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UVa football notebook: Defense shows some improvement in road win

UVa football notebook: Defense shows some improvement in road win

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Winning on the road isn’t a strong point for the Virginia football team. Winning at Miami definitely isn’t a strong point for the program.

But Thursday night, the Cavaliers pushed back on both of those negative trends, beating Miami 30-28 in Hard Rock Stadium. It’s UVa’s first road win since a 2019 triumph at UNC, and it’s the program’s first road victory at Miami since 2011.

“I’m so happy for my team,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

The win gives the Cavaliers a much-needed momentum boost. If Andres Borregales delivered on a 33-yard field goal as time expired, Virginia would have lost.

Instead, the Cavaliers move to 3-2 on the season and 1-2 in the ACC.

“We needed it big time,” quarterback Brennan Armstrong said.

Defensive improvement?

UVa’s defense showed signs of improvement, especially in the first half. Miami mustered just seven points and 91 total yards in the opening 30 minutes.

The defensive line generated push, linebackers swarmed to the ball and the secondary blanketed wide receivers.

That level of play wasn’t sustained in the second half, though.

Miami scored 21 points and tallied 278 total yards in the second half, even without starting quarterback D’Eriq King available. The Hurricanes found an offensive rhythm, generating chunk plays and catching UVa out of position on multiple occasions.

The Cavaliers faded down the stretch, and they were bailed out by Miami missing a makeable field goal.

UVa’s defense is still a work in progress moving forward.

“Definitely trending in the right direction that we want to see,” defensive lineman Mandy Alonso said. “We still have a lot to fix, just like in our assignments and where gaps are, but I think just playing hard and having the mindset that our culture is founded on, it was inspiring to see some guys play out there.”

Louisville figures to pose a significant test next week. Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham is a dual-threat player with much more experience than Miami freshman Tyler Van Dyke.

Running back sightings

For one of the first times this season, UVa’s running backs played a significant role in the offensive game plan.

Wayne Taulapapa led the team in carries and rushing yards, taking 11 rushes for 62 yards and a score. Mike Hollins added 10 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 18 yards.

“I thought the guys ran hard all night,” Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong said.

Both players were utilized in the running game, helping UVa rush for 181 yards. Keytaon Thompson was also productive as a complementary rushing option, carrying the ball three times for 47 yards.

“We just thought we could come and beat those guys in the front,” Armstrong said.

Offensive balance isn’t a necessity every week, but UVa’s offense seems more dynamic when the running backs produce. Hollins and Taulapapa were both solid Thursday night.

Injury updates

UVa was without tight end Jelani Woods, kicker Justin Duenkel, defensive end Adeeb Atariwa and defensive back De’Vante Cross on Thursday because of injuries.

Woods was arguably the most noteworthy absence. He had caught 15 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns in his three most recent games.

In positive injury news, Taulapapa returned to action after a concussion kept him off the field against Wake Forest. Taulapapa performed well at the running back spot, rushing for 62 yards.

Mendenhall also praised Brendan Farrell, who made both his field goals Thursday. The first kick came from 43 yards. The second, a 30-yard boot, put UVa up 30-21 in the fourth quarter. He stepped into the starting kicker role with Duenkel banged up.

“Brendan was exceptional,” Mendenhall said. “To come in and do what he did, the last field goal that he made and just the kickoffs, he was outstanding.”

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