Virginia put the tough loss to Notre Dame behind them on Saturday by earning their first win of the season. The Cavaliers held on for the 35-29 win over William & Mary despite a late surge from the Tribe.
Here are the five big takeaways from the game:
Can't close: Virginia's inability to close cost them against Notre Dame and it almost cost them again against the Tribe.
After going into halftime with a 21-20 lead, UVa looked like they were going to pull away with 14 points in the 3rd quarter. Yet, W&M battled back and Virginia gave them every opportunity to stay in it.
Virginia lead 35-20 at the beginning of the 4th quarter. W&M was stopped on a 4th and 5, but were given a new set of downs after Mike Moore was called for roughing the passer. If not for an outrageously terrible play call on the goal line, that should have resulted in at least three points for the Tribe. On Virginia's next possession, W&M blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety, then scored a touchdown on the resulting drive. Virginia went three and out, missing an opportunity to kill the clock as the Tribe had no timeouts remaining.
W&M got the ball back with a chance to win it and yet another defensive penalty on fourth down gave the Tribe life as Maurice Canady was nailed for holding. Finally, finally Virginia was able to hold W&M, but they made things very interesting.
Step back for the defense: A week after holding Notre Dame to only 207 passing yards, you would expect the defense to have no trouble against the Tribe, but that was not the case. W&M managed 226 through the air as the defense sold out to stop the run. Malik Zaire could only manage 115 passing yards and one touchdown on seven completions. Steve Cluley went 23-for-36 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Even more troubling was the fact that the Tribe scored on each of their first four possessions.
The defense focused on the run as they should have given the tendencies of their opponent. In doing so, however, they were almost beaten by a weak pass attack. That is something the Cavaliers will have to fix.
Matt Johns comes back to Earth: Speaking of taking a step back, Matt Johns was not quite as lights out this week. His stats were not terrible as he was able to complete 17-of-23 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions, one of which was right to the chest of linebacker Josh Dulaney who Johns clearly never saw.
Johns was also helped by Taquan Mizzell who took a screen pass 80 yards for a touchdown. It was a very average day for Johns to say the least. He will have to be better if the 'Hoos hope to reach the six-win plateau.
Special plays from special teams: This game featured two things you rarely see. In the third quarter, Canady returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time Virginia has had a punt returned for a touchdown since 2004.
Later in the third quarter, Ian Frye lined up to kick a 46 yard field goal. Frye's kick went off the left upright, but W&M was called for running into the kicker giving Frye another shot from five yards closer. The normally reliable Frye missed again, however, this time hitting the right upright.
Have you ever seen a kicker miss two-straight field goals by hitting each upright?
Rebound game: It was ugly and way closer than fans had hoped, but this is a very big win for the Cavaliers. Given that this game was sandwiched between the Notre Dame and Boise State matchups and since it came after last week's devastating loss, this was a definite trap game for Virginia. When the Tribe began to battle back, however, the Cavs did not hang their heads or fall apart. They buckled down for the win.
There are far more positives to be gained from an ugly win than there are from a close loss. With their incredibly tough non-conference schedule, UVa was expected to start the season 1-3. Had they lost this game, you could have kissed their chances of reaching a bowl this season goodbye already, just three games in.
This kind of effort won't be enough to beat Boise State or most of the teams remaining on their schedule, but it was a win and for today, that's good enough.
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