Now that we’ve all had a few days to digest a deflating loss for the Virginia Cavaliers at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels, it’s time to look back and evaluate what can be concluded from such a performance and where the Wahoos will go from here.
The defense was bad… like BAD
The most glaring conclusion coming out of Saturday night’s game was just how incredibly paper-thin the Virginia defense was all game long. Despite star quarterback Sam Howell only throwing for 307 yards on 14-21 passing, five of those completions were touchdowns. Time and again Tar Heel receivers ran routes through the heart of the Virginia secondary and exploded for massive gains with chunks of yards after the catch.
Josh Downs proved to be particularly difficult for UVA to contain as the speedy sophomore reeled in eight balls for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Virginia secondary had absolutely zero answers for Downs’ speed especially after the catch.
But far worse than the sub-par secondary play was just how inexcusably poor the Wahoo run defense was. Countless times Virginia defenders made contact with Carolina runners only to bounce off as the Tar Heels rattled off an absurd 392 rushing yards on 47 carries. The defensive line made few if any plays as the defense recorded just one sack and two tackles for loss.
UNC’s absurd 8.34 yards per carry average on a whopping 47 carries is just so ridiculously bad it’s difficult to comprehend. Rarely if ever did the Cavaliers make contact with a Carolina runner at the line and even when they did UNC’s running backs like Ty Chandler (20 carries, 198 yards, two touchdowns) and Caleb Hood (9 carries, 66 yards, one touchdown) slipped away and carried on to the second and third levels of the defense.
Outside of the UNC running backs, Sam Howell had himself a day on the ground as he utilized design quarterback runs, read options, run-pass options, and just his pocket escapability to gain 112 yards on 12 carries of his own.
Even the generally stout UVA linebacking core was incapable of limiting the Tar Heel rushing attack and the Wahoo corners and safeties struggled just as mightily to make tackles on initial contact.
The Virginia defense was embarrassed on Saturday. Plain and simple. North Carolina didn’t punt once all game with the team’s only two non-scoring drives stemming from an end-of-half six yard drive and a Fentrell Cyprus interception in the end-zone late in the third quarter.
The offense is the strength of the team
Through three games, Virginia is averaging 41.3 points per game and 559.3 yards of offense per game. The UVA attack kept the ‘Hoos in the game for much of Saturday’s contest despite receiving near-to-no help from its defense.
The passing game is on absolute fire right now as quarterback Brennan Armstrong has reached an entire new level with a wide variety of weapons to utilize. The running game didn’t have much success on Saturday, but the passing game’s success and the high paced, constant scoring nature of the game meant that Virginia was able to rely on Armstrong and co. to put up points.
Scoring 39 points and putting up 578 yards of total offense on the road deserve a win. Sure there are a few critiques of the offense including a pair of fumbles, some play-calling that may have been a bit too creative. But, all in all, there’s nothing more Virginia can ask for from its offense in such an outing.
Brennan Armstrong is elite
On that note, through three games this season Brennan Armstrong has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He’s leading the nation in passing yards and has put on a show each and every week. On Saturday he set a pair of school records with 554 passing yards and 538 yards of total offense.
Sure, the quality of opponents Armstrong has faced hasn’t been equally elite, but the throws he’s been making are of an NFL-caliber. He’s hitting his receivers all across the field on a ridiculous variety of routes with pinpoint accuracy. In fact, if it weren’t for a few drops his numbers would’ve been even more impressive.
It’s also worth noting that he was also limited against North Carolina which essentially prevented him from being a part of the rushing attack. Yet, despite any lower body limitations, Armstrong made up for it in spades with his arm.
While it’s only been three games, Armstrong is staking his claim as the best quarterback in the conference and one of the best in the country and that’s well beyond any realistic preseason expectations for his quality of play.
Dontayvion Wicks is establishing himself as a legit #1 receiver
While this game was defined by a horrendous performance from the defense, there’s still so much to be encouraged about on the offensive side of the ball. Along with Armstrong’s ungodly outing, Dontayvion Wicks had himself a career night with seven catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Now up to 14 receptions, 346 yards, and three touchdowns on the season, Wicks is proving himself to be a legitimate primary option as a receiver in the Virginia offense. He’s an established deep threat down the field with elite speed, route running, and ball tracking ability but also is capable of making plays in the middle of the field.
In three games together, Wicks and Armstrong seem to have developed a real rapport. As each continues to settle into this season and get more and more comfortable with the other it’s scary to consider what that duo could do especially with other weapons like Billy Kemp IV, Jelani Woods, RaShaun Henry, and Keytaon Thompson requiring significant focus from opposing defenses.
The team’s flaws have been identified
After two weeks, there wasn’t much if anything to identify in terms of weaknesses for this Cavaliers squad. But, following a demoralizing 20-point defeat at the hands of a rival, a much clearer picture has emerged.
To start, the defense as an entire unit is a big question mark moving forward. The secondary had no answers for Sam Howell and a relatively inexperienced UNC receiving core while the front seven was manhandled by a struggling North Carolina offensive line and embarrassed by a similarly green running back room.
North Carolina does boast a dynamic offense and Howell is no joke at quarterback. And, maybe, this was also just an off night for the ‘Hoos in the execution department. But, still, an off night against a Coastal division rival shouldn’t result in 59 allowed points.
Offensively, there’s still a good deal of inconsistency in the run game. Partially due to Armstrong’s limitation as a runner, the ground game never got going against North Carolina as the team only tallied 24 yards. Of course, the offense is still incredibly lethal through the air so it’s hard to complain about a lacking rushing attack. But it’s worth noting how little Virginia is asking for and getting from its run game.
All in all, it’s clear that UVA will be riding its offense this season and just hoping that the defense can get enough stops to keep things competitive. The ‘Hoos have a great chance to test themselves again this Friday at 7:00 pm against another threatening offense in Wake Forest. Stay tuned to Streaking the Lawn for coverage of the team heading into that contest at the end of the week.