The Virginia football program has ended a lot of bad streaks since Bronco Mendenhall become its head coach. The Hoos won their first ACC road game in his first season after losing 14 in a row, received an invite to their first bowl game since 2011, won their first bowl game since a win over Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl, won its first Coastal Division title, and played in their first ACC Championship Game and their first New Year’s Day Six Bowl in 2019. They snapped the long 15-game losing streak to Virginia Tech too.
On Saturday, Virginia broke through for the first time against Boston College, ending an 0-6 all-time streak against the Eagles. The Hoos prevailed 43-32. With the win, the Cavaliers improve to 5-4 in 2020 and to 7-0 over the last two regular seasons in the months of November and December.
After UVA’s first three drives, snapping that 0-fer against BC looked dubious. The Hoos started their first drive at midfield after an Eagles’ punt and a kick-catch interference penalty on the visitors. Virginia moved the ball to the 16-yard line, but then the drive collapsed after sacks of 9 and 8 yards. A short 10-yard passing gain on 3rd-and-27 to set up a field goal. After starting in plus territory again following Shane Simpson’s 73-yard kickoff return, the hosts posted a first down only to be rejected again by the Eagle defense, gaining a lone yard on first down and missing on two pass attempts on the next three plays. Again, the Cavaliers settled for a short field goal. The third drive of the game was a three-and-out.
For the game, the offense struggled in the red zone scoring just 22 of a possible 35 points.
Despite the first three drives and UVA’s lack of red zone efficiency, however, the offense got its act together and scored on six of its next nine possessions. Virginia finished with season highs of 262 yards on the ground and 549 yards of total offense. The 549 represent the most yards by a Cavalier offense since the Hoos out up 552 against Ohio in the 2018 hurricane game held at Vanderbilt University.
The Cavaliers averaged 10.5 yards per play on first down and 7.7 yards per carry but continued to struggle on third down, converting just 4 of 12 for 33%. Virginia’s 6.2 yards per carry and 253 yards rushing are the second most allowed by the BC defense in 2020 and only second-ranked Notre Dame scored more points against this defense than the Hoos.
The passing game continued its upward trajectory with the Cavalier offense finishing with its 3rd highest passer rating, 2nd highest yards per attempt, and 2nd highest completion percentage with 15 or more throws. I’ll take a deeper dive into Virginia’s emerging passing game in the “One More Thing” segment below.
Virginia’s defense was not as successful, at least not in the yardage category. The Eagles tied a team record with 520 passing yards and BC’s 4 touchdown passes were the team’s highest total of the season and the most in 18 games. That mark also ties North Carolina for the most passing touchdowns the Hoos have allowed in a game during the 2020 campaign.
The Boston College passing attack averaged 11.6 yards per attempt on first down and UVA surrendered five passing plays of more than 35 yards, accounting for 212 of BC’s 520 yards. Frequently, the issue was not so much a great pass, it was poor technique or botched assignments.
UVA held the visitors to -7 yards rushing. It is the first time Virginia held an opponent to negative yards rushing since 2012 when the Cavaliers held Maryland to -2. The Cavaliers also held their fourth opponent of 2020 under 100 yards rushing. UVA is 4-0 in those games and are now 16-1 all-time under Coach Mendenhall when holding an opponent under 100 yards rushing.
Notwithstanding the huge passing and miscues, the Virginia passing defense made critical stops at crucial times in the game. The Eagles were just 2-8 passing on 3rd downs (25%) and even more substantial, Virginia’ s 3 interceptions all shut down potential scoring drives by BC. The Cavaliers picked off two passes near the goal line in the second and third quarters and a third late with UVA leading by 18 with just over four minutes left in the game.
It was only the second time this season the Eagles lost the turnover battle. BC turned the ball over more than once in a game for only the third time this season.
Three special teams’ operations recorded championship level grades while the punt coverage and punt return units continue to struggle for a third week in a row averaging a 72.1 during that span. Virginia’s kickoff return unit had a big day with an average starting field position of the 43.6 and a 39.7 yards per return average. UVA’s kicking operation posted its third consecutive championship level grade.
With that, let’s unveil the grades.
- Top performing unit (non-special teams): Quarterback
- Highest grade increase unit (non-special teams): Quarterback
- Top special teams’ unit: Placekicking
- Highest grades increase special teams’ unit: Kickoff return
Offense – Grades
- Total Offense: 91.6 (A-) +0.26
- Quarterback: 98.13 (A+) +7.9
- Running backs: 83.71 (B) -1.23
- Wide receivers & tight ends: 94.4 (A) -3.77
- Offensive line: 90.2 (A-) -1.81
Offense – Quick Takes & Notes
- Virginia right tackle Ryan Swoboda was named the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week.
- The offense was given great starting field possession on the first two drives and got into the red zone. but managed 6 points. Virginia had its worst red zone efficiency in four games.
- After scoring 88.5%, 85.7%, and 100% of its possible red zone points against UNC, Louisville and Abilene Christian, UVA managed to score only 62.8% of its possible 35 red zone points against Boston College.
- Brennan Armstrong finished with a career-high 130 yards rushing and posted a career-long 60-yard rushing touchdown.
