Coming into Saturday’s home matchup with Duke, the Virginia football team wanted to convert in the red zone, force turnovers and pick up a win.
Check, check and check.
UVa controlled the red zone, forced five turnovers and won, 48-14, at Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers (5-2, 3-1 ACC) punched the Blue Devils (4-3, 2-2 ACC) in the mouth after a scoreless first quarter.
“Simply, the field position and number of opportunities we had was too great for our opponent to overcome,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “And those were all executed well by us, so I don’t think it was luck and I don’t think it was random, but to have that many in the same game, certainly I don’t think anyone expected that.”
UVa’s opening drive looked promising. The Cavaliers let Bryce Perkins use his legs, and they led him to both Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. The team’s offensive script was flowing until the Cavaliers entered the red zone.
On a second-and-8 from the Duke 14, Perkins failed to see a wide-open Wayne Taulapapa in the end zone, instead scrambling right and throwing the ball away. Perkins scrambled again on the next play before firing a ball into tight coverage and behind his receiver. Duke’s Leonard Johnson intercepted the pass in the end zone.
After three-and-outs on their next two drives, it was all Virginia the rest of the way.
The Cavaliers leaned heavily on their offensive stars, finding Dubois and Reed on the outside while also relying on Perkins’ legs. With the score knotted at 0, Virginia used a nine-play, 78-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. The touchdown, which came on a one-yard touchdown run from Perkins, ended a seven-quarter drought without finding the end zone.
Dubois and Reed combined for three catches for 48 yards on the possession. The duo finished the game with nine catches for 107 yards. UVa’s first touchdown opened the floodgates.
Duke quarterback Quentin Harris was flushed to his right on the next possession and left a throw short of his intended receiver. The ball fell into the arms of UVa defensive back Brenton Nelson, who corralled the ball before it hit the turf and returned it 17 yards to the Duke 21. Virginia capitalized with a 30-yard Brian Delaney field goal to up its lead to 10-0 with 8:01 left in the second quarter.
The defense stepped up again on the next possession, stuffing Duke on a fourth-and-short rush from its own 34. Virginia regained possession and marched 34 yards in eight plays. Perkins ran up the middle for a one-yard touchdown that was originally ruled a fumble before being overturned. UVa took a 17-0 lead into the break.
“We were kinda joking on the sideline, ‘I wonder how many yards they have?’ Because they just weren’t moving the ball very well,” Virginia cornerback Nick Grant said of Duke’s offense.
Perkins carried the ball 19 times in the first half, exceeding his season-high of 18 carries in the season opener at Pittsburgh. He finished the game with 22 carries for 62 yards and three touchdowns.
Duke started the second half by handing UVa a scoring opportunity on a silver platter. The Blue Devils bobbled a jet sweep and coughed the ball up. Virginia’s Charles Snowden promptly fell on the football, giving UVa the ball at the Duke 21. Delaney knocked in a 33-yard field goal to put Virginia up 20-0.
Once again, Duke’s offense sputtered. A three-and-out gave Virginia the ball back quickly, and the Cavaliers took advantage.
Using creative play calling, including two rushing plays from under center, Virginia stormed 70 yards down the field in eight plays. A reverse play designed for Tavares Kelly Jr. went for 17 yards and took UVa into the red zone. The drive was punctuated by a four-yard rushing touchdown from Wayne Taulapapa. The score put Virginia up 27-0 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Duke answered on the next drive, using two fake punts to keep the drive alive. The first attempt wasn’t designed, but punter Austin Parker fumbled the snap as he started moving right for a rugby punt. Realizing his mistake, he abruptly took off to his left gaining enough for a first down.
A few plays later Parker took a designed fake to his right and converted another fourth down. The drive stayed alive and Harris eventually found Scott Bracey on a beautiful pass down the right sideline for a 36-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Joe Reed ran toward the right side of the field, cut back left at the 25-yard line and sprinted down the left sideline before a final cut back move around the Duke 15. He eluded everyone for his fifth career kickoff return touchdown as UVa stretched its lead to 34-7.
“If I break one tackle, I know ‘this is gonna be a good return,’” Reed said. “If I can get by two or break two tackles, I know I have a chance to take it all the way.”
The Blue Devils shot themselves in the foot again immediately following Virginia’s touchdown. This time, Harris was stripped by Jordan Mack and Eli Hanback jumped on the fumble. Virginia turned the turnover into a Perkins touchdown run.
Taulapapa added the final UVa touchdown after a Joey Blount interception started the drive. His touchdown run came after a career-long 31-yard rush earlier in the drive. Duke added a late touchdown, but it made no impact on the outcome.
The Cavaliers disrupted Duke’s offense all game, forcing five turnovers and tallying five tackles for loss. The Blue Devils didn’t cross midfield until their touchdown drive in the third quarter.
“The Havoc ‘Hoos were out again in the spooky season of October,” Blount said after the game.
Virginia needed a win after two disappointing losses. The Cavaliers responded in a big way Saturday, handing Duke its most lopsided loss since a season-opening defeat to No. 1 Alabama.
And with Virginia Tech’s thrilling 6OT win over North Carolina, the Cavaliers sit alone atop the ACC Coastal Division standings.