The Virginia football team’s October struggles continued in Miami as the Hurricanes prevailed 19-14 on a rainy Saturday night in Florida. The Hoos have lost four straight games, the program’s longest losing streak since ending the 2017 with four straight losses.
The Cavaliers have one last chance to get a win this month with North Carolina scheduled to be in Charlottesville on Halloween. The Hoos have not had a winless October since 2013.
“I think Miami’s a good defense. I think they played consistently,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think we had our moments with certainly a touchdown taken off the board, which then would have changed the outcome. And it was a really tough game. And so those were two teams battling really, really hard today, and a penalty took a touchdown off the board and then that changes the game. So, Miami’s good. They played well. I thought we played well and, you could probably argue there’s one or two plays, or maybe one play. And that’s, that’s what I saw.”
Indeed, the Hoos maintain that they’re just a few plays away from turning around this skid, but they’re having trouble making the key plays that could turn the game around or making mistakes that are too tough to overcome. Mendenhall referenced a big penalty late in the second quarter that erased a UVA touchdown, but there were other significant moments in a game that was decided by just five points.
So, yes, this game was closer than the defeats to Clemson, NC State, and Wake Forest with a few critical plays missed, but that theme has plagued the Hoos throughout October. Some of the key moments:
- The defense allowed a 43-yard touchdown pass less than 30 seconds into the game when Miami receiver Mike Harley ran past linebacker Noah Taylor in coverage.
- UVA had a chance to take a 14-7 lead in the final four minutes of the first half when Brennan Armstrong found R’Shaun Henry on a scramble play touchdown, but an alignment penalty (ineligible man downfield) took the points off the board.
- On the same drive, Brian Delaney missed a field goal for the second straight game when he pushed a 36-yard kick wide right in the second quarter.
- Midway through the third quarter, UVA cornerback Nick Grant detected a receiver screen call and jumped the route, but dropped what could have been a pick-6 interception. The Hurricanes also converted a 3rd-and-10 on that drive and ended up with a field goal.
- On the following drive, Armstrong completed a pass to Terrell Jana for 49 yards, the longest play of the season for Virginia but two plays later the Hoos lost 8 yards on a reverse run attempt with Tavares Kelly Jr. and the drive ended in a punt.
- Miami stretched its lead to 19-7 early in the fourth quarter. On that drive, the Hurricanes converted 3rd-and-11 and 3rd-and-10 plays plus added a 26-yard gain and a 16-yard run on other plays.
- Overall in the fourth quarter, the Canes were 3 of 5 on third down. Two of those came on a drive with 5:27 to go when Virginia’s defense was trying to get the ball back to the offense for a potential game-winning drive. That included a pass interference call on Grant on 3rd-and-8 that meant UVA didn’t get the ball back until there were less than 30 seconds remaining. The visitors already had called all three timeouts prior to that drive, including once due to communication issues when they weren’t ready to defend a 2-point conversion try by Miami.
Harley factored into many of the important plays. He scored on that explosive touchdown to open the game and continued to cause problems throughout the night. On Miami’s half-ending drive to put a field goal on the board, Harley hauled in a 28-yard catch. On the field goal drive midway through the third quarter, Harley made a 28-yard catch for the 3rd-and-10 conversion. On the touchdown drive in the second half, Harley made a 20-yard catch on 3rd-and-11 and a 13-yard catch on 3rd-and-10 to extend the drive. On the time-killing drive late in the fourth quarter, Harley pulled in a 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-3 as well.
Harley finished with 10 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. That helped Miami quarterback D’Eriq King post 322 yards on 21-of-30 passing.
Defensively, Nick Jackson led Virginia with 16 tackles. Zane Zandier added 10 tackles, while Charles Snowden had 8. The Cavaliers played without starting safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson, but Antonio Clary posted 7 tackles from a safety spot. UVA finished with 11 tackles for loss, including 5 sacks, but the key plays above took away some of the impact of those havoc plays.
“I think this defense tried hard and left everything on the field,” Snowden said. “I mean every guy was flying around hitting stuff, making plays. I mean there were plays obviously, one or two plays here and there, but from an effort from a heart standpoint, this whole defense can walk out with their head held high.”
While Virginia’s defense kept the score down with some red zone stops (Miami had just the single touchdown in four red zone trips and UVA blocked a field goal), the Cavalier offense couldn’t take advantage. The offense responded to the quick 7-0 deficit with an 11-play, 64-yard drive in the first quarter that ended with a Tony Poljan 2-yard touchdown catch, but after that the Wahoos weren’t able to score again until midway through the fourth quarter. On that touchdown, the Hurricanes missed the coverage and Henry was wide open for the 35-yard score.
Overall, Armstrong completed 16 of 30 passes for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns. Billy Kemp IV led the way receiving with 5 catches for 49 yards, while Jana added 3 catches for 60 yards. Armstrong posted a career-high 91 rushing yards too. UVA also got 24 rushing yards from Keytaon Thompson and 22 rushing yards from Iraken Armstead as it used the three-quarterback rotation again in the first half. Wayne Taulapapa added 56 yards rushing as well.
“We didn’t score but we felt good, like the offense felt good. We were like alright, we’re moving the ball,” Armstrong said. “We had a big play, I took a sack one time brought us back, got us out of field goal range. We were moving the ball down into the red zone, making sure we would keep our field position if we did so happen to stall out, field position would be flipped. You know Miami would be starting back on their side. It wasn’t demoralizing at all. Everyone was positive, just moving around ready to go because we knew we were going to score. It just didn’t come.”
That’s followed the same pattern during the losing streak. UVA had more than 400 yards of offense in the losses to Clemson, NCSU, and Wake but turnovers short-circuited scoring chances. Against the Hurricanes, the Hoos ended up with 366 yards and avoided the turnover bug until an inconsequential lateral fumble in the final 10 seconds. None of those games produced points, though.
Virginia has scored 23 or fewer points (23, 21, 23, 14) in all four losses during this streak. That likely will be relevant again when the Wahoos try to stop the skid next week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels have averaged 37.8 points per game during their 4-1 start to the season. That game is set for 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.