- After allowing 2 sacks on UVA’s third drive, the offensive line shut down the BC pass rush.
- After going 3-7 on third downs against BC, Armstrong in now 44-110 (40%) on third and fourth downs on the year.
- This was the fourth game of the season where the Hoos failed to convert greater than 33.3% on third down.
- The offense produced 2020’s 3rd highest passer rating, 2nd highest yards per attempt, and 2nd highest completion % with 15 or more throws in the passing game. Armstrong is now ranked 28th nationally in yards per attempt and in touchdown passes.
Defense – Grades
- Total Defense: 75.5 (C) -16.04
- Defensive line: 83.7 (B) -6.54
- Linebackers: 78.7 (C+) -15.84
- Secondary: 64.1 (D) -25.7
Defense – Quick Takes & Notes
- After a week where virtually the entire defense was at a championship level (missed it by 0.16 points, major drops across the board.
- Kudos to Coen King, who in his third career start played on all 66 defensive plays.
- Virginia’s defense held its fifth opponent this season to under 2.82 yards per carry rushing.
- The Hoos held Boston College to -7 yards total rushing. That is the fewest rushing yards for the Eagles since they rushed for -14 at Louisville on October 24, 2015.
- UVA’s four sacks tied for the second most sacks allowed by the BC offense in 2020.
- The Wahoo pressure packages were fruitful again, getting unofficially 11 pressures on BC’s quarterback and 13 hits.
- BC quarterback Dennis Grosel’s 520 yards passing were the most ever allowed by Virginia in a game. That mark tied a 38-year-old
- BC single-game record originally set by Doug Flutie.
- The Eagles notched their 3rd highest completion percentage, 3rd highest yards per attempt, and 2nd highest passer rating of the season.
Special Teams – Grades
- Total Special Teams: 83.4 (B) +5.2
- Placekicking: 95.6 (A) -1.9
- Kickoff coverage: 91 (A-) +11.7
- Kickoff return: 96.1 (A) +17.8
- Punt coverage: 67.9 (D+) -7.3
- Punt return: 66.5 (D) +4
Special Teams – Quick Takes & Notes
- With three field goals (38, 26, 28), PK Brian Delaney became the fifth Cavalier in program history to pass 40+ made field goals for
- his career (42).
- Shane Simpson’s 73-yard kick return in the first quarter was the longest kick return by a Cavalier this season.
Team Quick Takes & Notes
- Virginia’s 173 points over the last four games is its highest four game scoring stretch in over a decade.
One More Thing
For the first half of the season, the Cavalier passing offense staggered through the first five games. Virginia’s quarterbacks completed 54.9% of their passing attempts, posted a 107.32 passer rating, and averaged 247.6 yards per game and 5.35 yards per attempt. Those four numbers would rank 106th, 123rd, 47th, and 119th if for the whole season. That goes along with a dreadful touchdown to interception ratio of 10 to 9.
Things have been very different over the last four outings. The Hoos’ pass completion percentage has risen 12.4 percentage points to 67.3%, the passer rating has almost doubled (107.32 to 182.88), and the yards per attempt has doubled to 10.9. Virginia has thrown 10 more touchdown passes in one fewer game, but they have cut the interception rate down to only 3.
First five games: 2 TDs/ game, 1.8 INTs/game
Last four games : 2.5 TDs/game, 0.75 INTs/game
Taking the numbers from just the last four games, they would rank 14th in completion percentage, 8th in passer rating, 3rd in yards per attempt, and 29th in yards per game in the NCAA.
The 182.88 passer rating hadn’t been realized in a four-game stretch for a UVA offense in the last 12 seasons (it’s likely longer but I didn’t have the time to dig back further). You also can’t find a four-game stretch during that time when a Cavaliers offense averaged 10.9 yards per attempt. The Hoos did surpass the current edition’s completion percentage back in 2018, recording a 69.93% number in a four-game stretch against UNC, Pitt, Liberty, and Georgia Tech.
BC is the third game this season where UVA has passed for more than 9.5 yards per attempt (all have been in the last four games). You’ll need to go back to 2017 to find the last time Virginia accomplished that even twice. Against Abilene Christian and Boston College, the Hoos showed off their big play passing chops by connecting on four pass plays of greater than 43 yards, all ending in touchdowns.
The consistency and big plays from the offense is producing more points and more total yardage. The Hoos scored 173 points over the four games for an average of 43.3 points compared to games 1-5 when the Hoos managed just 119 points and 23.8 per contest. The 43 points per game hasn’t been matched in the last 12 years and neither has Virginia’s back-to-back 500 yards games against ACU and the Eagles.
Finally, it’s also showing up in the grades. UVA’s wide receivers have gone from a 77.23 average grade in the first five games of the 2020 campaign to 94.12 over the last four, while the quarterback position has rose from 70.65 to 91.04, a 20.39-point increase. The offense as a whole has gone from a 72.8 to a 90.46.
What does it all mean? It means Coach Mendenhall will be taking a very balanced and potentially explosive offensive unit to Blacksburg this Saturday night to face the Hokies.