In its second game of the London era, William & Mary brought a dynamic freshman quarterback – Hollis Mathis totaled 193 yards of offense, including 127 yards rushing, in last week’s win over Lafayette – as well as an experienced defensive unit to Scott Stadium. However, the homestanding Hoos, fresh off a hard-fought ACC win at Pitt in its season opener last Saturday, eliminated any thoughts of an upset with quality play on both sides of the ball and a big play on special teams.
“It’s a unique challenge in itself – going on the road to Pitt and all the focus being on that the entire offseason and then to have that success and turn around and play a team that I think is well-coached and a good football team,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “On paper, we should win the game and should be favored to win the game. To play and win convincingly is a challenge and it is a test and it reflects maturity and experience. I take that as a step in the right direction. To do it on a short week was tough. I was happy overall with the way that we performed.”
Virginia’s defense set the tone. For the second straight week, UVA’s opponent received the opening kickoff. For the second straight week, the Cavalier defense forced a three-and-out to start the game. Quarterback Bryce Perkins and the offense responded with a 6-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Joe Reed on the receiving end of a 40-yard touchdown pass.
The Virginia defense took scoring matters into its own hands on the ensuing drive. William & Mary marched into Cavalier territory before a wayward pass from Mathis sailed into the arms of junior cornerback Nick Grant, who avoided a tackler and sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown. The first interception of Grant’s college career gave the home team a 14-0 lead.
“You can ask all my friends: I told them that my first career pick is going to the crib,” said Grant, who was making his second career start for the Hoos. “It just so happened to come my way my fourth year. I’ve definitely dreamed about it my whole life. It’s a DB’s dream.”
Two more Perkins touchdowns, including a 7-yard touchdown run and a 15-yard touchdown pass from the standout quarterback to his former roommate at Arizona State, Terrell Chatman, boosted the Cavalier lead to 28-0 early in second quarter action. The Tribe finally got on the scoreboard at the 9:06 mark of the second quarter with a 40-yard field goal from Jake Johnston. While a Virginia special teams mishap – junior Chuck Davis fumbled a punt and the Tribe recovered – set up the field goal, a special teams play from Reed wiped away any good feelings the visitors may have had.
Reed brought in the ensuing kickoff, headed left out of the endzone across the field before turning up field and sprinted all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. The senior, who now claims four kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, became the fourth player in school history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a score. More importantly, his play deflated the Tribe and gave the Hoos the 35-3 advantage they would ultimately take into halftime.
“Just well-coached, well-blocked and well executed,” a humble Reed said of the return.
“Joe is the best kick returner that I’ve had a chance to coach,” Mendenhall said. “He’s got amazing speed and just has a knack and great vision and is very dynamic. I was surprised that the ball was kicked to him. I was hopeful it would be. We thought William & Mary was very aggressive on their kick [coverage] and we were impressed with that from week one and thought they had a strong culture and were really aggressive. Our intent was then to run around them and come to the field. It was executed well and blocked well.”
Virginia opened the second-half with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, extending its lead to 42-3 and for all intents and purposes ending the game. Running back Mike Hollins capped off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run on the first carry of his collegiate career. The 5’9”, 200-pound true freshman from Louisiana received all 11 of his carries in the second half, rushing for 78 yards and two scores. His 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown would be the final score of the game.
Hollins proved to be one of the stars of the second half. Perkins’ play, though, fueled Virginia’s dominant start. The senior captain completed 7-of-8 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, and by halftime he had accumulated 159 yards in the air with two touchdowns and an interception, adding 59 yards rushing and one score. He finished with 260 total yards (192 passing, 68 rushing) and three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush). Perkins did throw two interceptions (and frankly could have had more), ending his streak of 145 throws without a pick.
Looking sharp in relief of Perkins in the second-half, redshirt freshman Brennan Armstrong completed 9-of-10 passes for 103 yards and an interception while leading two scoring drives. Virginia’s quarterbacks completed passes to 10 different receivers. Eight of those players had multiple catches, including Reed and sophomore Tavares Kelly Jr. with four receptions apiece and Hasise Dubois and Terrell Chatman with three catches each. Walk-on redshirt freshman Hayden Mitchell made the first catch of his college career, finishing with two receptions for 49 yards.
Virginia’s defense was outstanding from start to finish, holding the Tribe to 193 yards of offense and eight first downs. The Hoos racked up 12 tackles for loss, five sacks, and had the interception while holding Tribe quarterbacks to just five completions all game long. William & Mary managed only 63 yards rushing on 35 attempts, an average of 1.8 yards per carry, and Mathis was held to just 10 yards.
Junior inside linebacker Zane Zandier led the UVA defensive effort with a team-best nine tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. Senior inside linebacker Jordan Mack returned to the field after missing the entire second-half against Pitt with a concussion. He responded with 2.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks. Safety Joey Blount had seven tackles (five solo) while true freshman nose tackle Jowon Briggs finished with six tackles (two solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Reed had the big play for UVA on special teams, but sophomore Billy Kemp IV also impressed at punt returner, totaling 51 yards on four returns. Placekicker Brian Delaney missed a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter but connected on a 34-yarder in the fourth. He is now 4-of-6 on field goals for the season.
Another week, another hurdle cleared for the Virginia Cavaliers, who now have an extra day to prepare for its matchup with Florida State next week. Scott Stadium was loud on Friday night with an announced attendance of 45,250, but the atmosphere should be even better when the Seminoles come to town. This will be the first conference game for FSU, while UVA will be looking to move to 2-0 in conference play.
“It was noticeable the support we had today,” Mendenhall said. “I liked the energy and the attendance I saw at Scott Stadium. I really noticed the student section. I would love to continue to capitalize on that and play in a manner where our fans keep coming and are engaged at the level they were in the first half.”