After a disastrous loss in Chapel Hill last week in which UVA gave up 59 points, the Wahoos were hopeful that some home-cooking might solve some of their defensive woes.
Instead, the Cavaliers struggled on both sides of the ball and were soundly defeated by Wake Forest 37-17 on Friday night at Scott Stadium.
The Demon Deacons wasted no time in exposing the Virginia defense, driving down the field and scoring a touchdown on a 39-yard pass from Sam Hartman to Taylor Morin to give Wake Forest a lead that would hold for the rest of the game.
Brennan Armstrong and the UVA offense responded with a 15-play, 67-yard drive of their own. But the Cavaliers failed to score, turning the ball over on downs despite running seven plays from inside the Wake Forest 10-yard line.
That sequence was emblematic of the entire game for the Virginia offense, as the Hoos amassed 506 yards of total offense, including 407 passing yards for Brennan Armstrong who completed 33 of 59 passing attempts, but UVA scored just 17 points. Both Wake Forest and Virginia had several long drives in the game, but the Demon Deacons punctuated those drives with points, while the Cavaliers did not. That was the difference in the game.
Wake Forest scored points on each of their first seven drives, before punting three times in the 4th quarter with the game well out of reach.
Wake and UVA traded field goals on each of their respective second drives, before Justice Ellison broke loose for a 63-yard run, which set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Ellison a few plays later to make it 17-3. Nick Sciba added another field goal to make it 20-3 at halftime.
“I don't think effort is the problem, I just think guys need to lock in on their assignments more and that's the good thing about it is that we got a lot of time to practice and a lot of time to watch film and get better from it," said senior linebacker Noah Taylor.
For most of the game, Sam Hartman had all day to throw in the pocket and dissected the Virginia secondary for 270 yards and three passing touchdowns.
Armstrong, on the other hand, was sacked six times in the game, including four times in the first half. Most of the sacks were the result of Wake’s smothering coverage of Virginia’s receivers. Armstrong had time to throw, but could not find open receivers since the Demon Deacons were able to drop several defenders back into coverage, as they had no reason to respect Virginia’s nonexistent running game. The Cavaliers managed just 99 rushing yards, most of which came during garbage time at the end of the game.
The real damage was dealt by Wake’s rushing attack. The Demon Deacons ran for 203 yards, led by Justice Ellison, who had 13 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. Just as in the game against North Carolina, the Cavaliers had no solution for their opponents’ ground game, as Wake rushed 45 times at an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
Once again, the outcome was time-consuming scoring drives for Wake Forest that kept the Virginia offense off the field for extended periods of time.
Virginia put together a nice drive to start the second half, going 85 yards on seven plays in a little over two minutes before Armstrong threw a slant pass to Jelani Woods, who bulldozed a Wake Forest defender on his way into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. Woods had four receptions for 73 yards in the game. That touchdown made the score 20-10 with plenty of time left in the game.
Unfortunately, UVA came out of halftime with no answers on the defensive end. Hartman took Wake down the field on a 9-play, 83-yard drive, capped off by a trick play touchdown. Christian Beal-Smith took the direct snap and pitched it to Hartman who lofted a pass to Blake Whiteheart on the backside for a wide open 12-yard touchdown to extend the Wake lead back to 17.
“I actually thought we played better defense than we did last week," said UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I thought we were more consistent, and I thought we were more 'executionally' sound. I thought we had more positive plays when I was looking out there, from beginning to end. But still, mistakes at critical times."
The Hoos responded with another scoring drive on their ensuing possession, as Armstrong found Dontayvion Wicks for a 22-yard touchdown on a crossing route. Wicks finished with eight receptions for 114 yards and the touchdown.
But once again, Wake faced little resistance on its way to another Sam Hartman touchdown pass, this time to A.T. Perry in the corner of the end zone.
Virginia’s offense looked better in the second half, but with the combination of Wake continuing to score and the UVA offense spending large chunks of time on the bench on top of the lead that the Demon Deacons built in their perfect first half performance, the Hoos had no chance of staging the comeback.
To make matters worse, Virginia was undisciplined throughout the game, especially in the second half. The Cavaliers were whistled 11 times for 83 yards worth of penalties.
“The team has a competitive spirit whether or not channeling it into their execution and the only thing that matters is between the whistles, after the whistle only hurts our team," Mendenhall said. "I haven't been able to discipline or have them execute cleanly enough or disciplined enough, as we're coming from behind and frustration is apparent.”
The nail in the coffin was two UVA turnovers on back-to-back offensive snaps in the fourth quarter on a Billy Kemp fumble and a Brennan Armstrong interception.
Without support from the running game, the offensive line, and most importantly, the dysfunctional UVA defense, another brilliant and elite-level performance from Brennan Armstrong was wasted as the Hoos lost for the second game in a row and dropped their fifth-straight in the series against Wake Forest.
The Cavaliers also snapped a six-game winning streak at Scott Stadium dating back to a loss on October 10th, 2020 against NC State.
Virginia drops to 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in the ACC and the road does not get any easier for the Hoos, as they travel to Miami on another short-week to face the Hurricanes on Thursday night.
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