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Deficiencies in kicking game push risk-taking on fourth down for UVA

UVA scored two touchdowns on fourth-down plays, at the end of each half.

uva footballPart of that is Bronco Mendenhall having faith in senior quarterback Kurt Benkert. Another part is not having faith in a still-struggling kicking game.

Freshman A.J. Mejia, in his first career game, missed badly on a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter, never getting the ball over the height of the crossbar on a kick that was also roughly five yards short, and he had a PAT in the third quarter barely clear the bar on its way over.

Mendenhall attributed those issues to being more about snaps and holds than necessarily being the problem of the kicker, but whatever the problem is, it’s still a problem.

So, when UVA faced a fourth-and-nine from the William & Mary 34 late in the first half, it wasn’t exactly a roll of the dice to try to convert.

“Now as we are becoming clearer where we can kick field goals from, that’s allowing us to manage the yardage and the field of play a little bit differently,” Mendenhall said.

That’s one way of putting it, certainly.

It did help that the Virginia defense had been stifling the Tribe offense to that point in the game. William & Mary had just 68 yards of total offense in the first half, so Mendenhall had to be thinking that his D would get a stop if the fourth-down play failed.

Kurt Benkert made it a best-case-scenario type of thing when he connected with Andre Levrone on a 34-yard TD pass that made it a two-score game at the half.

The second fourth-down conversion came late in the game, with the outcome having long since been decided. It was a fourth-and-goal play from the W&M 1, and this time the call was more about giving the ‘Hoos confidence that they can convert in such situations.

Benkert did, on what was officially a TD pass to Jordan Ellis, but was in reality little more than a forward lateral that the speedy Ellis took around the corner to paydirt.

There was one failed fourth-down attempt in William & Mary territory, a fourth-and-seven play from the Tribe 29 early in the fourth quarter that saw Benkert overshoot a streaking, open Levrone on what would have been another TD pass.

The good news and bad news for Virginia fans is that the lack of confidence in the kicking game will force more of these type calls from Mendenhall in the future.

“That was just the beginning of what we intent to do,” Mendenhall said. “The mark on the field will kind of move back in forth based on how our field goal kickers are looking. Today it was more go for it.”

Story by Chris Graham