The Virginia Cavaliers withstood a career rushing day from Louisville QB Malik Cunningham and notched a 31-17 win on Saturday afternoon. Virginia improved to 3-4 on the season with the win and picked up its second straight victory after a 4-game losing streak.
Brennan Armstrong had a solid outing with 203 yards on 15-for-23 passing with one touchdown in the air and added 60 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground. Virginia rushed for 165 total yards, including 50 from Shane Simpson and averaged 4.1 yards per carry as a team before garbage time brought that number down.
Defensively, the Cavaliers came up with an interception — a pick-six from Noah Taylor — and forced two fumbles. Nick Jackson led the team with 10 total tackles, and the defense had four sacks in the game.
Cunningham finished with 197 yards and two touchdowns on the ground as the Cardinals ran the Virginia defense ragged to the tune of 317 total rushing yards.
Louisville easily and methodically marched down the field on its first possession, going 54 yards on 11 plays and getting the ball to the Virginia 15-yard line. That’s when Cunningham made a huge mistake by telegraphing his pass right into the arms of the highly-skilled Taylor. Taylor’s 85-yard return put the Hoos on top early and erased a promising scoring threat from the Cards.
After Louisville cut into the lead with a field goal, Virginia had a promising drive of their own ended with a turnover. TE Tony Poljan seemed to be en route to a touchdown, but took a big hit from the Louisville defensive back. He dropped the ball, whistles sounded, and the refs called it an incomplete pass with targeting. Upon review, it was a double-overturn with it being called a catch and fumble with no penalty.
Louisville took over at their own one-yard line, and needed just two plays for Cunningham to rattle off a huge 48-yard run to get some breathing room. The Virginia defense halted the drive, giving the Hoos the ball back. After two first downs in two plays, a bad read from Armstrong led to an interception and handed the ball right back to the Cards.
Cunningham picked up 55 of the 59 yards Louisville needed with his legs, ending in a touchdown that would give the Cards a 10-7 lead with 10:14 left in the first half.
Ronnie Walker Jr., a transfer RB from Indiana that had to wait out both a waiver and illness to make his UVA debut, rushed for 11 yards on his first carry as a Cavalier. On the drive, Virginia systematically marched 67 yards in nine plays for an Armstrong touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Each team would have the ball one more time, but questionable clock management by just about everybody sent the game into the halftime break with Virginia holding on to that 14-10 lead.
Cunningham accounted for 180 of Louisville’s 272 first half yards as the Cards ran all over Virginia for 219 yards.
Louisville came out of the break aggressive, but that aggressiveness led to a turnover on downs as the Virginia defense came up big on the Cards’ side of midfield. A chunk pickup of 33 yards to Terrell Jana got the Hoos down to the 11-yard line, and — one play later — Armstrong found Davis all alone in the end zone for the easy touchdown.
The Cards made it a one-possession game once again with another drive rife with chunk plays. Louisville rattled off gains of 14 yards, 14 yards, 13 yards, and 46 yards en route to a one-yard touchdown run by Cunningham that made it 21-17 with 2:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Virginia put together a sustained 16 play, 69-yard drive that lasted 7:48 and ended with a 23-yard field goal that extended its lead back to 24-17 with just over 10 minutes left in the game. The Hoos would have had a first-and-goal from the six-yard line after a 20+ yard reception by Davis, but the first year made a rookie mistake and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for flexing on the defenders he just burned.
Cunningham continued picking up huge chunks of yardage, but Nick Grant came up with possession after just ripping the ball from his hands. The Hoos made the most of it, putting together another long drive that took 3:53 off the clock and put seven points on the board. Billy Kemp had a couple huge pickups on the drive, and Armstrong scrambled for the 9-yard touchdown to push the lead to 31-17 with 4:29 left.
Zane Zandier forced another fumble on Louisville’s next possession, and Virginia was able to burn more clock before turning it over on downs with 2:17 left in the game. The Hoos returned the favor as Cunningham’s pass to the end zone on fourth down sailed incomplete.
Senior OT Dillon Reinkensmeyer was hurt in the third quarter and missed the rest of the second half, something to keep an eye on for the Hoos going forward.
Next up, Virginia host Abilene Christian on Saturday at 4pm.