Lack of running game contributed heavily to Virginia’s loss

By Kenneth Cross correspondent

The Virginia run game netted just six yards on 25 carries in Saturday’s loss to Louisville. (Photo by Michael Bruder)

College sports offers trips into unlikely circumstances, and Louisville’s 34-17 win at Virginia on Saturday afternoon provided this feature in a defining way.

The Cavaliers are trying to rebuild their offense into a balanced attack while maintaining a ground game to go with the passing acumen of Brennan Armstrong.

Virginia picked up 154.4 yards rushing per game after its first five outings, so facing a Louisville defense that was giving up 160.6 yards per game felt like a solid advantage for the Cavaliers.

That idea never materialized, as Virginia rushed for only net six yards on 25 attempts, having lost 35 yards on six Armstrong sacks.

“My initial thought without watching the film is we were playing too high,” said offensive coordinator Des Kitchings. “Very simple run game going in, and we just have to play with better leverage.”

Kitchings is adamant in trying to get the Cavaliers to clean up issues that are causing problems on plays inside of drives.

“Xavier (Brown) on the third-down-and-two, you can’t trip,” said Kitchings. “It is what it is. My initial thought on all of that is we were playing a little high in the running game.”

Coach Tony Elliott explained the struggles of the Cavaliers inside the running attack as the afternoon transpired.

“We struggle with a three-man front where no one blocks guys and teams are going to continue to go at us,” said Elliott. 

Brown led the Cavaliers with seven yards rushing on four carries, while Armstrong had an 11-yard rush for a touchdown. There were no drives where the Cavaliers could use the rush to try to be a solid entity on the ground. 

Elliott is looking at seeing more of an attack mentality from his running backs that will be a solid characteristic inside of the offense. 

“We have to learn how to win one-on-ones, and it’s just techniques and a whole lot of want-to, so that was disappointing,” Elliott said.

The Cavaliers’ rushing attack is central in allowing them to be successful inside a balanced offense. They started the season with 259 yards rushing against Richmond, but after hitting ODU with 229, they have fallen to 149 at Syracuse and 93 at Duke before the tough effort on Saturday.

“The run game was out of sync with a lot of one-on-ones and with the six-man box and a zero nose,” explained Elliott of how Virginia was affected strategically. “Then you have an overhang. You have got to push single blocks and then you don’t give the center much help before he climbs. He has got to rip through and the backside guard has to come on. Angles are difficult.”

Virginia took a solid 10-0 lead as the Cavaliers outgained Louisville, 149-19, in the first quarter. The key was Armstrong’s arm, and how he drove the Cavaliers 62 yards on seven plays and capped the drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dontayvion Wicks. 

“Brennan just needs to keep progressing like he’s doing and playing like he is doing,” said Kitchings. “Just try to throw the ball where it’s at and guys will make plays for you.”