Following a processional win over Richmond in week 1, our Cavaliers headed to Champaign, facing a far improved Illini squad since they last met 12 months ago.
Those improvements were evident, as Virginia’s previous 42-14 victory over Illinois turned into a 24-3 loss, following what can only be described as an offensive nightmare. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong was limited to only 180 passing yards and a 40.6% completion percentage. Being sacked 5 times certainly didn’t help. We know the offensive line has been a project the last few years, but this was an especially poor performance. Multiple missed blocks and a horrid snap in the first quarter left Armstrong sprinting for his life. The run game was even worse, with the Cavaliers amassing a measly 42 rushing yards. The offensive unit as a whole was almost unrecognizable, with star wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks being targeted multiple times before making a reception. The normally potent Virginia passing attack looked sloppy and undisciplined.
Frustratingly, our defense actually played extremely well, giving the offense ample opportunity to capitalize on good field position. Illinois started with the ball, and after a 13 yard rush from running back Chase Brown, UVA forced an immediate turnover, intercepting a deep pass from Illinois QB Tommy DeVito. This meant the Cavaliers started their first drive in Illinois territory, yet they went 3-and-out, having to punt. A fumble the very next drive from Brown gave even better field position, with the Cavs starting on the Illinois 32; a 42-yard field goal from Brendan Farrel was the best they could achieve, their only points the entire game.
What followed was a series of punts, before a calamity on special teams, in which Illinois defender Sydney Brown forced returner Billy Kemp to fumble the ball, which was picked up by Matthew Bailey for an Illinois touchdown.
This lit a spark in the Illinois offense, as they managed to put up two more touchdowns before the end of the first half, making the score 21-3. The second half was more of the same, with UVA unable to produce any momentum. The defense fought valiantly to the end, limiting the Illini to just 3 points in the second half, but without any production on the other side of the ball, it amounted to nothing. Forcing 4 turnovers and still losing by over 20 points is the most Virginia stat I’ve ever heard.
Only one side of Virginia showed up to Champaign. Surprisingly, it was the defense, which is great to see, but you need both sides to win a game. We know our offense is talented and electric, but the execution just wasn’t there. Head Coach Tony Elliot said after the game, “it’s going to be a hard film for these guys to watch, because they’re going to realize there were so many things they could’ve done better to give themselves a chance to be right in the game.” Hopefully the Hoos can iron out these mistakes in the coming days, because conference play opens soon, and if things stay the way they are, UVA could be the punching bag of the ACC.