Nick Jackson was in on the tackle on each of William & Mary’s first three plays. The Virginia linebacker flew to the football, helping force a three-and-out to open the Cavaliers’ season.
“Man, I felt like I was locked up for a while now, nine months without playing the game,” Jackson said. “I was really excited.”
Jackson finished Saturday’s game, a 43-0 win over William & Mary, with a team-high 12 tackles. He spearheaded a strong defensive effort, as the Cavaliers were able to keep the Tribe off the scoreboard. It was the first time William & Mary went scoreless since 2018.
Entering the season, the majority of questions surrounding Virginia focused on the defense. Offensively, the Cavaliers returned experience along the offensive line and their starting quarterback from 2020.
Defensively, the Cavaliers’ secondary struggled mightily in 2020. Virginia allowed an ACC-worst 304 passing yards per game last fall. While William & Mary isn’t an ACC-caliber team and it played without its starting quarterback, the Tribe passed for just 89 yards and recorded only 183 yards of offense.
“I know, in my heart, that last year was not truly who we were,” safety Joey Blount said.
UVa looked the part of a quality defense Saturday, dominating a team it should dominate. The Cavaliers controlled the line of scrimmage and William & Mary’s wide receivers rarely created significant separation.
“If we lock in with the calls, we play our keys, do our assignments, we can shut teams out,” Blount said. “I think we have the caliber players to do that.”
Mendenhall takes note of students
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall noticed UVa’s raucous crowd Saturday night. He certainly appreciated the support from the home faithful.
“I saw something that I hadn’t seen maybe in my whole time here where as soon as they opened the gates our student section [was] racing to get their seats up at the front,” Mendenhall said. “Yeah, that was a moment that I’m not going to forget; that was just gratifying.”
Virginia reported that 42,982 fans showed up Saturday night to watch the Cavaliers open their season with a victory. After last season’s lack of attendance due to COVID-19, players and coaches were appreciative of the more traditional atmosphere to start this season.
With the win over the Tribe, UVa improves to 18-2 at Scott Stadium over its last 20 home contests.
Special teams unit shows progress
Virginia’s efficiency in the third phase of the game dipped a season ago, with the Cavaliers ranking 76th nationally, according to ESPN’s efficiency metrics. Saturday night represented a step in the right direction.
Billy Kemp IV returned a punt 55 yards, setting a career-best mark. Mike Hollins returned a kickoff for a touchdown that was called back for a holding penalty. Even with the penalty, Hollins showcased his speed at the position and seems like he could make a few dynamic plays this fall.
Jacob Finn, the team’s punter, hit two punts for 90 yards. His first punt in a Virginia uniform traveled 52 yards. Justin Duenkel also went a perfect 2-for-2 on his field-goal attempts.
“Solid start for our special teams,” Mendenhall said.
The Cavaliers appeared to stay mostly healthy Saturday, however transfer tight end Jelani Woods did leave the game with injury. Mendenhall said he didn’t have an immediate update on Woods’ status after the game.
“I was just told he was out, and so I don’t know what he was out for,” Mendenhall said.
Woods came to UVa from Oklahoma State. He’s expected to play an important role for the Cavaliers this fall, although his involvement in the passing game was minimal against the Tribe. Woods lined up inside a few times and even split out wide, but he only caught one pass for five yards.