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Virginia drastically outplayed in 37-17 loss to Wake Forest

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With another poor defensive performance and a head-scratching inability to score in the red-zone, the ‘Hoos dropped their second straight game.

Wake Forest v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

In a game that was somehow even more demoralizing than the loss to North Carolina last Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers dropped their second ACC contest of the season in embarrassing fashion to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 37-17.

Brennan Armstrong was impressive for the fourth straight week as he threw for 407 yards on 33/59 passing along with a pair of touchdowns and 33 rushing yards. But, following the trend from last Saturday, he had little to no help from both his running game and defense.

That defense got off to a less than ideal start to the game as the Demon Deacons fired off an efficient nine play, 2:09, 75-yard drive capped in a wide open 39-yard touchdown catch for Taylor Morin as the ‘Hoos paid for a blatant breakdown in the secondary.

In response, Brennan Armstrong methodically marched the Cavaliers down the field with a pair of clutch third down catches from Dontayvion Wicks and a fortunate defensive holding call that kept the drive alive. But, with seven plays inside the the 10-yard line including a fourth and goal from the four, Virginia came away empty handed and turned possession over to the Demon Deacons.

That lack of points would prove costly as Wake relied on the running game and running back Christian Beal-Smith as he wracked up chunk play after chunk play and Sam Hartman dinked and dunked down the field. Fortunately for the UVA faithful, the Wahoos would halt the Demon Deacon drive at the Virginia 28-yard line and force a field goal that limited the deficit to 10-0.

Finding themselves in a similar early game two-drive hole that they faced last week against North Carolina, the ‘Hoos drove down the field quickly behind seven straight completions from Armstrong. But, once again, Virginia couldn’t convert inside the 10-yard line as the Demon Deacons defense stuffed Armstrong two yards short of the first down on third and five. This time around though the coaching staff elected to kick as Justin Duenkel brought the score to 10-3 with a 21-yard boot.

That shift to conservative play calling wouldn’t pay off as the Demon Deacons rattled off another seven-point drive aided by a 63-yard run from Justice Ellison and a fourth-and-short conversion inside the five-yard line. Following that play, Ellison finished off the drive just how he started it as he punched through the Virginia defensive front for a one-yard score.

Down 17-3, the offense sputtered out on the following drive as a pair of sacks and a costly holding call on left guard Joe Bissenger handcuffed Armstrong and company. From there, Jacob Finn sent the first punt of the game 43 yards down to the Wake 25-yard line.

The Wahoo defense then bent to the pressure of Hartman and the established Wake rushing attack. But, critically, it didn’t break as the ‘Hoos stopped the Demon Deacons’ progress at the Cavaliers’ five yard line and force another field goal.

With 1:31 left in the half and Virginia poised to receive the second half kickoff, there was potential for the Wahoos to pull the game back in contention with a score to close the first half and to open the second. But, rather than get any rhythm going, Armstrong took two sacks and was brought down a third time right before the half to dispel any hope that Virginia could get back in the game quickly.

Despite a muffed catch on the kick return and a near-interception on the first play from scrimmage, Armstrong and the Wahoo offense got off to a hot start in the second half. With the Ohio native establishing a rhythm early in the drive, he scampered for a 31-yard rush after avoiding pressure in the pocket and getting a few key blocks down the field to put Virginia in scoring position. From there, Armstrong fired a dart to Jelani Woods across the middle and the big man took care of the rest as he shook off a Wake safety and powered his way into the end-zone to make the score 20-10.

But any momentum that Virginia built up from the opening drive of the half was quickly snuffed out as Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons rattled off an 83 yard drive including a fourth-and-1 conversion inside the red-zone to extend the lead to 27-10. The Wake touchdown came off a wildcat snap, into an end around pitch to Hartman before the senior quarterback found a wide open Blake Whiteheart in the corner of the end-zone.

To answer, Armstrong dialed up likely his most impressive drive of the night as he pushed the ball downfield and found Ra’Shaun henry for a 15-yard gain, Jelani Woods for 32, and then Dontayvion Wicks on a post for a 22-yard score off an absolute bullet of a pass.

To stunt any Virginia momentum, the Demon Deacons responded in turn with another long drive culminating in a 12-yard touchdown toss from Hartman to A.T. Perry. The unrelenting Wake rushing attack once again proved to be too much for the UVA defense while Hartman remained efficient and smart in the red zone in order to double up the Cavaliers, 34-17.

From that point onwards Virginia played like a defeated team as they went three-and-out on the ensuing drive before Wake easily drove down the field again before the ‘Hoos held the Deacons at the 17-yard line and to yet another field goal.

While Brennan Armstrong did all that he could to put more points on the board, the Wahoo quarterback and offense couldn’t overcome a 15-yard personal foul penalty from Ra’Shaun Henry and turned the ball back over to the Demon Deacons after failing to convert on 4th-and-17 from the Wake 33-yard line.

After that, the Virginia defense forced a punt for the first time in two games as Wake Forest went three-and-out. The Cavaliers stuffed Ellison on first down, let up four yards to him on second, and then Nick Grant dropped a potential interception on third down but still did enough to stop the Deacons from resetting the downs.

Following a first down incompletion, Armstrong was sacked yet again on second down before he found Wicks for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-17. With the offense staying on the field, Billy Kemp IV reeled in a pass at the sticks, turned it into a 27-yard gain, but then coughed up the ball as the Demon Deacons forced the first turnover of the game, effectively crushing any dreams of a heroic final quarter comeback.

As Wake Forest began playing more conservatively with the clock winding down, the ‘Hoos contained the Deacons to another four-yard drive before a punt. But, Virginia gave the ball right back to Wake as Brennan Armstrong threw his first interception of the night on a jump ball into double coverage.

Nonetheless, Dave Clawson’s commitment to keeping the ball on the ground in order to keep the clock running killed any chance for the Demon Deacons to increase their lead. Wake proceeded to down its third punt of the game inside the two-yard line after another three-and-out.

Despite the final result being set in stone, Armstrong remained in the game to keep pushing the ball down the field. The frustration among the Wahoo offense was evident as players appeared beaten and battered both mentally and physically. That said, there was no quit from Virginia as Bronco Mendenhall called a timeout following a Ronnie Walker Jr. 11-yard rush to the Wake 17-yard line with :23 seconds remaining in the contest.

In a battle for pride, the ‘Hoos took three snaps from the seven-yard line and — as a microcosm of the entire game — failed to score as Mike Hollins was called for holding after an Armstrong two-yard run ran out the clock and put a cap on a dreadful night for the Wahoos.

Now sitting 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in ACC play, this team isn’t what we thought it was after two weeks and will need to get its act together quickly as the competition continues to ratchet up in the coming weeks.