The Cavaliers passed another test Saturday that they normally do not pass.
That test was looking terrible in a trap game, falling behind, but coming back to win. Saturday, Virginia was down 17-0 to Old Dominion, which was fired up to be playing an in-state school and trying to pick up its second big upset in as many years after stunning Virginia Tech, 49-35, last season in Norfolk.
UVa, on the other hand, looked anything but fired up to be playing ODU. The players' heads looked like they were anywhere but Scott Stadium at 7 p.m. The FSU game was big, and next week, the Cavaliers travel to face Notre Dame. For UVa, entering 3-0 for the first time since 2005 (and now 4-0 for the first time since 2004), this was the classic letdown spot. I knew it coming in. It was very easy to see. A setup as old as sports itself. You know Bronco Mendenhall -- a big believer in organizational psychology and someone I believe has the players' minds often in the right spot -- preached against complacency and looking ahead during practice. But it happened anyway.
But what's important is the team responded. It could've done the normal UVa thing and lost inexplicably to a big underdog the week after a significant victory. The offense, well, it's kind of a mess (can we PLEASE run the ball just a little better and protect Bryce Perkins a little better?), but the defense stepped up after a rough start to really key the win, starting with Zane Zandier's pick-6 in the third quarter to make the score 17-14, and capped off with a huge performance by Charles Snowden, who collected 15 tackles, 3.5 for losses, and two sacks.
An upset would've been embarrassing, but it would not have had any direct bearing on the team's goals, which are winning the Coastal Division and beating Virginia Tech. Even the Notre Dame matchup, which will be hyped up, has no bearing on Virginia's ACC goals. In fact, you could even argue an ODU upset would've woken UVa up at the right time, gotten the players' minds right, and fired them up for the rest of the season, perhaps similar to the run Virginia Tech went on in 2010 after losing to James Madison. But I would've been concerned about the timing with four of UVa's next five games on the road. With a game at Miami after the trip to South Bend, a 3-3 record could've been a real possibility had the Monarchs pulled this off.
But that didn't happen. Instead, this resilient team passed another test. The first test in 2019 was winning an ACC road opener against a team that has had UVa's number. Virginia beat Pitt. Test passed. The second test was winning a big game at home. Is FSU the FSU of old? No. But it was a prime time game and got a lot of attention, and UVa came in as the favorite and won a thriller. Test passed.
Above average and certainly great teams win these types of games. You won't always have your best stuff, but you have to find a way to win, and the team did that. UVa has its sights set higher than just making a bowl game in 2019. To be the kind of team they want to be, the Wahoos have to make sure they can win the ugly ones.
Notre Dame is next week, and if Virginia plays like it did against ODU, you can kiss any chance of an upset goodbye. I don't think the Fighting Irish are national championship contenders, but they gave Georgia all it wanted in Athens this weekend. But I also do believe if the Cavaliers play to their potential, they can give the Fighting Irish all they want and then some.
But those discussions, that buildup, and all the talk about the mistakes UVa made vs. ODU and all the things it needs to clean up and all the griping about play calling, can wait. For now, fans can rest easy knowing their Cavaliers are 4-0 and passed another test, one that normally trips up the Virginia football program.