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Virginia football notebook: Defense makes important stops in second straight road win

Virginia football notebook: Defense makes important stops in second straight road win

Virginia Louisville Football

Virginia defensive tackle Aaron Faumui, right, attempts to tackle Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham during the second half of Saturday’s game in Louisville, Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Winning on the road was an emphasis for the Virginia football team entering the fall.

After beating Louisville 34-33 on the road in dramatic fashion Saturday, it seems like the Cavaliers are making headway on that goal.

“It’s huge,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We have targeted for it. We have trained for it. We have worked. It’s not glamorous, but it is road wins, and they’re hard, as we’ve seen.”

The win over Louisville gives the Cavaliers consecutive ACC road wins for the first time since 2011. Only two road games remain on Virginia’s schedule.

Virginia faces BYU on Oct. 30 and Pittsburgh on Nov. 13. Three of the team’s final four ACC games come at home.

“Now we’re just learning we can win anywhere,” linebacker Nick Jackson said. “Anywhere can be Scott Stadium. We’ve proven over the years that we’re dominant at Scott, and I think now that we’re proving to ourselves that we can win anywhere. That’s how you take over a league, and that’s how you take over the Coastal.”

Defense makes key stops

It’s somewhat odd to praise UVa’s defense after allowing 503 yards and 33 points, but there were some positive moments from the unit. The group forced a couple critical three-and-out stops in the fourth quarter to spark the team’s comeback.

“I thought they were outstanding in the critical moments,” Mendenhall said. “The difference in this game, and let’s say the Wake Forest game, was the critical-moment stops. The rest of it? About the same.”

UVa also forced a couple field goals in the third quarter when backed up in its own field position due to offensive miscues. The group made plenty of errors Saturday, but it also made a handful of winning plays.

“Every point matters,” Jackson said.

Clearly the defense still needs to improve — allowing 500 yards on the road is not an ideal result, but the group made important plays down the stretch. The group also had a few strong sequences against Miami, holding the Hurricanes to seven fourth-quarter points.

“They’re getting better,” Mendenhall said.

Receivers step up with Wicks hurt

Dontayvion Wicks took a hit to the head in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game. With the team’s go-to receiver unavailable, other options stepped up.

Ra’Shaun Henry was a huge contributor, catching nine passes for 179 yards. He filled in admirably for Wicks, making big plays down the field.

“It just so happened that he got the opportunity to be targeted more with an injury, and he just showed he’s capable,” Mendenhall said. “That’s great for us going forward.”

Keytaon Thompson and Billy Kemp IV both also hauled in nine passes. That duo combined for 196 receiving yards and a touchdown. Thompson continues to shine despite a broken hand.

“I hate using the word never, but there’s no one that I see that makes so many plays in so many different ways in critical times, and he’s got a broken hand,” Mendenhall said. “It’s hard to catch with a broken hand.”

Thompson makes it look easy.

Duke on deck

The two road recent victories completely shift the outlook for UVa’s season. Once 0-2 in the ACC the Cavaliers (4-2) are now 2-2 in the conference with opportunities to beat Duke and Georgia Tech at home in coming weeks. If UVa wins those contests, the team sets itself up well to contend for the Coastal Division title.

Matchups with BYU and Notre Dame are important games, but they don’t count in the ACC standings. After playing Georgia Tech on Oct. 23, UVa won’t play its next ACC game until Nov. 20 at Pittsburgh.

Thanks to two gritty road wins with a combined margin of victory of three points, the Cavaliers are in the Coastal mix.

“The Coastal is up for grabs,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s seen the scores, so keep fighting.”

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