georgia Tech, which had 477 on Oct. 9, 2010 and 461 on Sept. 15, 2012.
3. It's Been Real, Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding
The Military Bowl served as the send-off for two of the most accomplished defensive players in Virginia history in linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding (along with end Andrew Brown, who is also likely NFL-bound).
Blanding, the program's all-time leader in career tackles and 10th in ACC history in that department, had eight stops in the first quarter alone and Kiser -- the winner of the Campbell Trophy as the nation's top scholar-athlete -- ended his career in the top five in program history with 400-plus stops.
The forgettable defensive performance from the Cavaliers aside, these two program mainstays will prove difficult to replace as Mendenhall looks to build off 2017's successes.