BYU fans gave University of Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall a standing ovation in pregame, celebrating their former coach’s return to Provo. The BYU team, led by running back Tyler Allgeier and quarterback Jaren Hall, wasn’t so welcoming, sending Mendenhall and his Cavalier team home to Charlottesville with a 66-49 loss.
The 17-point defeat was made all-the-more difficult with the potential loss of star quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who departed in the fourth quarter with an apparent rib injury. Coach Mendenhall did not have an update on the status of the nation’s leading passer, who broke Bryce Perkins’ single-season UVA passing record before exiting. Mendenhall did, however, acknowledge the possibility of playing without his star signal caller.
“We control our destiny and playing and winning is really what’s at stake,” Mendenhall said. “So a bye week coming up. With an injury to Brennan, so that could reframe what we do during the bye week getting our team not only healthy but getting a quarterback trained if Brennan is out and I don’t know that yet. That’s where we are.”
Prior to the injury, Armstrong was mostly sensational. With his team trailing 21-0 roughly seven minutes into the first quarter, he had to be. Like the rest of the Virginia team, Armstrong had a tough start. UVA failed to make a first down on its first three offensive drives. Armstrong threw five passes on those drives, resulting in four incompletions and an interception.
Meanwhile, BYU was in attack mode from the start. Hall found receiver Samson Nacua for a 52-yard pass play on the Cougars’ first offensive play. Hall, who would connect on 10 “big play” passes (passes of 15+yards) on the night en route to throwing for 349 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, rushed in from two yards out for the game’s opening score. Armstrong’s interception deep in UVA territory set up BYU’s second touchdown, a 1-yard run by Allgeier. A 26-yard touchdown pass from Hall to wide receiver Puka Nacua boosted the home team’s lead to 21 points at the 8:04 mark of the first quarter.
Led by Armstrong, UVA closed out the first half with a furious rally, scoring touchdowns on six consecutive drives. By the end of the first quarter, the visiting Cavaliers had closed to 21-7. With 1:59 remaining in the second quarter, Virginia took its first lead, 35-31, when Armstrong scrambled 30 yards into the end zone. The two teams exchanged touchdowns in the final 1:59 – a 40-yard passing touchdown from Hall to Samson Nacua and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Billy Kemp IV – and Virginia took a 42-38 lead into halftime.
UVA’s offense played lights out in the second quarter. Armstrong completed 12-of-13 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns – a 40-yard to tight end Jelani Woods, a 70-yarder to Dontayvion Wicks, and the Kemp IV score. The Hoos had two rushing scores – Armstrong’s 30-yard run and a 49-yard touchdown run by grad-transfer Devin Darrington – and totaled 124 yards on the ground in the second quarter alone.
Virginia led 49-45 heading into the fourth quarter. Eleven seconds in, BYU regained the lead for good when Hall and Neil Pau’u connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass, converting a key 3rd-and-goal. One play later, Virginia running back Wayne Taulapapa was leveled on a run, fumbled, and the Cougars recovered. An Allgeier 31-yard touchdown run two plays later put BYU up 59-49. UVA, which still had plenty of time with 14:22 remaining, reached midfield on the ensuing drive. On 3rd-and-3 from the UVA 45, Armstrong scrambled right and dove for the first down. He winced in pain, grabbing his ribs upon getting up from the play, and proceeded to throw an interception on the next play. Following his second pick of the day, Armstrong walk to the sideline, motioning to his ribs. The redshirt junior left the field and did not return.
BYU capitalized on the turnover with an Allgeier 4-yard touchdown run seven plays later. True freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk played Virginia’s final offensive drive, completing 2-of-5 passes for 35 yards and rushing twice for six yards. UVA eventually turned the ball over on downs on what would be its final possession. BYU ran out the clock, preserving the 66-49 victory.
For the Virginia defense, this was its worst outing since Week 3, when it yielded 59 points and 699 yards to North Carolina. It was its worst outing of the season, allowing 69 points and 734 yards to an offense that was smack in the middle of the pack in the nation in yards per game (402.4 yards, No. 66 in the nation) and had scored over 30 just twice this season. Hall had 391 total yards and four touchdowns, Allgeier had a career-high 266 yards and five scores, and the Nacua brothers totaled 214 yards and two touchdowns. BYU scored on 11 of 15 drives, including nine touchdowns, against an outmatched Cavalier defense plagued by missed tackles.
“Our defense has to get more stops, has to play better from beginning to end,” Mendenhall said.
Armstrong completed 22-of-34 passes for 337 yards with four touchdowns and two picks. He rushed 11 times for 94 yards and two more scores. Virginia racked up 588 yards of offense, averaged 9.2 yards per play, and scored 49 points, but it wasn’t enough to get the victory. Armstrong’s injury, as well as injuries to wide receiver Billy Kemp IV and running back Wayne Taulapapa, are serious concerns moving forward.
With the loss, Virginia drops to 6-3 overall. The good news for the Hoos is that Pittsburgh fell to Miami on Saturday, giving UVA control of its own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division. Virginia has a much-needed bye week next week before hosting Notre Dame in an out-of-conference matchup on November 13.
“I think the bye week is crucial for us right now,” said junior inside linebacker Nick Jackson, who led UVA in tackles Saturday night with 16. “We gotta really do some soul searching and really do some mental breakdown on our defense. We gotta really figure out assignments, alignments, all that stuff right now, and it’s gonna be crucial going into this last stretch … We gotta dial in. We gotta play harder. We gotta play faster. We gotta play stronger for our team.”
– ACC Digital Network Highlights