Vir­ginia clob­bers Con­necti­cut

In rare blowout win, Cava­liers set of­fen­sive records

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Sports - BY MIKE BAR­BER Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch

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.”

ANDREW SHURTL­EFF/THE DAILY PROGRESS

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.

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