Virginia clobbers Connecticut
In rare blowout win, Cavaliers set offensive records
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As he rebuilds the Virginia football program, coach Bronco Mendenhall likes to focus on what he calls small victories. Saturday, the Cavaliers notched a rare big one.
U.Va. blew out Connecticut 38-18 behind a
As Mendenhall and his assistants started thinking about their next game — Friday night at Boise State — he got a reminder of how hard wins have been to come by for this team.
“They were grabbing anything that had water or fluid and throwing it and celebrating. And rightly so,” said Mendenhall. “Rightly so. It was a nice reminder to not let those moments pass.”
A week after struggling with his accuracy and
failing to connect on any deep balls, senior quarterback Kurt Benkert was at his dime-dropping best, passing for a school-record 455 yards and three long touchdowns as the Cavaliers opened a season 2-1 for the first time since 2014.
“I knew it was a going to be a good day,” said Benkert. “I wasn’t sure it was going to be that good. But I felt like things were just clicking. I could kind of tell early.”
Three wide receivers had over 100 yards receiving for the first time in program history.
“Just stick to it, trust it. Today, we was just on,” said senior wide receiver Doni Dowling, a former Varina High School star. “We’re not going to change up just because it doesn’t go well for us one game.”
Dowling caught six passes for a career-high 136 yards, senior Andre Levrone had four receptions for a career-high
127 yards, and junior Olamide Zaccheaus finished with nine catches for 122 yards. Each had a long touchdown reception.
“You can’t give up big plays,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall. “And we gave up way too many big plays today.”
Junior tailback Jordan Ellis rushed for 95 yards and a score as a rushing game that was anemic last week found its iron. U.Va. ran for 171 yards, picking up 5.5 yards per attempt.
Virginia’s defense forced a pair of red-zone turnovers and made two fourth-down stops in the first half as the Cavaliers took a 24-0 lead into the locker room, their largest halftime lead since going up 30-0 against Indiana in 2009. They won that game 47-7.
“Critical-moment play was pretty strong defensively,” said Mendenhall.
The Cavaliers, who lost at Connecticut 13-10 last season, played the entire second half without senior defensive end Andrew Brown, who was ejected in the second quarter for targeting, but sophomore Steven Wright came in and made two tackles, including one for a loss.
Because his ejection came in the first half, Brown will be allowed to play Friday night at Boise State.
Connecticut (1-1) showed signs of life offensively late in the first quarter and into the second with quarterback runs by Bryant Shirreffs. He rushed for 93 yards on his first seven carries, and then U.Va.’s defense adjusted, holding him to minus-3 yards on his final seven runs.
“There’s trade-offs everywhere,” said Mendenhall. “The more that you kind of tighten things on the quarterback, there’s other things that possibly work. We’re still dialing in the right mixture for this particular defense.”
With accurate passing and effective running, both of which were absent a week earlier against Indiana, the Cavaliers authored a record-setting scoring drive on their first possession.
Virginia went 88 yards in 18 plays, taking a school-record 9:46 off the clock on its way to Daniel Hamm’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Hamm, who suffered a season-ending injury after two games as a freshman, became the first player in school history to score a rushing touchdown in five straight seasons.
Seven Cavaliers caught passes on the drive, as Benkert went 11 for 12, setting the tone for a day that belonged to U.Va.
Benkert said he had “no idea” how long that drive had lasted. But on the sideline, senior linebacker Micah Kiser and the defense sure noticed.
“It was awesome,” said Kiser. “It seemed like every drive we had was a 12-play drive, a 10-play drive. So we were well rested.”
Virginia wide receiver Doni Dowling makes a 42-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against Connecticut in Charlottesville. The former Varina star finished with six catches for 136 yards.