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Five takeaways from Virginia’s comeback win over Louisville

With such a back and forth, up and down game, there’s a lot to conclude from Saturday’s win

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Virginia at Louisville Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With a shocking 34-33 win on Saturday against the Louisville Cardinals, the Virginia Cavaliers improved to 4-2 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. Following that performance, there’s much to consider about this team moving forward as the ‘Hoos hope to keep building on the momentum from the last two wins.

Virginia squeaks out another dramatic win

For the second straight week, UVA won on a missed field goal attempt from its opponent in the final seconds. Considering the two performances in these games, there’s a lot to unpack — both positive and negative — about this team right now.

But, on the surface level and in the most important metric, Virginia has been perfect the last two weeks and have done what needed to be done to recover from back-to-back embarrassing losses against North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Neither of these games were pretty and there undoubtedly plenty of blemishes and unresolved issues that this coaching staff will need to address moving forward. But, with two straight wins and now two consecutive home games against two likely inferior teams in Duke and Georgia Tech, the ‘Hoos have a real shot at sewing up bowl eligibility before facing the four game gauntlet to close out the season against BYU, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech.

For now, all’s well that ends well.

Ra’Shaun Henry and Keytaon Thompson have career games

With Dontayvion Wicks sidelined in the first half, Brennan Armstrong and the Wahoo offense had to divert targets to other receivers down the stretch. Fortunately, both Henry and Thompson came up huge throughout the game and in big moments as the ‘Hoos made their comeback in the fourth quarter.

Henry reeled in nine balls for a whopping 179 yards as he consistently made plays down the field and released pressure on the Virginia offense by providing chunk play after chunk play. Henry’s continued emergence provides Armstrong yet another weapon in the passing game alongside Wicks, Thompson, Woods, and Kemp IV.

Thompson was his versatile self again on Saturday with nine catches for 132 yards and a five-yard touchdown run. That score came early in the fourth when Virginia was losing by 17 and really sparked the comeback.

On top of that, his 16 and 17-yard catches across the middle on UVA’s final drive of the game were massive as he reeled in the second catch on 4th-and-eight following his own false start penalty on the previous play which nullified Armstrong’s completion to Woods over the middle. Add in the fact that Thompson is playing with a cast on his arm, and his play on Saturday is that much more impressive as he continues to do whatever is necessary for this football team.

The performance from these two guys underscores the depth in talent that Virginia has among its receivers and just how versatile the group is. Undoubtedly quarterback play is responsible for much of the team’s success through the air this season, but the receiving core has been elite through six games.

Despite mistakes, Brennan Armstrong continues to carry this team

Of course, all that production wouldn’t be possible without Brennan Armstrong’s continued next-level quarterbacking. Granted, his outing on Saturday was by no means perfect, evidenced by his pair of interceptions and the team’s struggles in the red zone in the first three quarters.

But, the leader of the Wahoo offense rebounded late in the game and came up big as he led UVA on three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter alone to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

His stat-line of 487 passing yards on 40/60 throwing to go with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions is yet more evidence of his significant arm talent and his ability to carry an offense. Sure, he’s made more mistakes of late — although one of his interceptions likely wasn’t directly his fault — but he’s found ways to win ball games with his arm and has overcome significant adversity both in terms of a defense that struggles to get stops and with a banged up supporting cast.

With what’s ahead for this team, Armstrong’s ability to will his team to victory in a game like this is incredibly encouraging and points to his further maturation as the leader of this offense.

The defense continues to be a problem

For yet another game, the Virginia defense struggled mightily against the run. The Cardinals wracked up 233 yards on the ground off 34 carries (6.9 ypc) as they broke off a number of long runs that nearly put the game out of reach.

Louisville’s success rushing the ball made it hard for the ‘Hoos to claw their way back into this contest until the fourth quarter. Fortunately for Virginia, the front seven made enough plays late in the game to hold the Cardinals to just three points in the fourth quarter.

A game-saving tackle late in the fourth quarter from Darius Bratton on a 53-yard run from Hassan Hall was particularly noteworthy as that play was the difference between a 33-27 score and a 37-27 score with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

Nevertheless, it’s deflating to see this defense constantly picked apart by opposing offenses. In the last four games Virginia has let up an average of 39.3 points per contest. Even in the last two wins, Louisville and Miami scored a combined 61 points.

Considering how this defense is performing right now, against stiffer competition and better offenses like BYU and Notre Dame there’s no telling the damage that could be done.

Are the ‘Hoos back on track?

A 4-2 record through six games is nothing to complain about for this program. Yet, it’s difficult to feel particularly confident about this team with how the last two wins have come.

Sure, this win on Saturday was thrilling and a sign of just how resilient this team is. And, just the fact that UVA found a way to scrape out two straight ACC road wins is incredibly impressive.

But, there are lingering doubts about what this team will do as the schedule gets tougher and even what will happen if they get into similar positions against Duke and Georgia Tech. There’s been a good deal of luck involved in these last two wins and that’s bound to swing the other way at some point.

That said, wins are wins and this team has appeared to have improved since losing to Wake Forest. If the ‘Hoos can carry this momentum and take a pair of comfortable wins at home to close out October at 6-2 and 4-2 in the conference, that’s about as good as one would have hoped for especially considering how badly North Carolina and Wake Forest beat this team back in September.