College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The first road game in the Bret Bielema era was not one the first-year Illini coach will want to remember.

For multiple reasons.

Virginia had its way against the overmatched Illini, running away with a 42-14 win in front of 36,036 fans on Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium.

Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong produced a banner day, completing 27 of 36 passes for 405 yards and five touchdowns.

Illinois (1-2) didn't have an answer for Virginia (2-0) in any facet of the game, with the Cavaliers leading 14-0 within the first five minutes of the first quarter. It's the second straight game Illinois has trailed throughout after losing 37-30 at home to Texas San Antonio last Saturday night.

The Illini trimmed their deficit to 21-14 with 12:59 remaining in the third quarter off a 21-yard touchdown run by Chase Brown, but fell apart the rest of the way as Virginia compiled 558 yards of total offense, including a whopping 31 first downs.

Illinois, meanwhile, struggled to move the ball consistently and finished with 337 yards of offense.

Art Sitkowski started is second straight game at quarterback for Illinois and didn't fare all that well. He completed 24 of 45 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Illini run game struggled to get going again, only managing 116 rushing yards on 27 carries. Brown had a team-high 41 rushing yards on seven carries.

Illinois also hurt itself with undisciplined play, committing eight penalties for 90 yards.

Now, the Illini will try to end their two-game losing streak — the 20th straight season Illinois has had a losing streak of multiple games — next Friday night in Champaign. Maryland visits Memorial Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff.

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Brennan Armstrong with the (probably unnecessary) insurance touchdown on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Taulapapa. The Illini are pretty much faling apart, with multiple unsportsmanlike penalties on that drive.

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It's pretty simple at this point. The Illinois defense, for the most part, doesn't have the ability to stop this Virginia offense. The Illini defensive linemen aren't getting any pressure on quarterback Brennan Armstrong, and he has all the time in the world in the pocket to pick apart the Illini secondary. When there is some pressure, he makes the simple pass.

And after an 8-yard touchdown run by Keytaon Thompson (a designed run, you knew it was coming), Virginia has a three-score lead. Not ideal.

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Illinois coach Bret Bielema has stressed limiting mistakes for his team. Like penalties. Just don't do it. That two fifth-year seniors committed penalties to gift Virginia a pair of first downs on its latest drive just makes it sting that much more.

Those bonus first downs (and a couple more big plays, of course) saw the Wahoos get in the end zone on a 2-yard screen pass for a touchdown between Brennan Armstrong and Billy Kemp IV. Armstrong, who caught his first career pass on the drive, has completed 17 of 24 of his own passes for 277 yards and now four touchdowns.

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Remember how the Virginia offense was basically the hot knife going through the butter that was the Illinois defense to start the first half? The Illini got a bit of payback to start the second.

Four plays for 75 yards in 2 minutes, 1 second, capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by Chase Brown. The Illini, as they really have been all season, were successful on this drive because they attacked the edge of the Virginia defense. A combination of Brown and Jakari Norwood made it happen.

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The difference it total offense at halftime is a 338-121 advantage for Virginia. And a two-touchdown edge on the scoreboard for the Wahoos. So, it could be worse. Truly. Virginia left six points out there with kicker Justin Duenkel missing a pair of field goals. 

For the second half to be any different, Illinois will have to figure out a way to slow down the Virginia passing game. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong is 14 of 21 for 251 yards and three touchdowns and has gotten six different receivers involved.

The top two? A couple big dudes the Illini secondary/linebackers haven't been able to cover. "Football player" Keytaon Thompson is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and has three catches for 46 yards. Tight end Jelani Woods is 6-7 and 265 pounds and has three catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. There's been no stopping either of them across the middle of the field.

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Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong has now completed 14 of 21 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. The 14th completion? A 6-yard touchdown strike to Dontayvion Wicks. All set up by another big snag from tight end Jelani Woods that got the Wahoos in the red zone.

The Illinois defense is, let's say, continuing to struggle in pass coverage.

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Deuce Spann only makes big plays it seems. The redshirt freshman quarterback-turned-wide receiver just hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Art Sitkowski. That's his third career reception, third that's gone for 30-plus yards and second that went for a touchdown.

Maybe throw it to him more. Because this latest one wasn't some wide open, easy catch. Spann had a defensive back all over him and still came down with the ball in the end zone.

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Illinois managed consecutive defensive stops against Virginia to end the first quarter. The first was a missed 46-yard field goal by the Cavaliers. The second? An actual three-and-out.

Of course, the Illini defense did nothing against Virginia on its first two drives. Two touchdowns. An early deficit just like last week, which, of course, led to a loss.

We'll see if this week is any different. So far, the Illinois offense hasn't shown an ability to extend a drive.

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Chunk plays, man. 

Virginia is on the board again after a 39-yard completion led into a 28-yard touchdown pass from Brennan Armstrong to Dantayvion Wicks. The Cavaliers are just carving up the Illini defense. Armstrong is already 5 of 6 passing for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

The two scoring drives?

