In their first true test of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers (2-1, 0-1 ACC) showed a lot of fight against the No. 21 North Carolina Tar Heels (2-1, 1-1 ACC), but was ultimately outmatched in a 59-39 defeat. After dominating William & Mary and Illinois, the Hoos looked to see how they would measure up against a ranked team and ACC Coastal rival. Despite the 20-point defeat, there are a number of bright spots that UVA can take into next week’s ACC matchup with Wake Forest and the rest of the football season.
1. Brennan Armstrong is one of the most elite quarterbacks in the country.
Brennan Armstrong led the Virginia offense with a 554-yard passing performance, good for a UVA school record as well as the most passing yards ever recorded against North Carolina. When the defense stumbled, Armstrong responded with an incredible performance to put the team on his back. He threw for four touchdowns on the night and continuously executed tough passes in third-down situations to keep drives alive. UVA was 8-14 in third-down conversions overall, including six of eight in the first half, prompting UNC coach Mack Brown to comment on UVA’s third-down success as the main reason Virginia held the lead at halftime.
Not only has Brennan Armstrong solidified himself as one of the best QBs in the country with three fantastic performances, but he did so while not being 100% mobile. Normally a dual threat to run with the ball, Armstrong was wearing a knee brace throughout the game and was limited to -16 yards rushing. In fact, UVA rushing as a whole gained just 24 yards on 22 carries, as opposed to UNC’s 392 yards on 47 carries. With the UNC defense fully expecting a passing play on each down, Armstrong was still able to pick apart the defense. UNC gave up only 169 passing yards to Virginia Tech and 90 passing yards to Georgia State in their previous two games this season. Armstrong recorded more than twice UNC's combined season total for passing yards allowed in a single game with 554 yards.
2. Dontayvion Wicks is ready to be UVA's next great wide receiver.
Another bright spot in the loss was the performance of wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks. After sitting out all of 2020 due to a season-ending foot injury at training camp, Wicks has quickly established himself as a go-to option for the UVA passing attack. He had seven receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown against UNC to follow up a two-touchdown performance against Illinois. Wicks also recorded four receptions for 94 yards in the season-opener against William & Mary.
After losing Terrell Jana last year and Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois the year before, Bronco Mendenhall needed someone to step up as a top receiver. Billy Kemp has been reliable target as a slot receiver and Jelani Woods has unlimited potential from the tight end position, but UVA did have a solid No. 1 wide receiver option. Lavel Davis Jr. may have been next in line after a stellar freshman year, but he is still out with a knee injury.
Wicks leads all Cavalier receivers with 346 receiving yards and is tied for the team-lead with three receiving touchdowns.
3. The Cavaliers are a resilient bunch.
Things looked bleak for the Hoos as the Tar Heels jumped out to a 21-7 lead, scoring three touchdowns in eight plays at just two minutes and 41 seconds of possession. The UVA secondary seemed to have no chance against UNC's receivers and everything looked too easy. However, the Hoos rallied in the second quarter and outscored the Tar Heels 21-3 to take a 28-24 lead at halftime. Virginia came together in all three phases of the game. In particular, the UVA defense came up with a few huge stops, including an interception in the end zone by Fentrell Cypress II that turned into a 66 yard return, setting up a touchdown reception by Jelani Woods.
UVA heads back to the friendly confines of Scott Stadium on September 24th for a Friday night matchup with Wake Forest, a team that is currently 3-0 after taking down Florida State this week. The Cavaliers hope to build on the positives of this game and correct the defensive lapses to earn their first ACC victory of the season.