The Virginia football team faced four third downs in the first quarter of Saturday’s home contest versus North Carolina. All four plays proved unsuccessful, resulting in four Nicholas Conte punts.
Failure to convert on third down proved to be a theme throughout the day. By game’s end the Cavalier offense converted a meager three first downs on 19 third down plays.
Unable to sustain drives and unable to connect on big plays that sparked the Hoos in early games, Virginia mustered only 14 points in a 21-point loss to the 22-ranked Tar Heels.
“Third down was one of the telling stories of the game today,” UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Our inability to convert on third down with the number of attempts we had just didn’t allow our point production and our time of possession.”
“Something we really stress is first down and third down efficiency, and we aim for about 45 percent of the third downs,” senior center Jackson Matteo said. “Obviously, we didn’t get that today.”
UVA’s first third-down conversion came on its sixth drive. The play – an 11-yard completion from quarterback Kurt Benkert to running back Albert Reid – put the Cavaliers into Tar Heel territory for the first time all day. Two fourth down conversions were instrumental on this drive, which Matt Johns capped off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Evan Butts on a 4th-and-3 trick field goal.
The Cavaliers began the second half on a positive note when linebacker Micah Kiser forced and recovered a fumble on UNC’s first drive of the second half. However, Virginia couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-5 from the Tar Heel 39 and had to punt.
Virginia converted on only two third downs in the second half with both coming on a key drive in the third quarter. After UNC took a 21-7 lead, the UVA offense responded well by driving the ball from its own 25 to the Tar Heel 43. Two third down conversions kept the drive alive before the offense fell apart and ultimately turned the ball over on a Benkert fumble, which UNC recovered at the Virginia 41. The Tar Heels scored six plays later to claim a 28-7 lead.
Word Gets First Defensive Snaps
True freshman linebacker Landan Word received his first defensive snaps of the season on Saturday, while subbing for Buck linebacker Zach Bradshaw. Word snared his first ever college sack in his first series. The 6’5″, 245-pound first year played a significant portion of the fourth quarter as well. He finished the game with four solo tackles and a sack, a good effort against a top 25 team.
Word, son of former Virginia football great Barry Word, played as one of eight true freshmen to see the field this season. Another true freshman, tackle Ben Knutson, dressed after earning his number (65) at practice this week. Knutson did not play against UNC, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get on the field soon.
Staying with the offensive line, the scholarship depth situation remains a concern for this year as well as next. That’s why I think there is a good chance Knutson sees some time before this season is over. Against UNC, redshirt freshman RJ Proctor and sophomore Jake Fieler saw extended time in the second half at the guard positions. Proctor and Fieler had been regulars in the rotation prior to this game. Sophomore Steven Moss saw his first action of the season, subbing at left guard in the fourth quarter.
Virginia Football Recruits In Attendance
As expected, Bethel (Hampton, VA) outside linebacker/safety prospect Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah made it to Grounds on an official visit. Virginia class of 2017 linebacker commitment Matt Gahm, a product of Highland Park (Dallas, TX), joined the recruiting turnout as well. We’ll have more from both recruits on the EDGE this week.
Roughly 25-30 recruits made their way to Scott Stadium to see Virginia take on UNC. Here are some other notables we confirmed so far …
Daniel Horne, Offensive Lineman, Hylton (Woodbridge, VA), Class of 2017 (No UVA offer)
Akeem Smith, Defensive Tackle, Henrico (VA), Class of 2018 (No UVA offer)
Brandon Smith, Linebacker/Tight End, Louisa (VA), Class of 2019 (No UVA offer but the 6’5”, 220-pound sophomore seemed to be getting a lot of attention from the coaches)
Chris Tyree, All-Purpose Running Back, Thomas Dale (Chester, VA), Class of 2020 (No UVA offer but does have two FBS offers as just a freshman)
Peyton Winstead, Center/Offensive Guard, Leesville Road (Garner, N.C.), Class of 2018 (No UVA offer)