Virginia, SMU meet at Fenway Bowl amid coaching transitions
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Two coaching eras end when Virginia and SMU meet in the inaugural Fenway Bowl on Wednesday at Boston.
It is the final game for Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall, who made the surprising announcement on Dec. 2 that he was stepping down after six seasons. His successor, former Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, will take charge after the bowl game.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is the Mustangs' acting head coach for the game at Fenway Park, home of baseball's Boston Red Sox. Head coach Sonny Dykes departed for TCU at the end of November and his replacement, former Miami and SMU offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, takes the Mustangs' reins in 2022.
Virginia (6-6) and SMU (8-4) both stumbled toward the end of the regular season. The Cavaliers are on a four-game losing streak and the Mustangs have dropped four of their last five.
Virginia fell 29-24 to rival Virginia Tech in its last game on Nov. 27.
"We don't want to send (Mendenhall) off with the V-Tech game," Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong said. "I'm glad we get one more opportunity to send him on a good note, send our fifth-year seniors out, and the COVID-year seniors. That's my goal. That's what I really want: to send those guys out on a high note, because you always remember your last game here, and you want it to be a W."
Armstrong ranks second in the nation with 4,449 passing yards and set a UVA record with 31 touchdown passes.
SMU counterpart Tanner Mordecai, an Oklahoma transfer, has passed for 3,628 yards and ranks fourth in the country with 39 TD passes.
After going 5-7 in Dykes' first full season in 2018, the Mustangs have posted a 25-10 record since. They started 7-0 this season and climbed to No. 19 in the polls before the rough finish.
Running back Tyler Lavine said he is happy to "be a part of a team that's changed this program around" and he is hoping for a home-run finish in Boston's ballpark.
"I feel like everyone has been killing it," Lavine told Spectrum News 1 in Dallas. "Everyone sees the end goal and I think we can keep going."
The Mustangs are 7-9-1 in bowl games, with their most recent victory coming at the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. The Cavaliers are 8-13 all-time in bowl games, including 1-2 during Mendenhall's six seasons.
This is the first meeting between the programs.
--Field Level Media
Updated December 24, 2021