The Virginia Cavaliers comfortably took care of Illinois in a 42-14 blowout. With Virginia improving to 2-0 on the season, there are a number of key takeaways as the team heads into conference play.
Brennan Armstrong is absolutely cooking right now
In two contests so far this season Brennan Armstrong has thrown for 744 yards and seven touchdowns on a 71.6 completion percentage and a rate of 11.1 yards per attempt. His lone interception was on a perfectly placed pass — one that should’ve put him at eight touchdowns on the year — that an Illinois defender ripped away from Keytaon Thompson on the goal-line.
From the very first snap on Saturday, Armstrong was laser focused as he routinely hit receivers on an impressive range of routes from quick slants across the middle and bubble screens in the backfield to back shoulder fades down the sideline. There was no throw Armstrong couldn’t make against the Illini as he put on a show from start to finish.
Of course, neither of these first two opponents boasted particularly impressive defenses. Nevertheless, Armstrong couldn’t have opened the season on a better note as he’s carved up opponents’ secondaries and spread the love to a plethora of receivers.
There’s better competition to come. But the redshirt junior has passed his first two tests with flying colors as Virginia heads into conference play next week.
Jelani Woods surpasses the hype in breakout performance
After only catching one ball for five yards against William & Mary last week after dealing with leg cramps, Jelani Woods capitalized on a significant increase in targets against Illinois to put up one of the most impressive performances from a tight end in program history.
Finishing with 122 yards receiving and a touchdown on five catches, Woods is starting to live up to the immense offseason hype that came with his arrival in Charlottesville as a number of NFL scouts have shown interest in the 6’7” Oklahoma State transfer.
Woods’ emergence as a threat across the middle for the Virginia offense provides both a safety blanket for Armstrong and a great complement for the Wahoo’s outside receivers as opposing defense’s won’t be able to ignore his presence between the hashes.
The secondary looks comfortable
In a game where the offense was so dominant, it could be easy to look past yet another stellar performance from the Wahoo secondary.
The Cavaliers held Artur Sitkowski to a measly 53.3% completion rate for 221 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. There were no significant breakdowns as the Illini’s sole passing touchdown came off a perfectly placed ball and a valiant effort from receiver Deuce Spann.
Additionally the Virginia defensive backs put up a stout front as tacklers in the open field. Sure, there was an instance or two where a runner broke through the defensive line for a big gain. But, in terms of corralling Illini skill position players, guys like Nick Grant, Joey Blount, and Anthony Johnson left very little to be desired.
There was also some impressive playmaking as the Louisville transfer Johnson came up with an impressive jump ball interception in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on the defense’s outing. Even Noah Taylor got in on the action with a key breakup on an Illinois 3rd-and-eight early in the third quarter.
With the ‘Hoos set to line up against Sam Howell and North Carolina’s (supposedly) dangerous passing offense next week, it’s encouraging to see this group of backs getting comfortable.
The offensive distribution of wealth continues
Even with Woods bringing in 122 yards of offense by himself, four other Wahoos wracked up 50-plus yards receiving.
Scoring two touchdowns himself, Dontayvion Wicks built on last week’s performance as he nabbed three catches for 69 yards. Despite not reaching the end-zone, Ra’Shaun Henry was impressive once again with a number of tough catches down the field as he finished with three catches for 74 yards.
Then the ever-versatile Keytaon Thompson once again displayed his improvements as a receiver and growth as runner as he caught five passes for 68 yards and took four carries for 24 yards.
Out of the slot, Billy Kemp IV added 55 yards on six receptions and rounded out a deep, versatile Wahoo receiving core that has to be a nightmare for opposing to defense’s to prepare for considering the different options and routes each individual receiver provides.
Trickery still prominent in Virginia’s offensive scheme
Following the high volume of backup quarterback and football player usage and trickery in the season opener against William & Mary, it was an open question heading into Saturday morning’s contest whether or not that was just a fun experiment against a much lesser opponent or a telltale sign of more to come.
What Virginia rolled out against Illinois was, in fact, much of the same. With numerous end arounds, an eighteen yard completion from Dontayvion Wicks to Brennan Armstrong, the ever-versatile Keytaon Thompson doing football player things, and a number of play designs for Ira Armstead, Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae did not shy away from creativity against the more serious — if still weak — competition.
There was some more traditional usage of the Virginia running backs as Wayne Taulapapa, Mike Hollins, Ronnie Walker Jr., and Devin Darrington combined for 109 yards on 23 carries. It’s still very much a running back by committee approach.
It is questionable as to what benefits this much deception will yield once the ‘Hoos enter conference play against stiffer competition. The argument for keeping opposing defenses on their heels is a valid one. But it remains unknown whether or not this scheming will have a similar effect on the UVA offense against better opponents.
But, all in all, this was another comfortable win with a lot to be excited about for Virginia moving forward. The offense is feeling itself. The defense is coming together. Now it’s just a matter of measuring up against the rest of the Coastal.