The ending was more thrilling than it needed to be. Nonetheless, the University of Virginia football program came away with a 48-40 victory over Georgia Tech. With the win, UVA (6-2, 4-2) has secured bowl eligibility with four games – two nonconference and two conference – still remaining on the schedule.
Georgia Tech racked up a season-high 570 yards of offense, including 300 passing and 270 rushing, and scored on seven of 13 possessions, but it was not good enough to keep up with a red-hot Virginia offense that has scored 48 points each of the past two games and 117 points the past nine quarters combined.
“It kind of feels like we’re unstoppable,” Virginia football senior Keytaon Thompson said following his team’s fourth consecutive win. “A lot of times I feel like when we do get stopped it’s self-inflicted with either penalties or miscues within the offense. But I feel like we’re all clicking and we’re all on the same page. I feel like we’re the best offense in the nation.”
Coming off a bye week, the Yellow Jackets jumped on the homestanding Hoos early, beginning with a game-opening, five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 36-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Sims to wide receiver Kyric McGowan. Running back Dontae Smith’s 3-yard touchdown run, which capped off a 12-play, 79-yard drive, boosted the Yellow Jacket first quarter lead to 13-0 (Brent Cimaglia’s extra point was blocked).
Georgia Tech’s fast start captured the Cavaliers’ attention. Led by redshirt junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong, the Virginia offense responded in a big way, scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions to take a lead it would not relinquish. UVA grabbed the lead for the first time – and for good – in the second quarter, when star sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks hauled in a short pass, juked the defensive back and sprinted to the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown. The score, which came on the heels of an interception by Cavalier safety Joey Blount, put the Hoos in front 21-16.
A scrappy and speedy Georgia Tech team, which trailed 24-16 at the half, closed to within three points of the Hoos on running back Jahmyr Gibbs’ 71-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Sims found Avery Boyd in the end zone for a two-point conversion, and UVA led 27-24. Virginia’s offense continued to roll, though, with Armstrong adding rushing touchdowns on consecutive possessions to boost is team to a 41-24 advantage at the end of the third quarter. An Armstrong 20-yard touchdown pass to Ra’Shaun Henry was UVA’s answer to a Cimaglia 34-yard field goal, and the Hoos led by 48-27 with three minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the game.
Game over, right? Not quite. Georgia Tech climbed to within eight, scoring back-to-back touchdowns with an onside kick recovery sandwiched in between. When the Yellow Jackets recovered their second onside with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the visitors had a chance to tie with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Virginia defenders knocked down Sims’ final pass to the end zone as time expired, sealing the victory.
“To me everything matters, and I think that the way we’ve been working and the way that things have been addressed. As you look at four straight wins, that’s not accidental,” said Bronco Mendenhall, who has guided the Cavalier program to at least six wins in four of his six years as head coach. “On-side kicks, that needs some work, but prevent and preserving victory, if you put it in that context, the rest of it looked to me like it just is a work in progress that’s making progress.”
Over the course of the game, Virginia’s offense was too much for Tech. Armstrong was outstanding once again, completing 29-of-43 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns and rushing 12 times for 99 yards and two scores. Wicks was sensational, finishing with six receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including five catches for 148 yards and two scores in the first half alone. Thompson, UVA’s “Football Player,” totaled 154 yards including 89 receiving and 65 rushing. He led all players with nine catches.
Virginia totaled 636 yards of offense, averaged 8.7 yards per play, converted 7-of-11 on third down, had 32 first downs, and had zero turnovers. The Hoos had 11 possessions and scored eight times.
“It starts with the coaching and our offensive staff,” Mendenhall said of his team’s offensive success. “Robert Anae and Jason Beck and our offensive staff is doing a really good job. Then it goes to Brennan at the quarterback spot. Every play goes through him. Then between Dontayvion (Wicks) and Ra’Shaun (Henry) and Jelani (Woods), and KT (Keytaon Thompson) and (Billy Kemp) and Wayne (Taulapapa) and Devin Darrington, there’s lots of production happening out there. It’s really fun to watch, but it is designed super well, and our offensive staff is doing a great job using the resources we have.”
After converting its first four chances on third down, Georgia Tech, which entered the game ranked near the bottom among all FBS in that category, converted 2-of-9 in the final three quarters. Sims demonstrated the explosiveness he has shown each of the past two seasons, passing for 300 yards and three touchdown and rushing for 65 yards. His second-quarter interception proved costly, though, as UVA capitalized on the only turnover of the game with a touchdown.
Virginia’s defense had trouble with Tech’s playmakers – the visitors had three touchdowns of over 30 yards, six passes of 15 yards or more, and eight rushes of 10 yards or more – but made enough stops to get the win. The Hoos’ best stretch occurred in the second and third quarters, when they allowed one touchdown and one field goal on seven drives. Sims’ interception and four punts rounded out those opportunities for Tech, which was outscored 34-11 in the second and third quarters.
UVA played the entire second half without linebacker Noah Taylor, while defensive lineman Mandy Alonso missed some time as well. Both players suffered lower leg injuries. Alonso remained in pads the rest of the game, while Taylor spent the second half standing on the sidelines without pads with a boot on his lower left leg. Blount and cornerback Nick Grant led UVA with eight tackles apiece. Defensive lineman Jahmeer Carter led Virginia with 1.5 tackles for loss, and linebacker Elliott Brown had the Cavaliers’ only sack of the game.
The final play from the Virginia defense is what mattered most, and it sent a lively Scott Stadium crowd into a roar. It also clinched bowl eligibility for a fifth straight season.
Virginia has one more game before its bye week, a 10:15 p.m. EST showdown on October 30 at BYU, which of course is Coach Mendenhall’s former school. The bye comes on November 6, preparing UVA for a tough final stretch that includes a November 13 home matchup with Notre Dame, an away contest at current ACC Coastal leader Pitt on November 20, and the season finale at home against Virginia Tech on November 27.