CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Virginia took the field Saturday for its annual football matchup with Duke, about a month had passed since the Cavaliers’ last win.
On top of that, UVa was facing a Blue Devils squad that had scored 30 points or more in its previous five games.
It was also the Cavaliers’ first game since losing preseason All-American Bryce Hall— so what would you expect?
It wasn’t a contest.
Virginia scored early and often in dispatching the Blue Devils 48-14 before an announced crowd of 52,847 at Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers (5-2, 3-1 ACC) led 17-0 at the half and saw the margin expand to 48-7 before Duke (4-3, 2-2) scored with 2:41 left against Virginia’s second defensive unit.
It was UVa’s fifth straight victory over the Blue Devils, who entered the game as 3 ½-point underdogs.
There was no lack of inspiration for a UVa team that had failed to score a touchdown eight days earlier in a 17-9 loss at Miami — the Cavs’ second straight loss after starting the season 4-0.
“The first thing you want to do is get back on the field and erase the whole thing,” UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins said. “We were focused on coming back, getting a win and protecting our house.”
It was hard to get past the loss of Hall, a senior who will miss the remainder of the season following ankle surgery. He was replaced at cornerback by De’Vante Cross, who had been playing safety.
“It was important to see where we were,” another safety, Joey Blount, said. “When leaders go down, it’s [a case of] the next man up, but when it’s somebody like Bryce, it hits differently.
“You could tell that him going down took a big chip off the block. Man, it was really important that we came back and did what we did.”
The Cavaliers took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, getting as far as the Duke 11-yard line before Perkins was intercepted in the end zone by the Blue Devils’ Leonard Johnson.
That turned out to be the Cavaliers’ only turnover until backup quarterback Lindell Stone was intercepted long after the outcome had been decided.
Virginia outgained the Blue Devils 307-250.
That didn’t account for the heroics of senior wide receiver Joe Reed, who had a 95-yard return for a touchdown. It was Reed’s fifth kickoff return for a touchdown in his career, which ranks him among the top 10 in FBS history.
He finished with 179 all-purpose yards, including a 43-yard kickoff return and a team-high five receptions for 45 yards.
“I am surprised now that they kick it to me,” Reed said. “But we are still in the ACC [and] playing great teams, so, if they do kick it to me, I will be thankful for the opportunity.”
As usual, Perkins was the offensive catalyst for the Cavaliers, completing 13 of 26 passes for 141 yards and rushing for three touchdowns. Sophomore Wayne Taulapapa carried 14 times for 77 yards and two TDs.
“I think that we just wanted to focus on us,” Taulapapa said. “Within practices, we talked about living in the moment. It showed up in this game. We put a lot of work in when it comes to the red zone.”
That reference was to UVa’s two 3-yard touchdown runs, two 1-yard touchdown runs and a 9-yard score.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe is one of UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall’s closest friends in the profession, but neither man was in a mood to be chummy.
“From time to time, you have days that go like this and, in football, it was a huge setback for us tonight,” said Cutcliffe, whose team entered the game with the same record as the Cavaliers.
“To be honest, there is a little bit of a shock factor. To tell you I know everything I need to repair, no, I haven’t studied the film. Here is the thing that needs to be repaired the most: blocking and tackling.”
Mendenhall had a similar outlook.
“Maybe twice in my career, I’ve told my wife, ‘I think we’re going to win this week,’ or ‘I like how it looks,’ ” he said. “Most of the time, I don’t know.
“No, I didn’t see it coming [Saturday]. Yes, I did see improvement, but I didn’t know it would manifest it like it did.”