In just his third career game, UVA’s true freshman Xavier “X” Brown was one of the driving forces in the Virginia Cavaliers’ 16-14 win over the Old Dominion Monarchs. Out of Lexington, Kentucky, Brown finished the game with nine carries for 88 yards — good for a ridiculous 9.8 yards per carry average.
His longest run of 38 yards set up the Wahoos’ lone touchdown of the game as he repeatedly displayed an ability to not only find holes in the defense, but burst through them with speed and strength. Brown repeatedly broke tackles and forced multiple Monarchs to pile on to bring him to the ground.
For an offense that made a number of costly mistakes — one of which came on a fumble from Brown’s fellow back Mike Hollins — everything and anything the Virginia offense could generate was valuable. As the game’s leading rusher, Brown made his presence felt after coming into the game with just eight carries for 34 yards in the first two contests of the season.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m glad we had him today,” said Virginia’s offensive coordinator Des Kitchings. “He made a couple big explosive plays for us. And the kid is just totally committed. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s soaking in information. He’s got some ability, he’s got speed, he’s got toughness, he can break tackles. So we’ve got to continue to build on that with him.”
Such impressive traits for a true freshman running back are rare. But, while encouraging, this type of performance for the player nicknamed “X” wasn’t unexpected. And, in a game full of frustrations for Kitchings’ offense, Brown was a bright spot for the whole team. “He was excellent today,” emphasized sixth year wide receiver Keytaon Thompson. “He really provided a spark that we need. He had a couple of big runs and, coming from a young guy like that, it really means a lot.”
With maybe his first smile while amongst the media, Quarterback Brennan Armstrong added that the success of the young rusher “really makes me happy” even despite “however I’m feeling about fumbling the ball, I’m excited for him. That was awesome.”
Armstrong continued, echoing the coaching staff in saying that “whoever can help, they’re gonna play and ‘X’ played great. I’m super happy for him. I know this was a big deal for him. So, it’s just awesome to see a young guy go out there and play and have success.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of room of improvement for Brown, particularly in pass blocking. Kitchings said that “we try to limit some of [the pass blocking] for him,” and just make sure he focuses on “carrying the ball on first and second down,” and to “continue to build throughout the season.”
Tony Elliott provided additional context to his OC’s comments, identifying the strip sack where Armstrong lost the ball as a teachable moment for Brown in picking up the blitz. “That’s a young running back that [needs to] go out on the edge and protect his quarterback,” Elliott said, noting that “he’s got some areas to grow,” in that element of the game.
Nevertheless, these sorts of contributions for the young rusher are exceptional particularly when looking towards the future. “Xavier found some big plays,” said Elliott. “What you saw is that the stage isn’t too bright for him as a first year, that he was ready for the moment.”
The head Wahoo also pointed to the present and how with “the way he’s running the football, he’s putting pressure on all the other guys in the room and, as I told him in the locker room afterwards, I’m not a discriminator of age. If you’re the best guy, you’re the best guy. And right now he’s running with the most tenacity of all the guys.”
For Brown himself, he underscored that “I really got to give it all to my o-line and everybody blocking up front. They opened the lanes for me and just made it easy. He also said that “I’m feeling great. I’m just happy. This is a dream come true for me so I’m just happy to be out there.”
In a running back room with fifth years Perris Jones and Ronnie Walker, junior Mike Hollins, and sophomore Cody Brown, the back they call “X” is making his presence felt early. And, with how razor thin the UVA offense’s margins have been through three weeks, he may just be its X-factor.