UVA Football somehow survived two turnovers on its first five snaps, one of them a picksix, a missed extra point, two missed chip-shot field goals, and eight second-half penalties.
Hey, ugly or not, it was a win, 16-9, over a Georgia Tech team that had won two straight after the school fired coach Geoff Collins, and for the first time since Brent Key was installed as the interim played like the team that got its coach fired.
For Virginia (3-4, 1-3 ACC), it was the first ACC dub for first-year head coach Tony Elliott, who, in concert with offensive coordinator Des Kitchings, was able to coax 410 yards out of his still-not-entirely-comfortable offense.
Brennan Armstrong, who was picksixed on his third pass attempt of the night, on a throw that hit Keytaon Thompson in the hands, popped into the air, and was returned 37 yards for a TD by LaMiles Brooks, rallied to put up decent, though still-not-BA numbers – 20-of-35 passing, 255 yards, one TD, two INTs, a 116.3 pass-efficiency rating.
Armstrong also led the team in rushing with a very-much-BA-like 91 yards, and scored on a 1-yard run that put the Cavaliers up 7-6 with 2:01 to go in the first quarter.
His 44-yard catch-and-run TD pass to Dontayvion Wicks made it 13-6 ‘Hoos in the second quarter.
That TD was the 57th for Armstrong in his UVA career, breaking the school record that had been held for nearly two decades by Matt Schaub.
Will Bettridge missed the extra-point try after the Wicks TD, one of his three misses – including two field-goal tries – on the night.
A 39-yard try that would have made it a two-score game with 1:16 to go in the first half was wide right, and left the door open for Georgia Tech (3-4, 2-2 ACC), which closed out the half with a 35-yard Gavin Smith field that made it 13-9 Cavaliers at the break.
Virginia dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half, outgaining Georgia Tech 226-41, but self-inflicted wounds – a missed 29-yard field-goal try that knuckled before hitting the right upright, a turnover on downs just outside the red zone when Elliott decided to go for it on fourth down rather than try another kick – kept the game close.
The defense came up big over and over all night, getting eight sacks, holding the Yellow Jackets to 201 yards, and yet, it was still a one-score game late when Elliott, inexplicably, decided to have his punt-block team in on a fourth-and-14 from the Georgia Tech 3, and wideout Lavel Davis was assessed a 15-yard penalty for leaping – basically, trying to vault over the wedge blockers – extending the Yellow Jackets drive.
Georgia Tech, given one last bit of life there, would eventually get the ball into UVA territory, before a Nick Jackson sack on a third-and-two would force a fourth-and-long, and a pass from Tech backup QB Zach Gibson intended for wideout Malachi Carter fell incomplete after hitting Carter in the hands beyond the sticks.
A win is a win is a win, and this one was the first in more than a month for Virginia, and its first over a Power 5 team in 2022.
Armstrong, who averaged 404.5 yards per game passing last year, still has yet to throw for even 300 in a game in the new Elliott/Kitchings offense, but the defense came up strong, holding Georgia Tech to 55 net yards on the ground, and 6-of-21 on third downs.
The still-glaring issues: four turnovers, 10 penalties for 82 yards – Virginia came in leading the ACC in penalty yardage (71.3 yards per game), so, not getting better there – and abysmal special-teams play.
In addition to the three missed kicks that left seven points off the scoreboard, and the three that you should be able to presume from what turned into a failed fourth-down conversion in what most other teams consider to be field-goal range, there was also a blocked punt in minus territory, a kick return mistakenly downed at the UVA 3, a penalty on another kick return that set up the offense inside the UVA 15, a penalty on a punt that Billy Kemp IV had returned to midfield that cost the team 20 yards in field position, then the penalty by Davis that extended the game in the fourth quarter.
That last one was just a dumb coaching move from Elliott, who, we can hope, will realize sometime this weekend, if he doesn’t realize it now, that all he needed to do was have Kemp fair-catch the punt at midfield and have the offense run the clock out.
The staff will also have to figure out what to do at placekicker, with Bettridge, a five-star Class of 2022 recruit, now having missed two field-goal tries and two extra-point tries, after replacing Brendan Farrell, who had missed four field-goal tries and an extra-point try before losing the PK1 job.
Maybe Elliott can recruit somebody from one of the nationally-ranked soccer teams between now and the Oct. 29 home game with Miami, the first of four games in a row for the ‘Hoos in the friendly environs at Scott Stadium.
At least the offense made some incremental steps in the direction of looking something like last year’s group.
And the defense looked like the Monsters of the Midway.
And it was a win.