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UVa defense struggles in 59-39 loss to UNC

UVa defense struggles in 59-39 loss to UNC

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A record-breaking day from Brennan Armstrong hardly mattered Saturday. UVa’s defense put together one of its worst showings in the Bronco Mendenhall era, allowing 59 points and 699 yards.

North Carolina destroyed UVa’s defense in its 59-39 victory despite Armstrong’s 554 passing yards, a Virginia single-game record. The game was the highest scoring in the history of the series between the programs.

After two promising defensive showings against lesser foes, UVa (2-1, 0-1 ACC) showed the same defensive flaws that plagued it in 2019 and 2020. Missed tackles were abundant, helping the Tar Heels (2-1, 1-1 ACC) rack up 392 rushing yards and 307 passing yards in the ACC Coastal Division clash.

The 699 yards allowed by Virginia are the most allowed during Mendenhall’s tenure. Virginia hadn’t allowed 59 points to North Carolina since the Tar Heels also scored 59 in 1936. It’s the most points allowed by UVa in a regular-season game since allowing 59 to Clemson in 2013.

North Carolina scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions, driving at least 75 yards on all three drives. None of the drives lasted more than 76 seconds.

Virginia’s defense looked lost, giving up explosive-play touchdowns of 59, 37 and 75 yards on the opening possessions.

Josh Downs caught a pair of touchdowns on the opening two possessions. He’s turning into Sam Howell’s favorite option this fall, securing eight catches for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Howell and the Tar Heels jumped out to a 14-0 lead before UVa answered with a 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. Running back Wayne Taulapapa’s one-yard touchdown run ended the scoring drive. It was one of the few impactful plays made by a Virginia running back. The Cavaliers ran for just 21 yards.

With UVa seemingly gaining confidence after a score, North Carolina responded with a one-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead. Howell hit Khafre Brown with a pass, and he raced past the porous UVa secondary for the score.

A North Carolina field goal boosted the team’s lead to 24-7.

UVa ended the half with a spirited burst.

A touchdown drive, which ended on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Dontayvion Wicks, pulled Virginia within 10. Wicks finished the game with a career-high seven receptions for 183 yards.

The defense once again seemed outmatched, but Fentrell Cypress III intercepted a Howell pass in the end zone and returned it into UVa territory.

Virginia turned the turnover into a touchdown, as Armstrong found tight end Jelani Woods from one yard out. Armstrong ended the half finding Billy Kemp IV for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Despite abysmal defense and three rushing yards, UVa led the Tar Heels 28-24 at the break.

Unfortunately for the Wahoos, the defense didn’t improve in the second half and the offense’s pace slowed dramatically.

Howell guided the Tar Heels to touchdowns on the team’s five second-half possessions. North Carolina leaned on exceptional passing and running from the junior quarterback to surge past Virginia. Howell finished the game with 307 passing yards and 112 rushing yards. He threw for five touchdowns.

Ty Chandler, a transfer from Tennessee, starred at running back. He worked his way through massive holes to end the night with 198 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Virginia’s passing attack impressed. That’s about the only positive from Saturday’s defeat.

The team racked up nine penalties for 102 yards and didn’t force a single North Carolina punt.

Armstrong found Kemp IV for a fourth-quarter touchdown to pull Virginia within two possessions with 6:53 left. UNC marched back down the field to add another touchdown and put itself up 20.

Virginia returns to action Friday night when it hosts Wake Forest at 7 p.m.

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