The Virginia Cavaliers upset the Boise State Broncos on the road on Friday night by a score of 42-23, signaling to a national TV audience that the program’s rebuild is progressing more quickly than many thought. The Cavaliers were 14-point underdogs entering the matchup, but they dominated in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates. Below are some of the key takeaways from the game.
Keys to the Game:
Owning the Line of Scrimmage: Sometimes football is simple. Whichever team can control the line of scrimmage often wins the game, and on Friday UVa made it look really easy. We knew heading into this game that Boise State defended the run well (26th in the country), but the Cavaliers were able to consistently open holes for senior RB Jordan Ellis, who tallied 95 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 20 carries. The big boys up front also excelled in pass protection, allowing only one sack while giving senior QB Kurt Benkert plenty of time to throw the ball down the field.
While offensive line played well again in Week Four, the defensive line was simply exceptional. Boise State rushed for a measly 30 yards on 24 carries, despite entering the game averaging 146 yards per game. Furthermore, Virginia bottled up mobile quarterback Montell Cozart, who the Broncos tried to use in select packages as a change-of-pace. The ‘Hoos had struggled in previous weeks with running QB’s, but on Friday night they were excellent and forced Boise State’s offense to become one-dimensional.
Efficient Offense: Kurt Benkert’s accuracy has improved as the season has progressed, and the upgraded running game has allowed the Virginia offense to sustain long drives and eat up big chunks of the clock. But the Cavaliers were on an entirely different level on Friday night. According to ESPN, Virginia’s offensive efficiency rating of 98.9 was third-best in the nation this weekend, behind only Alabama and Oklahoma. Averaging 4.2 yards per carry was a key component, and Benkert’s accuracy down the field also boosted that rating. The Cavaliers had 15 first-down plays of eight yards or more and held the ball for seven more minutes than the Broncos, all while committing no turnovers for the third time this year. Most importantly, they scored touchdowns every time they entered the red zone, allowing the momentum to stay on Virginia’s side all night.
Winning Mentality: As mentioned, Boise State was the heavy favorite in this game. UVa had lost 20 of its last 21 road games, and the Broncos hadn’t lost by double-digits at Albertsons Stadium since 2001. More significantly, this is a Cavaliers team that Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall felt like was still learning how to win games, much less upset a team in cold weather on blue turf 2,400 miles away from home. And things did not start well: Boise marched down the field and scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, taking just seven plays and 2:59 of game clock to go 80 yards. The Virginia offense quickly responded with a 3-and-out, and things looked like they might get out of hand early.
But the defense dug in and forced a punt, and a 17-yard return from senior RB Daniel Hamm set the Cavaliers up with excellent field position. Nine plays and 53 yards later they tied it up, and a 30-yard pass from Benkert to senior WR Andre Levrone with four minutes left in the second quarter gave the ‘Hoos a lead they would never surrender. This was a striking performance from this young team, who never looked intimated and showed an ability to respond to adversity. It resulted in the best Virginia football victory in a few years, and has the Cavaliers primed for big things once conference play begins in two weeks.
Player of the Game: WR Andre Levrone
The entire Virginia team played well, particularly on defense and special teams. But Levrone, a senior from Laurel, Maryland, followed up his stand-out game last week with an outstanding performance. He had five receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 64-yard touchdown receptions that saw him simply outrun the Boise State defense and collect an absolute dime from Benkert on what was probably the best throw of Kurt’s career (It’s amazing – watch it below). The Cavalier offense has been looking for someone able to take the top of the defense, and Levrone did that and much more on Friday night.
Next Week: No Opponent, Bye Week
Virginia has next week off to coincide with the Fall Recess. They will kick off ACC play on October 7th at home against Duke.