The Virginia Cavaliers’ football program has certainly had its ups and downs over the years. But, if there was one thing you could count on, it was that they would handle Duke. The ‘Hoos previously won each of their last seven meetings by an average margin of 20.4 points. On Saturday night, the tide turned and this time the Cavaliers were the ones that got clobbered, 38-17.
Here are five notable takeaways from the blowout loss.
UVA is simply not a good football team
After each poor performance, we could somehow justify the fact that the team could turn it around. In the Illinois game, the defense looked great. In the Old Dominion game, the offensive line was much better. In the Syracuse game, the team showed fight to claw back. However, this game has set the stage for an extremely underwhelming season.
Yes, give Duke some credit. The Blue Devils are vastly improved and head coach Mike Elko is some kind of defensive genius. But the fact of the matter remains that UVA should be at least competitive with that opponent.
As of now, it appears that UVA would be extremely fortunate to be a bowl team, even in a weak coastal division.
Brennan Armstrong is broken
In my latest column, I broke down some of the issues that Armstrong showed in the Syracuse game. Some were situationally based. Many, on the other hand, were simply individual regression, such as lack of accuracy and becoming stuck on one read.
Once again, Armstrong showed few signs of life against Duke. He made just one big time throw on 37 attempts (2.6%), compared to a 6.7% big time throw rate in 2021. He also passed for just five yards per attempt. In some ways, you can justify his numbers as simply a game manager-like performance, but the others were not holding up their end of the bargain either.
Conveniently, the wide receivers have not been doing their part either
Virginia has dropped 15.9% of passes thrown this season. The next highest total in the ACC is Miami, whose rate is 10.4%. Like Armstrong, this receiving group entered the season considered among the best in the country. And the previous production had certainly backed that up.
On Saturday night alone, UVA dropped six passes. Ironically, this makes Armstrong’s adjusted completion percentage 80.6%, which is among the more efficient marks in the conference for Week 5. Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson are the biggest victims of this trend, but Lavel Davis has played his part as well. All three receivers are, among other things, known for their ability to haul in contested catches. Not so much this season.
It was a matter of time before the defense wouldn’t hold up
Virginia’s defense has been night and day compared to last season. Coordinator John Rudzinski has done an admirable job cleaning up technique and optimizing the scheme. Virginia actually entered the week 12th in the FBS in both opponent touchdown rate and forced turnover rate.
Still, we must consider that the ‘Hoos are utilizing a similar personnel to a unit that gave up almost 35 points per game last season. In other words, they should not be the side of the ball asked to carry the load.
Duke showed us exactly why. They have a methodical scheme designed to run hard between the tackles and utilize quick hitters. They are content to move the ball slowly. Add the fact that the Hoos’ defense was on the field so much and they were simply worn out throughout the game.
Okay, we have established that the Cavaliers are likely not going to succeed this season and we have dug into why. So, where do we go from here? How do we get excited for UVA game day throughout rest of the season? How are we supposed to stay positive about Tony Elliott?
The answer is that we must have perspective. Bronco Mendenhall went 2-10 in his first season in Charlottesville. Of course, Tony Elliott was dealt much more proven talent. But, in a similar sense, his personnel has plenty of holes and a full culture shift is required. Plus, despite the offense producing video game numbers in 2021, they won a mere six games.
As far as the rest of the season goes, UVA will often see themselves as underdogs, but the coastal division contains zero unbeatable teams. Even over the past ten days, Georgia Tech fired its head coach, Pitt proceeded to lose to that team, and Miami was dominated by Middle Tennessee. I’d go as far as to say the ‘Hoos have looked disastrous at times, yet there are wins to be had down the stretch.
It is too early to lose faith in a first year head coach so let’s continue to show our support and stick with the process.