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Virginia continues its slide with sloppy home loss to Louisville


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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Disgruntled Virginia football fans began streaming toward the exits at Scott Stadium early in the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ homecoming game against Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

By then, a large swath of supporters, some booing in the second half, had seen enough of the dreadful execution, turnovers and penalties that plagued Virginia in a 34-17 loss — its third in a row — that dealt another crippling blow to any flickering bowl aspirations halfway through the regular season.

Formerly reliable quarterback Brennan Armstrong was responsible for three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions in front of an announced crowd of 38,009, and continued to labor in a redesigned offense under first-year coach Tony Elliott and first-year offensive coordinator Des Kitchings.

Armstrong’s second interception came with 5:31 to play in the third quarter after his 11-yard touchdown run had drawn the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-3 ACC) within 20-17. The Cardinals (3-3, 1-3) proceeded to march 60 yards, capped by Trevion Cooley’s one-yard plunge, to stretch the lead back to 10.

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The next series ended when Armstrong absorbed a sack — one of six permitted by the Cavaliers — on fourth and one, and Louisville ended what little drama remained when Jawhar Jordan scored on a one-yard carry with 11:03 remaining in the fourth quarter for the final points.

“We’ve just got to learn to win,” said Armstrong, who has seven interceptions this season and 11 over his past nine games. “We don’t know how to win. We don’t know how to come back and win. I’m hard on myself to begin with, but just piecing it together when times get tough, and we just struggle to do that right now.”

Armstrong finished 24 for 34 for 313 yards and accounted for two touchdowns behind a remade offensive line that had the record-setting fifth-year senior frequently on the move and rarely comfortable with the pocket collapsing around him.

His fumble came on Virginia’s third possession of the first quarter following his 10-yard run to the Louisville 18. The Cavaliers were ahead 10-0 at the time, but they couldn’t recover from the momentum-shifting turnover with three minutes to play in the period.

“I think what happens is, two things, when we have success, guys get satisfied,” Elliott said. “They get fat and happy as opposed to — it doesn’t matter what the score is. That’s something I talk about a lot. You can’t play to the scoreboard. When you play to the scoreboard, you’re externally motivated, and then it’s easier for you to make justifications for you not to give your best effort.”

Making matters worse were careless drops from several Virginia wide receivers, including Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks, who left the game with 14:25 to go in the fourth quarter following a collision with Cardinals cornerback Quincy Riley.

Wicks, who set the program’s single-season record for receiving yardage last year, remained on the field for several minutes while athletic trainers examined him. The junior rose and walked to the sideline for good before heading inside the medical tent behind the benches.

The onus to move the ball fell entirely on the passing attack when Elliott and Kitchings elected to abandon the running game in the second half. Virginia finished with six net rushing yards, losing 35 on sacks, while Armstrong led the team with 14 carries.

“We couldn’t run the football in the first half,” Kitchings said. “A first-and-10 run to try to get something started, and we end up being second and 10 or second and 11 or second and eight, and that’s not fair, so screw the run. I mean, we just couldn’t cover them up, couldn’t run it, and we had to throw the ball.”

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The defense failed to produce a sack or a tackle for loss in facing a backup quarterback. Brock Domann started in place of Malik Cunningham, who was in the concussion protocols this past week, according to Louisville Coach Scott Satterfield.

Domann amassed 346 yards of offense, including a 44-yard touchdown run on fourth and two that tied the score at 10 midway through the second quarter. The junior ran untouched into the end zone when he pulled the ball out of the running back’s belly and curled around the left side, where a cavernous gap awaited as defenders flowed in the wrong direction.

Virginia yielded 473 yards of offense, including 198 rushing one week after it gave up 248 on the ground in a 38-17 loss to Duke. The Cavaliers also committed eight penalties for 66 yards and played the first half without starting defensive tackle Aaron Faumui, who watched from the sideline in uniform as punishment for committing penalties last week.

“The guys were frustrated,” Faumui said of the mood in the locker room. “We were definitely frustrated. We lost the game. That is nothing to be excited about. … We have to live with it, think about it over the weekend and get back on Monday to make the corrections and keep pressing forward.”

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