Cavaliers Show Improvement in Close Loss to Tar Heels

Ken Cross

November 09, 2022 at 8:46 am.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” is one of the better-known phrases in literature and it explains that creating a successful project takes time.

Coach Tony Elliott and his staff are building Virginia football back into a successful program, but fans need to realize that a team that has sunk as far as the Cavaliers have can’t arise in just a few games, a few weeks or even a few months.

This season shows how Elliott and his staff have worked to build their struggling program with some bricks every day.

Although Virginia lost to No. 17 North Carolina, 31-28, on Saturday, the labor of the coaches and players are starting to be evident in Charlottesville.

“That’s a positive that you could show them what they’re capable of when you know, you just show up and quit worrying and just play free, play for each other,”  Elliott said. “So that’s definitely a glimpse there and the resilience there at the end of the fourth quarter.”

Virginia was without its three leading receivers in Dontayvion Wicks, Lavel Joseph, Jr. and Keytaon Thompson, as well as running back Perris Jones in Saturday’s game.

The Cavaliers put a lineup together that featured youth and that group came together and played consistently well, although Carolina shaded the Cavaliers. Virginia almost upset the Tar Heels with the determination of players being lifted into starting opportunities.

Offensively, this team was 4-for-4 in the red zone and put together those four touchdown drives with strings of solid offensive plays.

“Also, we see a growth opportunity from the third quarter,” said Elliott. “We talk about competitive stamina a lot and in football. It comes down to five, six, seven plays over the course of the game, and we didn’t make those plays in the third quarter.”

North Carolina opened its passing game up more in the third quarter as it featured freshman quarterback Drake Maye, who capped two eight-play touchdown drives and an 11-play, 80-yard drive to give the Tar Heels a 31-21 lead with 13:19 remaining in the game.

Maye completed nine of 11 passes for 138 yards in that third quarter as Elijah Green scored on a 4-yard run, while Maye tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Josh Downs and hit Green with a 22-yard TD pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Virginia’s offense came together once again in the fourth quarter as quarterback Brennan Armstrong scored on an 8-yard run in a 7-play drive that took only 59 seconds.

This showed the coaches’ philosophy of playing the full 60 minutes and being able to make positive happen even when trailing.

Armstrong’s score followed Ronnie Walker’s one-yard run with 7:49 left in the third period which allowed Virginia to retake the lead at 21-17. Walker made his way back onto the field after an injury last spring which had sidelined him as a ball carrier up until Saturday.

“We have to take each and every step of the way and go through practice and be very intentional,” said Walker. “I am very proud of the groups that stepped up today. The young guys stepped up and I was proud of the running back group that stepped up and played every snap.”

Virginia missed running back Perris Jones as well, so the Cavs’ put up a 3-yard run by Armstrong for their first score, and then Xavier Brown scored on a 4-yard run for that 14-10 halftime lead.

“It’s no secret – football originated on running the football,” explained offensive coordinator Dez Kitchings. “If we can knock guys off the football and run the football, and stay ahead of the chains, it’s demoralizing to run the ball on people in the red zone.”

The Cavaliers had 186 yards on 39 carries with all four of their touchdowns coming via the rushing game. The Cavs’ running attack is ninth in the ACC at 137.7 yards per game which is up from 123.3 yards a year ago.

In addition, the idea has been to try to create balance between the running game and the passing game and on the team between offense and defense.

As shown during the game against North Carolina, the large majority of Cavaliers’ players are working to try to follow the coaches’ plans of how to resurrect the program.

“We’re not going to stop fighting and working and we will recruit kids in here that want to fight and work and do what we ask them to do,” explained Kitchings. “The guys in this program are going to do what we ask them to do and they are going to see the fruits of labor. If you do what we are going to ask you to do and trust us, it will happen.”