Unfinished business: Military Bowl loss dampens UVA comeback season

uva footballWell, that de-escalated quickly. Joe Reed returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, and Virginia led 7-0 before most fans had found their seats at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Poor folks, on a day with wind-chills in the teens, should have headed straight back out to the parking lot.

Navy would win 49-7, and it’s not overstating things to offer the observation that the score doesn’t relate just how much of a beatdown this one was.

Virginia had just 79 yards of offense in the first half, which ended with Midshipmen up 28-7, gashing the ‘Hoos for 264 yards on the ground, while not completing, or even attempting, a pass.

Quarterback Kurt Benkert was 15-for-34 passing for 133 yards, but those numbers don’t tell the story of how rough a day the senior had. Benkert was sacked on his first dropback, was under duress all afternoon, and uncharacteristically wild when he did find time to throw the ball, skipping several passes at the feet of his receivers.

The ground game, which had generated just 67.8 yards per game in UVA’s regular-season closing 1-5 stretch, gained just 10 yards on 17 attempts.

The sum total for the offense was a second straight full game with no points, following the regular-season-closing 10-0 loss to Virginia Tech last month.

The poor showing of the defense was a surprise. The Cavs had faced another triple-option team, Georgia Tech, in November, and in the 40-36 win had allowed 220 yards on the ground, 87.4 yards below the Yellow Jackets’ season average.

Navy ran at will all afternoon long, finishing with 452 yards on the ground on 76 attempts.

The Middies did try two pass plays, the first leading to a first-quarter sack, the other a third-quarter incompletion.

So, OK, the pass defense did its job, the kick-return unit did its job. Every other unit was thoroughly outplayed.

The 2017 season represented a step up for Virginia football, which returned to the postseason for the first time in six years.

But the depressing end shows the work still to be done, which is a lot. Offensive line play was a major hindrance in the second half of the season, and a clear area that coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff will need to focus on.

Mendenhall et all will also need to figure out a way to replace Benkert, linebacker Micah Kiser, safety Quin Blanding and defensive end Andrew Brown, all NFL prospects who did a good bit of the heavy lifting to get UVA back to the postseason.

You want to celebrate their efforts, but the poor showing today does make it feel a bit hollow.

Story by Chris Graham