The Hoos came back to Grounds with tails between their legs following a bad case of offensive impotence against Illinois last week. With in-state compatriot Old Dominion rolling into Scott Stadium, it was time to see if Coach Elliot’s crew had “learned how to win.”
They certainly learned the Monarchs were no pushover, hounding the Hoos until the very end; a 26-yard game-winning field goal from Brendan Farrell, his third of the day, was enough to squeeze out a 16-14 victory. It was a thrilling conclusion, but leaves more doubts over the capability and discipline of the offense. Unnecessary penalties (eight for 80 yards) and three fumbles kept ODU in reach throughout the game, not to mention dropped passes from wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks who had four receptions from 12 targets. As a unit, there were definite improvements in execution compared to last week at Illinois, with quarterback Brennan Armstrong amassing 284 passing yards. The rushing attack finally seemed to find some form with 229 yards total. First-year running back Xavier Brown had a breakout game, leading the charge with a 38-yard run in the first quarter to set up Virginia’s first touchdown, a 1-yard rush from Mike Hollins.
Unfortunately, those touchdowns were few and far between, as the Cavaliers were seldom able to finish promising drives down the field. Their opening drive took them to the ODU 35-yard line until a penalty and two incompletions forced a punt from Daniel Sparks. Later, a red zone appearance from the Cavs only yielded a field goal to make the score 10-0. Two consecutive fumbles in ODU territory from Hollins and Armstrong shifted momentum, allowing ODU quarterback Hayden Wolff to land a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ali Jennings, making the score 10-7 going into halftime.
The second half saw defense prevail as UVA forced five straight punts, with Old Dominion only conceding three points, courtesy of another Brendon Farrel field goal. However, his next attempt sailed wide to the right, giving ODU one last chance to take the lead. I sat right in front of the endzone and watched the Monarchs pick apart the UVA secondary en route to an 18-yard touchdown pass, securing a 14-13 advantage with one minute remaining. I thought that sealed the deal; another loss in typical, disappointing, and underwhelming Virginia fashion. Tony Elliot’s “model program” was about to let ODU embarrass them on home turf. Except, there were still 61 seconds on the game clock. Dominik Soos returned the Monarchs’ kickoff to the UVA 37-yard line, giving Armstrong and the offense excellent field position to lead a game-winning drive. And lead they did, reaching the red zone with a 30-yard pass to Lavell Davis Jr. followed by a 13-yard scramble from Armstrong. A couple more plays set up Farrel to split the uprights, sending sighs of relief to all us Hoos in the stands.
A lot of heart was on display in that last drive, telling me this offense is more than capable of executing at a high level. It showed Coach as well, with Elliot stating, “… to see them not bat an eye with 1:01 to go and one timeout, go down and find a way to win the game. So, it tells you what’s inside them. But the key is, up until that point, we’ve got to play with that same mentality, that same swagger.” Three non-conference games has shown that the defense has swagger, with the offense showing glimpses. Next week those glimpses will have to permeate, as Virginia heads up to New York to take on the undefeated Syracuse Orange.