It might be better for Illinois if their matchups with Virginia remain strictly a postseason affair.
The Illini came to Charlottesville with a 2-0 mark against Virginia, with both wins coming in bowl matchups. Saturday morning/afternoon, in the first-ever regular season meeting between the two teams, it was all Virginia, 42-14.
Oh, well, let’s hope the Illini faithful that made the trip at least enjoyed Monticello while in town, enjoying a bit of history. Saturday, the Cavaliers exploded out of the locker room taking a 14-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes, determined to change history against the Fighting Illini.
Virginia, behind southpaw quarterback Brennan Armstrong, made it apparent early on that Illinois simply didn’t have the defense to stop a potent Cavalier offense. Like a hot knife through butter, Armstrong took full advantage of no pressure from the Illini defensive linemen to carve up the Illinois secondary.
Virginia’s opening two drives, both resulting in scores, were four plays for 75 yards in just one minute, 16 seconds on the opening possession, and on the ensuing possession same results 80 yards in just one minute, 37 seconds.
Three big plays and a false-start penalty were basically the entirety of UVA’s first drive down the field. The third play ended in the endzone, as Armstrong connected with tight end Jelani Woods from 32 yards out.
Woods slipped through two Illini defenders on a seam route and was all alone for the TD pass; it was déjà vu for the Cavalier offense and Wood as the drive opened with a similar 31-yard reception to open the game.
This week, like in the season opener against overmatched William & Mary, the Cavalier offense tossed just about every scheme in the playbook at Illinois and even added a few new wrinkles. And why not?
If you looked at your roster card again for Virginia, you notice with the “FBP” position, as in football player. OK, ideally everyone on the team is a football player, but so far at UVA it has been a player that takes the snap from center, and it’s not the quarterback.
Saturday’s big weapon at the “FBP” position was Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson. The 6’4” quarterback/wide receiver proved to be a lethal weapon; Thompson had four carries for 24 yards and a touchdown, and caught five passes for 68 yards.
Woods, another transfer (Oklahoma State), became the first UVA tight end with 100+ yards receiving since Heath Miller had 110 in 2004 against Florida State. Woods finished with 122 receiving yards, and on numerous receptions just was a complete mismatch against the smaller Illini defenders.
Armstrong threw for two touchdowns and 171 yards early in the first quarter, so early many of the late arriving crowd of just over 36,000 probably missed.
For the game Armstrong was 27-of-36 for 405 yards and was playing at a Madden-like clip, with a quarterback rating of over 300 for much of the first half. How good was Armstrong? He completed two consecutive passes, one for 23 yards, and QB qb rating dropped below 300. It was that kind of day for UVA.
While the offense got the headlines, the Virginia defensive effort shouldn’t go unnoticed. The saying in golf is “you drive for show, you putt for dough.” On Saturday the Virginia offense may have dazzled, but the defense turned in another stellar performance.
After tossing a shutout against William & Mary (Virginia’s first since the 2018 Belk Bowl, the Cavalier defense sacked Illini quarterback Artur Sitkowski three times. For the game, UVA stopped Illinois on 12 of 14 possessions.
Perhaps a defensive possession that may have gone unnoticed by the fans left in Scott Stadium was the final Illinois drive of the game. Down 42-14 in the wanning three minutes of the game, the Illini drove the ball down the field against a Virginia defense of primarily second team players.
Players that at some point during the season are going to be on the field in meaningful minutes. The Illini drove down inside the Virginia 20, but a couple of sacks ended the drive and the game, keeping Illinois’ from adding garbage points.
Two games down, and the Cavaliers are where most felt they would be at 2-0. Up next the first real test for Virginia, a trip to Tobacco Road and a matchup with North Carolina. One thing for sure, the UNC coaches have plenty to prepare for. Virginia has thrown just about every play in the playbook out for everyone to see. And this may just be the beginning.
Story by Scott German