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Five takeaways from UVA football’s 16-14 victory over the Old Dominion Monarchs

What a game that was. What a game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Old Dominion at Virginia Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In stressful fashion, the Virginia Cavaliers picked up a much-needed win against the Old Dominion Monarchs on a last second field goal that put the ‘Hoos up 16-14 as the final whistle sounded. Our five takeaways from a very weird result today:

Virginia picks up a necessary ugly win

Listen, beating an under-matched, in-state opponent is far better than losing to one. Unlike Virginia Tech in week one, UVA got the win against ODU and avoided a second loss in a row while still having plenty to improve on. This game took a turn for the worse, but the ‘Hoos handled the adversity and came out on top in a contest that they probably should’ve lost with a clutch six play, 66 yard drive in the final 55 seconds to win it on a 26-yard Brendan Farrell field goal.

So, on one hand, winning despite not playing well is a positive. On the other, playing like gesticulates wildly this especially after such a disappointing loss on the road is not a good sign heading into ACC play this coming week at Syracuse. The offense is going to need to make significant strides or a far-improved Syracuse team will give the Wahoos trouble.

A win’s a win, but this was by no means the get-right game Tony Elliott’s team dearly needed.

Wahoos’ struggles in the red-zone nearly cost them the game

Speaking of offensive struggles, what made this a game was UVA’s inability to take care of the ball and capitalize when in scoring position. With seven total possessions getting inside the ODU 20-yard line, UVA only generated 16 points with a pair of red-zone fumbles and a missed field goal hurting the ‘Hoos dearly.

Mike Hollins — who has had ball security issues throughout his college career — coughed the ball up at the ODU five-yard line in a play that cost the ‘Hoos at least three and potentially seven points. After the Wahoo defense got a big stop and gave the offense solid field positioning and the potential for a two-minute drive, Brennan Armstrong fumbled the ball on the following possession and set the Monarchs up for their first score of the game on a 29-yard touchdown reception with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Then, on Virginia’s first drive of the second half, after two long completions to Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks, Armstrong failed to pickup a blitzing Monarch on his left side and lost the ball as he got blown up.

Fortunately, that field goal from Farrell in the final seconds made those issues inconsequential.

But those three turnovers were absolute killers for a Virginia offense that, otherwise, was pretty efficient both on the ground and through the air. That said, further improvement will be needed particularly in the red-zone

UVA defense continues to be a strength

After only giving up 17 points to the Illinois Fighting Illini last Saturday, the Wahoo defense was even stouter against the Monarchs. Outside of a few chunk gains via the running game and the 29-yard touchdown when ODU’s best receiver — Ali Jennings — got a one-on-one with linebacker Josh Ahern, ODU didn’t get much going all game.

The defensive line brought solid pressure and racked up three sacks on ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff with Aaron Faumui, Chico Bennett Jr., and Kam Butler all bringing down the sophomore. In the running game, UVA only let up 89 yards on 32 carries, a significant improvement after allowing nearly 200 yards to Illinois and 170 to Richmond.

On top of that, sophomores Lex Long and Jonas Sanker are continuing to impress in the secondary as UVA’s stable of safeties have been a surprising strength of this defense despite various players missing time. Long had a huge tackle on Old Dominion’s final drive of the game on 3rd and 12 when the Monarchs were searching for a go-ahead score.

With that unit playing above expectations, the defensive line bringing reasonable pressure to opposing quarterbacks, and UVA’s eventual success at holding opponents

Passing game improving but still very shaky

A wobbly Brennan Armstrong pass and completion to Dontayvion Wicks in the second quarter was emblematic of UVA’s passing offense on the day as a whole. Despite early struggles with under-thrown passes, Armstrong eventually got more comfortable throwing the ball and made the plays when the were needed. With 284 yards through the air on 20-37 passing, Armstrong broke Virginia’s all-time passing yards record with a few big throws on the final drive to pull out the victory.

The drop issues that Dontayvion Wicks has had this season are quite troublesome and were another element of the team’s struggle to nab a comfortable win. The wideout had just four catches on 14 targets after a similar stat line against Illinois in last Saturday’s loss.

Hopefully, this win will give the passing game the juice it needs going forward and the noticeable improvement in the second half scheming will carry over into ACC competition.

Offensive line far improved from last week

After completely limiting what the offense tried to do against the Fighting Illini, the offensive line was far better as a unit in today’s win. Garrett Tujague’s group was far from the problem for the ‘Hoos today as it paved the way for a dominant ground game — Virginia finished with 229 yards on the ground on 45 carries.

Granted, Armstrong made the o-line look better as he escaped pressure and picked up yards scrambling numerous times — he had 54 yards on the ground despite taking two sacks. but the core of Jonathan Leech, Derek Devine, Ty Furnish, John Paul Flores, and Logan Taylor was better today. And improvement is all you can hope for with such an inexperienced group.

Xavier Brown is going to be very good

Perhaps an underrated performer in today’s win, true freshman running back Xavier Brown provided speed, toughness, and great vision for UVA today as he rushed for 88 yards on nine carries including a 38-yarder which set up Virginia’s only touchdown of the game. With Hollins’ struggles, Brown seems to have stablished himself alongside Perris Jones as one of the top two backs on the team and should continue to get meaningful carries this season.

While his contributions to the 2022 team are going to be meaningful, his potential as the future of UVA’s running backs is legit.