In exhilarating fashion, the Virginia Cavaliers nabbed a win on the road against the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night. In an incredibly complex, back and forth game, there’s plenty to conclude and assess about this Wahoo squad moving forward.
UVA wins in gut it out fashion
This game really didn’t make much sense. With Miami starting its third string, freshman quarterback and the Hurricanes incapable of producing consistent offense for much of the game, it felt like Virginia drastically outplayed its opponent. Yet, time and again, the ‘Hoos struggled to shut the door and the Canes kept themselves in it.
The offense wasn’t as high flying or ridiculously effective as it has been and the team had to dominate in the trenches, play the field position game, and take points wherever available. But a win is a win.
No matter the intricacies of this game and what they can tell us about this team, there is something to be said for finding a way to gut out a win. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun for most of the game. But UVA did what it needed to do in Miami as the team heads back to Charlottesville with its first ACC win and a momentum booster heading into a critical stretch of October games.
Running game is established
With the most successful showing since the William & Mary game, the Virginia running game was on point against the Hurricanes. The concept of establishing the run is often over emphasized. But, considering UVA’s lack of balance between the passing and rushing attacks in the previous few weeks, it was incredibly encouraging to see guys like Wayne Taulapapa, Mike Hollins, and Keytaon Thompson come alive behind Virginia’s stout offensive line.
Combining for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 35 carries, the Virginia runners provided easy offense for Brennan Armstrong to rely on. Taulapapa was back at his best despite being quiet so far this season. For reference, in three games before Thursday night, the stocky senior had 17 carries for 81 yards and a score. Against Miami, he racked up 62 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Mike Hollins was good in flashes as well as he went for 38 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. For the large part, he was stuffed at the line for the night but broke through the line for a 25-yard sprint of a touchdown in the second quarter. He also produced through the air with 18 yards receiving on five catches as he’s establishing himself as UVA’s third down back.
Then, Keytaon Thompson contributed a pair of big runs himself as he displayed his patience and intelligence as a runner to pick up both a 34 and 18-yard run that provided a significant boost for the Wahoo offense.
Although Miami’s defense is suspicious, it’s great to see Virginia able to rely on the run game. With 28 designed runs going for a total 162 yards (5.8 yards per carry), the rushing attack kept the ‘Hoos in this game as Armstrong and his receivers struggled to find the same levels of success as in weeks past.
The front seven comes alive
Just as the running game had been near non-existent in recent outings, the defensive front seven had been incredibly quiet as well. Not so much against Miami. Although the Canes eventually wore the Wahoo defense down, there were notable signs of life throughout the game that, quite frankly, won the game for UVA.
Notably, the safety that resulted from a combined effort of the defensive line and the punt team essentially won the game for Virginia considering the two-point final deficit.
Additionally, the front seven made life difficult for freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke all night long as he was unable to establish any sort of rhythm with constant pressure in his face. Both Noah Taylor and Hunter Stewart recorded sacks as linebackers while defensive end Mandy Alonso put on a show with two sacks and an additional tackle for loss which earned him the chance to break the rock after the win.
For a defense that has been horrendous against the run and perhaps even worse at generating pressure in the pass rush, this performance was a welcome relief and sign of improvement. The team needs the front seven to impact the game and this is a step in the right direction.
UVA deserved to lose
With all that said, the ‘Hoos deserved to lose this game. It’s an incredibly odd instance where they won a game that they deserved to lose but a game that they should’ve won. If Andres Borregales’ kick had been six inches left, this is an entirely different conversation that we’re having about both this game and this team.
Nonetheless, football is a game of inches so we’re left with a relief of a win but the complicated notion that — in many ways — the team did everything it could to lose the game. The clock management late in the game coupled with the offense’s lack of efficiency in the fourth quarter and the defense’s obvious exhaustion late in the game all suggest less-than-great things about this team especially considering how banged up this mediocre Miami squad is.
That’s the stroke of luck the team needed
With that said, whew boy was that doinked kick an absolute godsend for this program. Starting 0-3 in conference play and against legitimate competition in the year that is meant to set the standard for the future would’ve been a significant blow. Especially considering how critical this four game stretch — at Miami, at Louisville, vs Duke, vs Georgia Tech — is for the team’s chances of bowl eligibility, winning this game is a massive if unsatisfying step in the right direction.
There’s plenty to fix and plenty to critique, but Virginia scored more points than Miami on Thursday night and, for now, that’s all that matter.