Hey! The Virginia Cavaliers football team won a game! Kicking off against in state foe William & Mary and former UVA Head Coach Mike London (who used to be a cop, if you weren’t aware), the Wahoos turned a 13-3 second quarter deficit into a 27-13 victory.
With the win, we have five takeaways for the Wahoos moving forward.
Virginia can win a football game!
352 days after their last win, the Wahoos finally picked up a W to avoid starting Tony Elliott’s second season 0-6. After three of their first five games were decided by three points or fewer and the Cavaliers struggled mightily to make plays late in games, they managed to beat little brother William & Mary.
It wasn’t pretty. Frankly, it was pretty ugly. But a win’s a win, I guess. Losing this game would’ve been disastrous, and UVA has shown that it’s capable of competing against mediocre ACC competition, so there’s a world where simply getting the monkey off the back with this win leads to a string of victories in the back half of the season.
It surely won’t be easy with four games against ranked opponents, but games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are absolutely good opportunities, and Miami, Louisville, Duke, and UNC are all beatable.
Elliott’s courageousness pays off
There have been countless instances so far this season when Virginia was in a position to go for it on 4th down and short to be aggressive and put more points on the board, but instead elected to kick. After a 4th-and-4 punt on the Boston College 37 yard line contributed to costing the Wahoos last week, Elliott called a far gutsier game against the Tribe.
On a critical touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter, the ‘Hoos went for it on fourth and short twice and were rewarded with a touchdown and a 14-point lead.
On the first, UVA converted a 4th-and-inches with a “tush-push” quarterback sneak with third string quarterback Grady Brosterhous. Elliott said after the NC State loss that the team didn’t want to risk their quarterback’s health with QB sneaks, but clearly went to the drawing board and made an adjustment. That’s the sort of adaptability that fans have been begging this coaching staff for, and it paid off in a major way.
Four plays later, no gain on a 3rd-and-3 Kobe Pace run set up 4th-and-3 on the Tribe 36-yard line. But the offense stayed on the field, and Muskett used his legs and put his body on the line to get the first down. Two plays later, he hit Malik Washington for a beautiful 27-yard touchdown.
Elliott and his staff have a looooong way to go when it comes to turning this program around, and beating an FCS opponent for the first win in nearly a year isn’t much of a feather in their cap. But it’s a start, and some of the decisions they made in this game suggest that they’re coming to their senses a bit. Whether that translates into more success down the road is up in the air.
UVA’s top two receivers continue to be big play players
For all the weaknesses that UVA’s roster has, Malachi Fields and Malik Washington keep proving themselves to be strengths. When the ‘Hoos commit to throwing the ball, Washington and Fields make plays.
"F--k it, Malik or Malachi down there somewhere." pic.twitter.com/xcNTAThes5— Zach Carey (@Zach_Carey_) October 7, 2023
Washington is the ACC’s leading receiver with his 668 yards in six games for the Cavaliers carrying the Virginia offense. He caught seven balls for 112 yards and a touchdown against W&M in what was his fourth 100-yard outing in the last five games after he only racked up 97 yards last week.
In the meantime, Fields is having the breakout sophomore season that was expected of him. He corralled four balls for 63 yards and a score today, bringing his season total to 418 yards and two touchdowns. He’s the jump ball option, intermediate stud, and even the deep ball threat that Wahoo fans were hoping he would be, and that’s been huge for this offense.
Perris Jones should be RB1
Perris Jones ran for 134 yards on 12 carries against William and Mary, and he would’ve had a touchdown were it not for an iffy holding call on McKale Boley. He consistently hit holes and exploded out of them, allowing UVA to finally capitalize on its serious emphasis on running the ball.
It’s been obvious Perris Jones is Virginia’s best runner for a while now, and he needs to be featured as the team’s top back moving forward. Coming into this game, he had the highest yards per rush (4.39), success rate (39%), and EPA/rush (0.11) of any Wahoo running back, yet he had the fewest carries of the Wahoos’ top three backs.
Kobe Pace is a good change of pace (wink wink nudge nudge) through the air, and Mike Hollins is reliable in pass protection. But Jones is the most elusive runner of the bunch and consistently made something of nothing against the Tribe on Saturday afternoon.
That’s not to say that UVA should be as reliant on its running game as it has been or expect to have the type of success in this game against ACC competition. But it was good to see Tony Elliott’s squad finally manage to make a difference on the ground.
Mistakes in the first three quarters leave lingering doubt
The second half and the final score belies the struggles that Virginia had in the first half and start of the third quarter. An interception in the endzone and a fumble that resulted in a 57-yard return and eventual W&M touchdown were two bad moments. First half special teams miscues gave the Tribe far too many opportunities to put unearned points on the board, and costly penalties took points off the board for the Wahoos.
Sure, those concerns are washed away with the win. But UVA not blowing W&M out is still notable and speaks to the unfortunate reality that the Cavaliers are still yet to put together a complete 60 minutes of football this season. A win is a win, and for now that’s great. But that doesn’t mean that there are more to come, and the ‘Hoos absolutely need to clean things up if they want to pick up another victory in 2023.