Virginia falls to Indiana 34-17 in second game of the season

Lackluster first-half proves too difficult to overcome for the Cavaliers

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Senior inside linebacker Micah Kiser had 14 tackles and two sacks in Virginia's loss to Indiana.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

After opening the season with an inspiring win against William & Mary, the Virginia football team gave a lackluster performance in all phases of the game over the weekend as they were defeated 34-17 by Indiana. The Cavaliers (1-1) started the game strong, but their special teams blunders and an anemic offensive performance allowed the Hoosiers (1-1) to come away with a win.

“I thought Indiana was more opportunistic in the short fields they had in relation to the short fields we had,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “In the beginning of the game, they were struggling to get across the 50 … Then there were moments of the game when it shifted, and we were defending short fields and they capitalized at a higher level.”

The Cavaliers opened the game with tight defense, holding Indiana senior quarterback Richard Lagow to 16 passing yards in the first quarter. Neither team moved the ball well on offense in the opening frame, resulting in six punts. The only scoring try of the quarter was a failed 35-yard fake field goal by Virginia. 

“It was a slow start — that was evident,” Mendenhall said. “It was also a little bit streaky. There were patches where it looked rhythmic, efficient and poised, but it was certainly a slow and inconsistent start. There was some momentum at different stretches, but really just not consistent enough.”

Momentum began to finally shift in the second quarter when Virginia junior strong safety Juan Thornhill intercepted Lagow in Hoosier territory. Virginia would end up punting, but converted a field goal on the next drive to take a 3-0 lead. 

With its offense stagnant, Indiana Coach Tom Allen pulled Lagow from the game and entered redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey to lead the offense. Ramsey immediately upped the Hoosier’s tempo, driving quickly down the field after the Virginia field goal. He punctuated the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs. After the Hoosier defense forced a three-and-out, a 44-yard punt return put Ramsey in striking distance again, and he ripped off a 26-yard touchdown run to put Indiana up 14-3.

Ramsey would start his afternoon 11-for-11 before the Virginia defense clamped down on the dual-threat quarterback in the third quarter.

“[Ramsey] did a good job of creating plays, so the second half we came out, adjusted, saw who was in, took a deep breath and played him the right way,” Virginia sophomore linebacker Jordan Mack said. 

Virginia’s offensive struggles were perpetuated by the lack of big plays. Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert struggled to throw the deep ball against the tight Hoosier secondary, frequently overthrowing or throwing off his back foot. Virginia’s running game was equally inept — totalling only 72 yards — so Benkert was forced to throw 66 times, completing 39 passes.

“I’ve got to do a better job of giving those guys a chance to go up and get it,” Benkert said. “They held a lot more and pressed a lot more and were a lot more physical on the outside than we expected or had really gotten a chance to see.”

Despite the offensive struggles, the Cavaliers were in striking distance of the Hoosiers in the fourth quarter. The game looked all but over when Indiana senior defensive lineman Greg Gooch strip-sacked Benkert and returned the fumble for a touchdown, but after review, the replay officials deemed the sack targeting and ejected Gooch. Virginia retained possession and Benkert fired a swing pass touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Joe Reed.

Down 27-17 after the touchdown, the Cavalier defense kept the game alive with a goal-line stand, giving the offense the ball back with seven minutes left. Benkert could not move the chains, however, and junior punter Lester Coleman came on to punt from his own end zone. Indiana senior wide receiver J-Shun Harris took back the punt for a touchdown, stamping the victory for Indiana. 

“I was very disappointed in the punt return,” Mendenhall said. “That was a critical moment in the game, and [Indiana] executed that really well. So, their punting game and their taking advantage of short field today was the difference.”

Virginia’s poor special teams play ultimately spelled the team’s demise. Though Virginia possessed the ball for 10 minutes longer than Indiana, the Hoosiers took advantage of short fields allowed by the Cavaliers’ bad tackling and Coleman’s short punts.

The Virginia defense played solid for the most part despite its struggles when Ramsey entered the game. Mack led the team with 16 tackles, and senior linebacker Micah Kiser added 14 tackles, two sacks and a crucial pass breakup on fourth down. 

“It’s come to a point where we expect that of Micah, and he always comes through and he plays very hard and very well, and I was very proud of him,” Mack said.

Virginia will look to rebound next weekend when Connecticut comes to Scott Stadium, to whom the Cavaliers lost a 13-10 heartbreaker last season. Kickoff is scheduled for noon. 

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