Benkert throws for record 455 as Virginia cruises past UConn 38-18

Brad Franklin, Publisher
Cavs Corner
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USATSI

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Kurt Benkert passed for a school-record 455 yards, UVa had three wide receivers go over 120 for the first time ever, and the Cavaliers forced two turnovers in a 38-18 drubbing of UConn on Saturday afternoon.

Virginia (2-1) never trailed on the way to the victory, matching their win total from 2016 in the season's third game.

Going 30-for-40 passing with three TDs, Benkert broke his own record set last fall. In fact, in school history only three times has a quarterback broken the 400-yard mark and Benkert has done it twice.

Unlike his performance early in last week's loss to Indiana, the senior signal caller was sharp from the start here at Scott Stadium. On his team's first scoring drive, an 18-play, 88-yard jaunt that ended with a 3-yard run by Daniel Hamm, Benkert went 11 for 12 for 61 yards with completions to seven of his receivers. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, on a possession that took 9:46 off the clock, set the school record for longest drive.

While the UVa offense flexed early, so too did its defense. After forcing the Huskies (1-1) to punt on the game's first possession, the Wahoo D had to deal with another special teams gaffe on UConn's second. Jordan Swann returned the kickoff 60 yards and a penalty on the Hoos pushed it to the 25-yard line. Had redshirt freshman safety Brenton Nelson not tracked him down, it would've tied the game. Three plays later, it was Nelson who picked off a Bryant Shirreffs pass near the goal line and returned it 18 yards for his first career INT.

The Cavalier offense didn't respond as well this time, going three-and-out before punting it back to the Huskies. UConn proceeded to drive back into the red zone on its next possession but once again, another drive ended in a turnover. This time, Shirreffs ran for 12 yards and got near the goal line only to be hit by Bryce Hall and fumble. Senior MLB Micah Kiser, who finished with 15 tackles and a pair of sacks as well, recovered.

UVa went on another long drive thereafter, moving to the 10-yard line before AJ Mejia came on to bang home a 28-yard field goal that capped a 12-play, 87-yard drive to put his team up 10-0 with 8:13 left in the first half.

The next UConn drive ended with a turnover on downs following back-to-back tackles for loss by Eli Hanback and Jordan Mack. But it also cost the Cavaliers DE Andrew Brown for the rest of the game, as he was flagged for a targeting call midway through the drive and ejected.

But once UVa took got the ball, the offense didn't need double-digit plays to hit paydirt. This time, Benkert hooked up with Olamide Zaccheaus for 25 yards and then with Doni Dowling for a 42-yard TD that put the Hoos up 17-0 with 4:29 left in the half.

By the time Jordan Ellis rumbled in for a 7-yard TD to put UVa up 24-0 with 0:31 left in the quarter, the Hoos had forced another turnover on downs and then gone 53 yards in six plays.

The rout was officially on.

It wasn't all perfect for Virginia, though. The Cavaliers turned the ball over for the first time this season when Benkert was intercepted in the end zone by Tyler Coyle with 2:53 left in the third. It killed what was another promising drive to that point.

Still, UVa's defense once again forced another turnover on downs, this time killing UConn's 13-play drive at the 11-yard line when Shirreffs couldn't hook up with Aaron McLean through the air.

UVa took a 31-0 lead nearly five minutes later, after the nine-play, 89-yard drive ended with another TD, this time from Benkert to Zaccheaus that went for 30 yards.

The Huskies got on the board two plays later, though, when Shirreffs lined up as a wide receiver and took a toss before throwing a 60-yard TD pass to Hergy Mayala with 0:50 left in the third.

Zaccheaus took the ensuing return 31 yards to start the drive, though the Cavaliers would turn it over on downs at the UConn 22-yard line 3:47 later. UConn tacked on a 17-yard TD following a 13-play drive that, when the two-point conversion failed again, cut UVa's lead to 31-12 with 6:58 to play.

The Hoos immediately responded in kind. After a 2-yard rush by Ellis to start the drive, Benkert tossed a bomb to a wide open Andre Levrone who scampered 73 yards for the TD.

By the time Kevin Mensah ran for a 30-yard score with 2:06 to play (which was followed by UConn's third failed two-point attempt), the only thing that remained in doubt was UVa's margin of victory.

For the first time since 2013, Virginia had multiple receivers go over 100 yards (Darius Jennings and Tim Smith against Georgia Tech) but never before had three players done it in the same game.

Zaccheaus, who has caught a pass in 19 straight games, finished with a game-high nine receptions for 122 yards to go with his four rushes for 47 and his two kickoff returns for 56 yards (225 all-purpose). Dowling, meanwhile, added six receptions for a career-high 136 yards while Levrone had four receptions for 127 (also a career high). Ellis ran for a career-high 95 yards in the win and Hamm, who had four carries for 19 yards, became the first player in ACC history to score a TD in five seasons.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kiser moved into 10th place all-time in tackles at UVa while Quin Blanding (nine) moved past Byron Thweatt into fourth place with 391 for his career. Nelson also finished with a career-high eight tackles in the win.

Virginia's 24-point lead at the half was its largest at intermission since 2009 and its 626 yards of total offense was the sixth-most in school history.


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