Four straight home games give Virginia chance to finish strong


Playing on the streets was a mostly futile endeavor for the Virginia football team. The Cavaliers lost their first three such games, including a 21-point pair, until outnumbered Georgia Tech last week after battered Yellow Jackets quarterback Jeff Sims left for good in the second quarter.

Still, the atmosphere on the return trip to Charlottesville two Thursday nights ago was a little more celebratory than usual, considering the Cavaliers (3-4, 1-3 ACC) had not only wrapped up a three-game slip but their next four as well Opponents, including Miami (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday, would come to Scott Stadium.

Virginia is 23-6 at Charlottesville as of 2018; The Cavaliers have the most home wins of any Coastal Division school during this period. That total ranks third in the conference starting this week, behind fifth-placed Clemson (30) and 24th-state North Carolina (26).

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Additionally, the Cavaliers will not leave the Commonwealth for the remainder of the regular season. Their final is the Commonwealth Cup Showdown with Virginia Tech, which will be played in Blacksburg this year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“It was just kind of abnormal,” Virginia coach Tony Elliott said of a schedule that included trips to Duke after Hurricane Ian and an open week before the Georgia Tech clash. “But I’m just looking forward to getting into a routine and being consistent over the next three or four weeks. I definitely want to capitalize on the pride that reigns here at U-Va. to play at home.”

The welcoming environment at Scott Stadium includes Saturday’s family weekend, which is expected to draw one of the biggest crowds of the season. Virginia’s last home game ended in a 34-17 loss to Louisville before an announced homecoming crowd of 38,009 who saw the Cavaliers take a 10-0 lead before giving up 20 straight points. The narrowest lead after that was when Virginia drew within 20-17 midway through the third quarter.

The Cavaliers finished with just six rushing yards, committed eight penalties for 66 yards, and had quarterback Brennan Armstrong sacked seven times. In a season that fell far short of expectations, the fifth grader completed 24 of 34 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

For the season, Armstrong, Virginia’s career leader in total offense (9,624 yards), passing yards (8,442), and touchdowns (57), has 1,618 passing yards and six touchdowns and completed 136 of 246 attempts. He also has 286 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries. Last year, Armstrong set records for a single season program for offense (4,700) and passes with 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns, throwing on 326 of 500 throws.

“You have to reinvent yourself every day and understand that you have to respect the process at all times and challenge yourself now,” Elliott said. “You’re in Game 8. The body starts to tell you, ‘Man, this is a long season. I’m a bit tired. I don’t want to start feeling sorry for myself.” As coaches, we have to push and react properly, go to work and [get players to] understand if you want to enjoy the feeling you felt [against Georgia Tech]then you have to pay the price.”

Additional motivation comes from playing in the mediocre Coastal Division, which has one team, North Carolina (3-0), over .500 in league play. Virginia pulls the No. 21 tar heels next weekend and, despite a rocky opening stretch, remains in the hunt for the division title and a spot in the ACC championship game.

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The Cavaliers last won the Coastal in 2019, and claiming the crown this time would mean a sixth straight year of bowl eligibility, though Virginia has not played a bowl game for the past two seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last season’s Fenway Bowl between the Cavaliers and SMU was scrapped when a string of positive tests in the Virginia locker room forced school officials to back down. In 2020, the Cavaliers finished 5-5 but missed a bowl game, citing fatigue from virus protocols.

“I feel like the weight is still the same,” said wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks. “We’re still 3-4 so we have to set a winning record, do our best and win.”