Richmond not wide-eyed about playing Virginia in opener
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Richmond coach Danny Rocco spent five years as an assistant coach at Virginia and probably knows Scott Stadium better than new Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall.
When Rocco takes his Spiders to Charlottesville on Saturday to be the first opponent of the Mendenhall era at Virginia, he believes his team will be ready for the moment. Richmond is coming off a season in which it reached the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals. It also returns 16 of 22 starters this year.
''I feel this game is not too big for our team,'' Rocco said as he prepares to start his fifth season with Richmond. ''I feel that a lot of times in these FCS-BCS games, there is a mentality that the game is too big. Our kids have been in some big games.''
The atmosphere figures to be highly charged with Virginia fans excited about the new regime. Mendenhall won 99 games in 11 years at BYU, and took the Cougars to a bowl games after each season. The Cavaliers haven't been to a bowl game since 2011, and while Mendenhall doesn't even entertain the idea that his program won't succeed at Virginia, he's as anxious as anyone to see how they perform in a real game.
''Really the best stance is to under-promise and over-deliver,'' he said this week. ''I think the promise comes from people just seeing and believing this will work by past history. I don't think anyone wonders if we'll win or not.
''The biggest question is when and with whom and where are we starting from.''
The Spiders have won three of eight meetings against BCS teams in the past 10 years, and have the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason offensive player of the year in quarterback Kyle Lauletta and its preseason defensive player of the year in defensive back David Jones. They also have a whole roster of players who look forward to stepping up in class to show that they can play at the higher level.
''You want to make it just another game, but you can't,'' linebacker Omar Howard said. ''It's a FBS game. It's a big venue. It's the start of your season. It's exciting and I think you have to embrace that excitement and you have all the emotions that go into that and let it fuel you.''
Here are some things to watch when Richmond visits Virginia:
PASSING BATTLE: Virginia has a new quarterback in strong-armed Kurt Benkert, a transfer from East Carolina, and Richmond's Jones came from nowhere last season and had nine of the Spiders' 22 interceptions. The Cavaliers have some speedy receivers, and Jones' ability to defend downfield could prove vital to Richmond's chances. Richmond's Lauletta ranked second nationally last season, his first as the starter, with 3,598 passing yards.
GRIND IT OUT: The Cavaliers running backs won high praise from Mendenhall for being the most outstanding unit through spring camp and the preseason. They are led by Taquan Mizzell, who ran for nearly 700 yards last season and set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for receptions by a running back with 75 for another 721 yards.
DEPTH: Mendenhall has been pleased with his team's effort in getting up to speed with the meticulous way he likes to do things, but the Cavaliers are short on depth on the offensive line and in the secondary. Key injuries at either spot could make things a lot more difficult for Virginia to live up to Mendenhall's expectations.
HISTORY: Richmond has lost 10 straight in the series and the Cavaliers lead the all-time series 28-2-2. In those games, the Cavaliers have outscored Richmond 984-132.
FAMILIAR FACES: Rocco this year was elected to the American Football Coaches Association board of trustees, of which Mendenhall is also a member. The Spiders also have five coaches who have previously coached at Virginia, as well as former Cavaliers wide receiver Fontel Mines and linebacker Clint Sintim on staff.