In the opening game of the Tony Elliott era for the Virginia Cavaliers’ football program, UVA doubled up the Richmond Spiders 34-17 behind a fairly dominant performance on the ground and a defense that stopped Richmond from making any real big plays.
Perris Jones is as advertised
Early in UVA’s fall camp, Tony Elliott emphasized that former walk-on Perris Jones was the leading man in Virginia’s running back room. After the conclusion of fall camp, Jones was still RB1 and topped UVA’s depth chart as the ‘Hoos entered the season hoping to establish the ground game more than last season in order to provide more balance.
Jones did all that and more against Richmond today. Finishing with 104 rushing yards, 14 receiving yards, and two scores with one on the ground and one through the air, he proved both his versatility and reliability. Even with a brand new offensive line that is still trying to build chemistry, Jones was able to find space and make defenders miss consistently.
If Jones — who entered today with just three career carries — can perform like this on a game-to-game basis, that would be a boon for the UVA offense and provide a viable option in the run game while Mike Hollins and the rest of the room is still struggling to establish themselves.
Plenty of rust in game one
Two fumbles and an interception for the ‘Hoos underscored an unfortunate trend of sloppy play for Virginia at times against the Spiders. UVA got lucky the first time when Mike Hollins recovered his own fumble in the end-zone.
But, in the first two drives of the second half, Virginia wouldn’t get so lucky as a Dontayvion Wicks fumble in Wahoo territory led to a Richmond touchdown. On the very next possession, Brennan Armstrong threw a dumb pass in the middle of the field as he was being hit which resulted in another turnover. Fortunately, the defense stood strong and forced a 48-yard field goal which Richmond’s Jake Larson missed wide right.
Still though, the offense wasn’t clicking early in the second half. Armstrong missed Keytaon Thompson badly on a six-yard throw while Davis Jr. had a ball slip through his hands on another short comeback route. That possession ended in a punt near midfield as the ‘Hoos failed to score on their first three drives of the third period. A first half drop from tight end Grant Misch was another moment where UVA’s skill position players seemed just a bit off.
Whether that’s rust in the first game of the season or maybe a result of such an early game time, the ‘Hoos will be put to the sword against a physical Illinois team next Saturday on the road if they can’t find more stability on offense.
Brennan Armstrong’s legs carry the offense at times
Early in the second quarter, Brennan Armstrong ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run which broke the school’s all-time total yards record and put the ‘Hoos up 21-7. He’d continue to make plays with his legs throughout the game and finished with 105-yards on 10-carries.
On the one hand, that’s great. Armstrong’s ability to extend plays and make something out of nothing is part of what makes him so special as a player. But, at the same time, relying so heavily on the most valuable player on the team putting himself at risk of injury is a dangerous game to play.
It’s a hard balance to strike. Armstrong does need to be a threat to pull the ball down and run to keep defenses honest. But too much of that — especially when outside of the designed offense — isn’t a sustainable solution particularly against far better front-sevens in the ACC.
Defense shows flashes but still needs to do better against the run
Just as it was all of last season, the Virginia defense’s biggest problem against Richmond was stopping the run. The Spiders gapped the ‘Hoos through the middle too many times. Granted, UVA didn’t allow many home run plays today which lessened the impact of Richmond’s success on the ground. Still, allowing 170 yards and 4.9 yards per carry to the Spiders is less than ideal and is something that can very easily be exposed later in the season.
Of course, this is game one and the defensive line made plays in the pass rush and came up big a number of times in short-yardage situations so it’s not all bad. But, there’s still a ways to go.
A win is a win
To not sound overly negative after a 34-17 win, starting off the Tony Elliott era with a win and a fairly comfortable one at that is a real positive. At least, it’s a whole lot better than losing to an in-state opponent in the first game with a new HC... looking at you Blacksburg.
There are plenty of positives from today’s contest. The offensive and defensive lines each performed well relative to expectations. The secondary was much improved and — even though Richmond didn’t try to air the ball out — the defensive backs maintained close coverage and made each and every throw contested.
So, altogether, this is a step in the right direction for the ‘Hoos and there’s nothing disastrous to take away. But there’s still plenty for Virginia to clean up.