Player of the game
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong
➜ Armstrong had never throw for more yards in a quarter than the 171 he racked up in the first quarter Saturday. His 27 completions were also a career high. Why not? Armstrong had all the time in the world in the pocket to throw, and he used it to find wide open receiver after wide open receiver to finish 27 of 36 for 405 passing yards and five touchdowns.
➜ The Illini were at their most effective attacking the edge of the Virginia defense, whether it was Chase Brown’s 21-yard touchdown run or Isaiah Williams making defenders miss in space after hauling in a pass. There just wasn’t nearly enough of it. Virginia was at its most effective ... doing about anything in the passing game. Even if the Cavaliers got a little too cute sometimes.
➜ A pair of late takeaways from Jake Hansen (forced fumble and recovery) and Kerby Joseph (interception) saved the Illini from a complete failing grade. Which they were well on their way to earning after getting picked apart by Armstrong. Next to zero pass rush and porous pass coverage was an unfortunate combination for Illinois.
➜ The Virginia special teamers weren’t called on all that frequently Saturday in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers punted just three times. The thing is, Virginia kicker Justin Duenkel missed a pair of field goals. And other than a few kickoffs out of the back of the end zone from James McCourt, Illinois’ special teams play was simply seven punts for 300 yards by Blake Hayes.
➜ Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae went deep in his bag of tricks. Multiple formations. Lots of pre-snap movement. The goal? Put his athletes in positions to exploit the defense. And they did, with the Illini not making enough adjustments to counter it. On the other side, Illinois coach Bret Bielema took the responsibility for the rash of penalties that tripped up the Illini.
➜ The combination of defensive miscues (a lot of them) and silly penalties (almost as many with a slew of the unsportsmanlike variety) was probably not how the Illini imagined their first road game of the season going. But that was the reality. And, when it comes to a defense that struggles to make stops, the reality was just a terrible Saturday afternoon in Virginia.
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).