Four plays for 75 yards in 1 minute, 16 seconds.

Four plays for 80 yards in 1 minute, 37 seconds.

Too easy.

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Three big plays and a false start. That was the entirety of Virginia's first drive of the game. The third big play wound up in the end zone, with Brennan Armstrong connecting with tight end Jelani Woods on a 32-yard touchdown pass. Woods was wide open on a seam route down the middle. Just like he was on a 31-yard reception to start the drive. Add in a couple missed tackles on a keeper by Armstrong for another 17-yard rush, and the Illini defense just got gouged over and over. 

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We have the Illinois travel roster in hand. Some notes ...

- No Mike Epstein. Chase Brown and Chase Hayden, who were out last week, did travel.

- No Marquez Beason, who Bret Bielema said previously might be back in time for this week's game.

- No Mike Epstein. Chase Brown and Chase Hayden, who were out last week, did travel.

- No Marquez Beason, who Bret Bielema said previously might be back in time for this week's game.

- No Mike Epstein. Chase Brown and Chase Hayden, who were out last week, did travel.

- No Marquez Beason, who Bret Bielema said previously might be back in time for this week's game.

- True freshman to make the trip: RB Josh McCray, DB Daniel Edwards, WR Pat Bryant, DB Tyler Strain, OLB DJ Johnson, OL Zachary Barlez

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There's an actual depth chart for both teams ahead of today's game. Virginia has a legit two-deep. Illinois has ... something approximating a depth chart basically just listing who has played the last two games. It also includes guys like Keith Randolph, who has been ruled out for the game.

So let's dive into Virginia's two-deep. Particularly the "FBP" position. As in Football Player. In theory, you'd like all of your team to be football players. That's the ideal.  

At Virginia, it's basically the guys that run "Wildcat" formation plays. Former quarterbacks that are in there to run the football mostly. And even though you know it's coming, William & Mary didn't really slow it down.

The biggest weapon is Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson. The quarterback/wide receiver checks in at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and is a serious weapon. He rushed four times for 43 against the Tribe and also had five receptions for 66 yards. 

When Thompson lines up in the backfield he just looks dangerous. Slowing him down and backup FBP Jacob Rodriguez will be a challenge for Illinois. 

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The pre-warmup warmups are underway at Scott Stadium. Really just the special teamers (long snapper Ethan Tabel is already in full uniform) and a few skill position guys in shorts. 

Daniel Barker is taking throws from a staffer right now. The Illinois tight end is working on his toe tap abilities on the sideline. It makes sense. Backup quarterback Art Sitkowski has shown a preference to target routes near the sideline. Just think about his two completions in two weeks to Deuce Spann and his touchdown to Barker against UTSA.

Sitkowski is out early, too, throwing to Donny Navarro. Mostly he's just working on his dropback and (it seems) getting the ball out quickly. 

***

Good (early) morning from Charlottesville, Va. 

The string of strange start times continues for Illinois after a noon start against Nebraska and a 6:30 p.m. kickoff against Texas San Antonio. This one might take the cake though. It's Illinois at Virginia, 10 a.m., on the ACC Network!

So hopefully you've got your brunch-themed home tailgates underway. Beat writer Scott Richey (that's me) is at the aptly named Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. Kickoff between the Illini and Cavaliers is in two hours.

Not that you might see it. I've heard the ACC Network is hard to find back in C-U. That just means you've got to take it old school. Listen to Brian Barnhart and Martin O'Donnell on WDWS 1400-AM (or, if you're not in C-U, on the Fighting Illini Sports Network). I didn't recognize anyone on the call on ACCN, so you might be better off with Brian and Martin anyway. Shoutout to those guys.

It's an interesting game in Charlottesville this morning. At last check, Illinois was a 10 1/2-point underdog playing at Virginia. Reasonable considering the Cavaliers (aka Wahoos aka 'Hoos) are playing at home, they shutout William & Mary last week and Illinois dropped a home game to UTSA. 

Expectations aren't all that high for the Illini outside of the Smith Center. A win in Charlottesville, though, would go a long way in regaining some of the momentum from that Week 0 victory against Nebraska. Yes, Illinois will still have the loss to UTSA on its slate, but a 2-1 start for the Bret Bielema era with a pair of Power Five victories, in a vacuum, was probably just shy of the best possible scenario.

What needs to happen for the Illini to return home a victor? A better run game (both from the backs and the offensive line), better pressure from the defensive line and better coverage from the secondary.

Not to mention a continuation of the mistake-free football backup quarterback Art Sitkowski has been playing. Admittedly, there's some luck there. He had a pick waived off against Nebraska and then about three just plain dropped by UTSA. But it still goes down as zero turnovers in the box score. That has to continue.

Then we'll see what the final result is in Charlottesville. Illinois has plenty to play for, but as a double-digit underdog, maybe not all that much to lose.

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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