After having back-to-back games decided on the final play of the game, the Hoos were hoping for a less stressful win when they welcomed Duke to Scott Stadium on Saturday.
Virginia did just that and a little more.
The Cavaliers dominated the Blue Devils on both sides of the ball to the tune of a 48-0 victory on a rainy afternoon in Charlottesville.
Virginia played one of its best halves in recent memory in the first half, as UVA scored on each of its six possessions and held Duke scoreless.
The Cavaliers got three points on their first drive on a 31-yard field goal by Brendan Farrell.
The Blue Devils drove to the UVA eight-yard line on their first possession, but the Virginia defense held. Duke kicker Matthew Alswanger then hit the left upright on his 25-yard field goal attempt, continuing the trend of opposing kickers struggling against Virginia.
On the ensuing Cavalier drive, Brennan Armstrong threw an errant pass that should have been intercepted, but the ball went off the hands of Duke’s Jeremiah Lewis and popped into the air to Billy Kemp for a first down. Three plays later, Armstrong passed to Dontayvion Wicks, who caught the ball and barely got a foot down in the back left corner of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown.
Wicks, who was questionable to play this week after suffering a big hit at the end of the Louisville game, squashed any doubts about his health status, as he hauled in six receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He finished with 7 catches for 125 yards in the game.
A heavy rain began to fall late in the first quarter, which did not help Duke at all on the offensive end. Virginia’s defense tightened up after Duke’s initial drive and the Blue Devils managed just 142 yards of total offense in the first half. UVA also intercepted Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg twice, one by Joey Blount and one by De’Vante Cross.
Virginia did not seem to mind the poor weather conditions, as the Hoos scored touchdowns on their next two drives to go up 24-0. The Blue Devils initially forced Virginia to punt, but Duke’s Darrell Harding Jr. made contact with Jacob Finn’s plant leg on the punt, resulting in a personal foul which extended Virginia’s drive. Keytaon Thompson caught a short pass from Brennan Armstrong and shed multiple tacklers to run for 19 yards down to the Duke 1-yard line. Thompson got the ball again on the next play and punched it in for the touchdown.
After a Duke three-and-out, Virginia drove down the field again. On third and goal from the seven-yard line, Armstrong scrambled to the left sideline and dove for the pylon for a touchdown.
Armstrong completed 25 of 45 passing attempts for 364 yards and two touchdowns. Much of that production came in the first half, as Armstrong had 21 completions for 296 yards before halftime. He also carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and a rushing touchdown.
The UVA offensive line gave Armstrong plenty of time to throw and many of his completions came on extended plays in which Virginia’s receivers broke off from their routes to get open.
Virginia turned an interception by De’Vante Cross into a Brendan Farrell field goal to make it 27-0. Then, UVA picked Holmberg off again as his pass was deflected into the air and caught by Joey Blount, giving the ball back to Virginia with just 50 seconds left in the half.
The Cavaliers drove 51 yards down the field in just 45 seconds and scored a touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Armstrong to tight end Jelani Woods in the front left corner of the end zone.
The score put UVA up 34-0 heading into the halftime break.
Woods finished with five receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Virginia’s strong start to the game was pivotal. Duke running back Mataeo Durant came into the game as the second-leading rusher in the ACC. As the Cavaliers built a substantial lead in the first half, however, the Blue Devils were forced to pass the ball, taking the ball out of the hands of their best player.
Even when the Blue Devils did run the ball, Virginia was able to contain Durant and make key stops to end Duke’s drives. The Hoos consistently had the Duke offense in third-and-long situations, forcing them to pass the ball.
Durant’s final statline of 17 rushes for 82 yards and zero touchdowns is a stark indicator of Virginia’s brilliant defensive performance. It was certainly a sight for sore eyes, as UVA’s rush defense ranked last in the ACC coming into the game, but held one of the nation’s top running backs in check for the entire game.
Virginia’s offense cooled off to start the second half, as the Cavaliers punted on their first two drives of the third quarter.
On Duke’s next possession, the Blue Devils put together a solid drive for the first time, taking the ball into the red zone. But, Nick Jackson tackled Holmberg behind the line of scrimmage on third down and Noah Taylor knocked down Holmberg’s pass on fourth down to keep Duke off the board.
On the following Virginia drive, Devin Darrington found a hole on the right side for a 34-yard gain, one of the best runs by a UVA running back all season. Darrington got the ball back on the next play and bounced it outside for a seven-yard score, his first touchdown as a Cavalier.
Duke fumbled on its next drive and Virginia turned that turnover into another score. Freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk replaced Armstrong and ran the option effectively, rushing for gains of 14 and 12 yards on his first two snaps. The drive was capped off by a two-yard rushing touchdown by Ronnie Walker Jr.
Duke threatened to break the shutout with less than two minutes left in the game, as the Blue Devils got to the UVA one yard line. But, Riley Leonard fumbled and UVA's T.C. Harrison recovered the ball to preserve the shutout. Virginia held an ACC opponent scoreless for the first time since 2008, when the Cavaliers shut out Maryland 31-0.
With the win, Virginia extends its winning streak to three games and improves to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in ACC play.
The Hoos stay at home and face Georgia Tech next Saturday night at 7:30pm.
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