Virginia football falls flat on the road, losing 24-3 in lopsided game at Illinois – Reuters
Despite high hopes for a second win over Illinois in two years, the Cavaliers found themselves overwhelmed and out of whack en route to a 24-3 loss on the road. Virginia senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong — even with the multitude of proven wide receivers at his disposal — struggled in an unusual performance after recording two interceptions and zero touchdowns. Overall, the Cavaliers (1-1, 0-0 ACC) looked unrecognizable from the team that outscored the Fighting Illini (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) 42-14 in 2021, with too many unusual errors afflicting them along the way.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Cavaliers actually displayed some defensive strength after an interception of Illinois senior quarterback Tommy DeVito’s pass – his first attempt of the day. A quick three and out from Virginia’s offense gave the Fighting Illini the ball deep in their own territory, and once again the Cavalier defense managed to produce a turnover – a fumble several yards from the carrier Brown junior ball bag. That latest turnover would earn the only points of the day for Virginia’s offense, which turned a good field position into a field goal at 11:08 minutes into the first quarter.
After yet another impressive possession by the Virginia defense, things started to take a turn for the worst. A failed punt return from senior wide receiver Billy Kemp led to an easy Illini touchdown, giving them a 7-3 lead on another Cavaliers error. The offense – having shown flashes of brilliance against Richmond – could not find its footing, as another third and final result resulted in a successful drive from Illinois. Thanks to Brown’s run, the Illini capped a streak of quick plays with a 39-yard touchdown pass to extend their lead to 14-3.
The series of unfortunate events continued for Virginia late in the first quarter and early in the second, with a long punt return, a 43-yard strike from DeVito and a touchdown that followed, pushing the deficit to the Cavalier at 18. A fumble from the Virginia defense allowed Armstrong to convert a deep ball to junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. – a play that was later marred by a missed field goal from Cavalier. Even at such an early stage, the Illini seemed to have driven the nail in the coffin. The offensive and defensive lines revealed their weaknesses through poor pass protection and substandard running stops, while Armstrong couldn’t connect with the majority of his talented receiving corps.
The second half – capped by a single Illinois field goal late in the third quarter – witnessed a complete lack of offensive firepower on both sides. Nothing could click for Virginia’s offense even after a halftime reset, with two interceptions from Armstrong only bolstering the fight to put points on the board. Sophomore quarterback Jay Woolfolk — the Cavaliers’ starter in the 2021 game against Notre Dame — finally saw action and finished the game as Virginia’s top rusher — after collecting a 31-yard run , which brought Virginia closer to the end zone. he had been all afternoon. However, the combination of Woolfolk and Armstrong was unable to deliver a touchdown, turning it over on lows.
“He was throwing his back foot, he had guys wide open and, you know, he just felt the pressure and could never settle down so he could follow his progressions,” coach Tony Elliott said of ‘Armstrong and his linemen’s difficulties on Saturday. “So overall, offensively, I was disappointed with the way they played.”
Five sacks fell on Armstrong, who never seemed to gain a foothold in the lopsided loss. A completely revamped offensive line left the quarterback vulnerable in the pocket on several occasions, but the senior also struggled to connect with his wide receivers throughout. junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks — the Cavaliers’ leading receiver in 2021 — caught just two passes for 23 yards, while Kemp snapped his 28-game streak with one reception.
On the other hand, Virginia’s defense looked solid at times and forced a total of four turnovers. One of the worst attacking performances in recent Cavalier football history eclipsed the defensive side of the ball, which, despite their inconsistencies defending the run, made impressive progress. Still, the Cavaliers will have to move on and learn from this loss as ACC play looms.
“It’s been a tough day at the office, but hey, you live and you learn and grow, and we’re going to find a way to get better,” Elliott said.
An in-state opponent and a recent winner from Virginia Tech awaits at Old Dominion, as Virginia returns to Scott Stadium on Saturday to face the Monarchs (1-1, 0-0 SunBelt). Kickoff will begin at 2 p.m. and the game will be televised on ACC Network.