CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Brennan Armstrong threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more scores and Virginia rallied from a slow start and beat Georgia Tech 48-40 on Saturday night, the Cavaliers' fourth straight victory.
Armstrong connected with Dontayvion Wicks for touchdowns of 13 and 77 yards, Billy Kemp IV from a yard out and Ra'Shaun Henry from 20 yards. He scored on runs of 4 and 14 yards as the Cavaliers (6-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) rallied after trailing 13-0 midway through the first quarter.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall was delighted with how his offense performed — “There’s lots and lots of production happening out there. Super fun to watch," he said after the Cavaliers rolled up 636 yards. He was less enamored of his special teams and defense, which allowed the Yellow Jackets to turn Virginia's 48-27 lead into a nail-biter at the end by recovering a pair of onside kicks.
His players weren't thrilled with that turn of events either.
“You know, coming into the fourth, I can’t remember how much we were up, but we were we were up a lot so giving up those two onside kicks in and having our defense come back out and not play well was definitely, definitely not great,” defensive back Coen King said.
Wicks said the win was the most important thing, but in the locker room afterward, “being that it didn’t have to go like that, it was a little accountability.”
Jeff Sims threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns and Jahmyr Gibbs ran for 132 yards, including a 71-yard TD burst, for the Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-3), who lost for the 13th time in their last 15 visits to Scott Stadium.
Sims hit Kalani Norris from 37 yards with 1:16 to play, then Kyric McGowan from 5 yards with 22 seconds left. His pass from the Virginia 31 on the final play of the game was batted down in the end zone, preserving the victory.
Yellow Jackets coach Geoff Collins said watching the Cavaliers on film is one thing, but seeing them in person, especially Armstrong, was something else.
“The kid is really good. He was finding the holes, the soft spots in certain coverages. We kept trying to change it up and kept trying to change the pressures, and he just kept seeing and finding it,” Collins said.
Armstrong, second nationally in passing yards and total yards per game, threw for 396 yards and ran for 99. His final — and critical — scoring pass to Henry with 3:50 remaining came on a corner route with Henry making a diving grab.
“I think the whole offense is playing pretty confident right now. Got a good win streak going, good production in the red zone now. Yeah. I just think overall, every guy's kind of playing with a lot of confidence,” Armstrong said.
Joey Blount, whose first quarter interception in the end zone was nullified by a questionable roughing the passer penalty, got another pick at the Virginia 5 in the second quarter. Three plays later, Armstrong hit Wicks with a short out pass, and he dodged a tackler and raced 77 yards for his second TD.
That put Virginia ahead 21-16 and Brendan Farrell added a 24-yard field goal with 1:23 left in the half, giving the Cavaliers a 24-16 lead at the break.
The Yellow Jackets came out firing, needing just five plays and 1:40 to drive 75 yards after the opening kickoff. Sims hit McGowan from 36 yards for the touchdown. After a Virginia punt, they went 79 yards in 12 plays and Dontae Smith scored from the 3 two plays after Blount's interception was nullified.
Armstrong's pass to Kemp got the Cavaliers on the board, and they scored on eight of 10 possessions after a three-and-out with their first series. One of the drives that came up empty was on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half.
The victory kept alive the Cavaliers' hopes of winning the Coastal Division, though they will need help since No. 23 Pittsburgh is unbeaten in league play. The Cavaliers will travel to Pittsburgh in their penultimate game on Nov. 20.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets ran effectively, gaining 270 yards, but had to rely more on their passing game as the Cavaliers pulled away. Jeff Sims' longest completion was the 36-yarder to McGowan on their first drive until he hit Norris for a 37-yard score with just 1:16 remaining. He piled up yardage late against a prevent defense, finishing 27 for 44 with the one interception.
Virginia: The Cavaliers' defense took some time to get up to speed, allowing 195 yards in the first quarter and four third-down conversions in as many tries, but settled down after that, limiting the Yellow Jackets to 95 yards in the second quarter and stopping them on their next seven third-down tries. The only outlier until very late was Gibbs' 71-yard run early in the third quarter.
The Yellow Jackets return home to face Virginia Tech next Saturday.
The Cavaliers head west to face coach Bronco Mendenhall’s former team, BYU.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25