(Image – Erin Edgerton – Daily Progress)
In their first contest of the season, the ‘Hoos came out on top with a hard fought victory. They coupled stretches of total control with moments of utter puzzlement. Nonetheless, a win is a win, and there are a number of storylines that emerge from such a performance.
Wahoos come back from slow start
Right out of the gate, the ‘Hoos dug themselves a hole when Tavares Kelly fumbled the initial kickoff, thereby spotting Duke three-points. Following punts from each team, Chase Brice connected with tight end Jake Marwede for a fifty-five yard score which put the Blue Devils up 10-0.
In the second quarter, Virginia got the running game going as Wayne Taulapapa and Brennan Armstrong capitalized off the dirty work of the offensive line to pull the ‘Hoos ahead, 17-10, heading into halftime.
Then, out of halftime, the sluggish offense of the first quarter returned as Armstrong struggled to find any sort of rhythm through the air. In fact, he started the half 1-6, culminating in an egregious interception inside Virginia’s own twenty-yard line. Fortunately, after Duke took a 20-17 lead off of Armstrong’s second interception, the Virginia offense settled in as Armstrong got in a groove and began finding receivers down the field.
The 38-20 score is fairly misleading considering the Wahoos’ measly play at the beginning of both halves and Duke’s variety of late game turnovers. But, Bronco Mendenhall and his staff will be encouraged by the way the team rebounded in the second and fourth quarters to clinch the program’s first win of the season.
Lavel Davis Jr. goes OFF in his debut as a Wahoo
On a day when the Virginia receiving core struggled to find meaningful separation down the field, the 6’7″ first year Lavel Davis Jr. put on a show with his leaping ability. Totaling 101 yards and two touchdowns on four catches, Davis Jr. gave Virginia the 24-20 lead with his first score and then put the game out of reach with his second.
Following the loss of a few veteran pass-catchers, Davis Jr. is a dynamic addition to a fairly inexperienced receiving core. With his height, length, and leaping ability, he provides Brennan Armstrong a massive target. Additionally, Davis Jr. is already proving he’s no slouch after the catch, plowing his way through a number of Duke defenders and into the end-zone for his second touchdown.
With Davis Jr., Terrell Jana, Billy Kemp IV, and Tony Poljan, the receiving core is shaping up nicely and should arm Brennan Armstrong with an arsenal of various skillsets.
Brennan Armstrong has his ups and downs
Speaking of Armstrong, his first game as a starter was about as inconsistent as it could’ve been. His two interceptions were easily avoidable with the first coming off an attempted deep jump-ball to the 5’9″ Kemp, and the second a result of a total misfire to Terrell Jana. Through the first three quarters, he was awfully inaccurate, starting the game 12-30 for 115 yards and two picks. But, after his second interception midway through the third quarter, Armstrong finished 12-15 for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Such a performance from the redshirt second year quarterback is not surprising. In his first career start, a little bit of rust is certainly admissible. That said, there are some valid concerns surrounding his throwing mechanics. His throwing motion isn’t pretty, and that could be partially responsible for his obviously inconsistent throwing accuracy. Of course, this was only one game and he was still able to turn things around dramatically in the second half.
Running game looks incredibly strong
As expected, UVa’s offensive line is undoubtedly the strength of the offense. They dominated in pass protection and in the run game. Specifically, they gave Armstrong the opportunity to settle into the game and also opened holes for Taulapapa, Armstrong, and Shane Simpson to run through.
Notably impressive was Taulapapa, whose sixteen-carry, ninety-five yard, two-touchdown performance was reminiscent of Jordan Ellis from a few years ago. Taulapapa refused to go down all game and kept the legs churning well into the fourth quarter.
Additionally, Armstrong displayed his mobility and made it clear that, while he lacks the escapability and general bravado of Bryce Perkins, he’s still dangerous with his legs. On ten carries, he gained 47 yards and added a touchdown. That production is an encouraging sign for the Virginia offense as Armstrong’s versatility allows them to keep the playbook open.
Shane Simpson also impressed in limited snaps. On his eight carries he went for 36 yards and added 11 yards on two receptions out of the backfield. He’s a shifty back and gives the ‘Hoos a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield alongside Taulapapa’s grinding style.
Defense feasts on Duke’s mistakes
The experienced Virginia defense did not disappoint on Saturday. Captitalizing on Duke’s and Chase Brice’s messy play, the defense registered five sacks, five interceptions, and eleven tackles for loss. The linebacking core was, as anticipated, relentless as Zane Zandier, Charles Snowden, and Noah Taylor combined for twenty-eight tackles, three pass deflections, and 1.5 sacks.
Now, a fair share of the defense’s success can be attributed to Duke’s failure to protect the ball. But, the Wahoo defense still took advantage of a poor offensive performance from Duke and gave the Virginia offense time to settle into the game.
Next, the Wahoos play national #1 Clemson in a rematch of last season’s ACC Championship. That contest will be at 8:00 PM ET next Saturday on ACC Network.