CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert passed for 292 yards and tossed three touchdowns, junior running back Jordan Ellis scored two, and the Cavaliers held William & Mary to just 72 yards passing in a 28-10 win on Saturday afternoon.
But that it was UVa's first turnover-free game in 42 straight that might be the strongest takeaway from the season-opening victory.
The Wahoos (1-0) were far from perfect. They struggled at times to sustain drives and only ran for a net of 92 yards. But the offense flashed on several occasions and UVa was able to convert nine of 18 3rd-down attempts while its defense limited the Tribe to just 1-for-11.
Virginia opened with the ball and didn't do much on its first drive but neither did W&M (0-1). The second Cavalier drive, though—a 13-play, 80-yard march that took 5:40 off the clock—looked solid. It included plenty of Ellis, who chipped in both on the ground and through the air before ultimately plunging in from 1-yard out for the season's first touchdown.
After forcing another punt, the Hoos couldn't get back in the groove for much of the second quarter. Following a punt and then after forcing the Tribe to do the same, UVa took over at the W&M 43-yard line and, thanks in large part to a 22-yard pass from Benkert to Andre Levrone, eventually pushed into the red zone before freshman walk-on kicker AJ Mejia missed his only field-goal attempt.
The defense, though, picked them up, forcing another three-and-out and giving the offense the ball back at the Virginia 30-yard line. Fueled by a 24-yard gain on a pass from Benkert to Doni Dowling, the Wahoos faced a 4th and 9 from the 34-yard line that Benkert converted. His pass, a beautiful ball down the sideline to Levrone, put the home team up two scores with 1:37 left in the first half.
W&M got its first points of the season on the first possession of the second half, going 46 yards and finishing with a 41-yard FG by Kris Hooper to make it 14-3. UVa responded with a scoring drive of its own, this time going 56 yards in six plays. The possession began with a 44-yard kickoff return from Joe Reed and ended with Benkert's second TD pass of the game, a 17-yard strike to Olamide Zaccheaus.
After the teams exchanged punts into the fourth quarter, UVa appeared ready to put this one to bed. An Ellis run for 26 yards got things cooking quickly on that possession and then, after Benkert found Dowling for 26 more, it seemed like the offense had plenty of momentum. But after failing to move the chains, Benkert missed a wide open Levrone on a 4th and 7 playcall that should've gone for six.
Instead, W&M answered with a 13-play, 71-yard scoring drive that, once quarterback Tommy McKee ran it in with 5:02 left to play, made it a 21-10 ballgame.
The next offensive series left plenty to be desired, as UVa went three-and-out in just 1:28 before punting it back to the Tribe. Luckily for the Hoos, though, one of William & Mary's best playmakers, WR Devonte Dedmon, muffed the punt and even though he recovered it at the 4-yard line, the drive would end three plays later when McKee's pass, intended for Dedmon, was blown up by a big hit from Quin Blanding. Linebacker Chris Peace snagged the INT, giving the Cavaliers the ball and the momentum going in. Seven plays later, they made good on the game's only turnover as Benkert found Ellis on a swing pass to score from the 1-yard line with just 0:55 left on the clock.
In addition to Benkert's clean game and Ellis' contributions, Dowling finished with a team-high six receptions for 76 yards while Zaccheaus added five more for 56. The Wahoos were led in tackles by Malcom Cook with a career-high 13, Blanding's 12, and 10 more from junior safety Juan Thornhill.
Cook, of course, was playing in his first game after sitting out the 2016 season due to a heart condition. He was joined on the field by a number of other fresh faces, as eight true freshmen scholarship players made their UVa debuts.
This was the first game Virginia has played since its loss to Maryland on October 12, 2013 without committing a turnover. It was also the first season-opening win since that year and the first time the Wahoos have held an opponent to 10 or fewer points since 2013, too.