The warning signs were there.
Virginia survived North Carolina 44-41 on Oct. 31 despite allowing 443 passing yards to Sam Howell.
The Wahoos allowed 197 rushing yards to Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham two weeks later, but timely turnovers saved the day.
A similar story played out last weekend against Boston College, when the offense bailed out a defense that allowed 520 passing yards to the Eagles.
Saturday, against Virginia Tech, UVa’s porous defense failed yet again. This time, the Cavaliers' offense didn’t bail it out.
Virginia Tech won back the Commonwealth Cup with a 33-15 victory over UVa, scoring on all five of its first-half possessions and not punting until its seventh possession of the game. The Hokies racked up an impressive 464 yards, holding the ball for 35 minutes.
“It hurts,” UVa linebacker Nick Jackson said. “We poured our hearts into this season. We poured our hearts into this game, and it hurts.”
Virginia hung in the game early, taking a 7-3 lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brennan Armstrong to Keytaon Thompson.
The rest of the first half was all Virginia Tech.
After falling behind 7-3, the Hokies responded with a 17-play drive that spanned 75 yards and lasted seven minutes and 40 seconds. Wide receiver Tre Turner took a jet sweep six yards for a touchdown to complete the drive with 12:53 left in the second quarter.
A Brian Johnson field goal put Virginia Tech up 13-7, but the worst was yet to come for UVa’s defense.
Khalil Herbert took a carry up the middle and outran everyone for a 76-yard touchdown to put the Hokies up 20-7 with 4:26 until halftime. Needing a drive to cut into the lead, Virginia stalled out and the Hokies used a missed tackle on the sideline to turn a first-down completion to Tayvion Robinson into a 60-yard touchdown reception.
“Really frustrating and certainly an execution mistake on our part,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
The Hokies tallied an impressive 331 yards in the first 30 minutes, scoring 24 unanswered points to take a commanding 27-7 lead into halftime.
Coming into the game, the Hokies had scored a combined 24 points in their two previous games, struggling to efficiently move the ball. That was no such concern against UVa’s defense, which battled depth issues and poor tackling all night.
Virginia didn’t completely fade away in the second half, though.
The Cavaliers put up some fight when they cut the deficit to 30-15 with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to tight end Tony Poljan and a successful two-point conversion.
Unfortunately for the Wahoos, the consistent stops never game. Productive offensive drives were elusive as well.
“When we closed it within 30-15, it looked like yeah, it could be a really strong finish and a competitive ending,” Mendenhall said. “And then some turnovers got in the way from there.”
After forcing a stop and regaining possession with a chance to make it a one-score game, Armstrong threw an interception directly to Virginia Tech’s Dorian Strong. The turnover led to a Johnson field goal, stretching the lead to 33-15 with 12:47 left in the fourth quarter and demoralizing the Virginia sideline.
The Hokies drained clock the rest of the quarter, leaning on a methodical offensive attack as UVa’s defense looked exhausted.
A season ago the Wahoos beat the Hokies for the first time in 15 years. The Cavaliers celebrated as fans rushed the field at Scott Stadium in a remarkable scene.
COVID-19 restrictions kept Lane Stadium mostly empty this fall, but the on-field result surely brought joy into plenty of homes in Southwest Virginia. UVa hasn’t won in Blacksburg since 1998.
“We really wanted to win, especially here in this stadium,” wide receiver Terrell Jana said.
Virginia Tech didn’t just reclaim the Commonwealth Cup on Saturday; it destroyed UVa in a statement victory in the regular-season finale.
“It’s immediate motivation to get it right the next time,” Mendenhall said.