CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — After seeing his offense start slowly in its season-opening win over William & Mary, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall designed his practices this week to correct that.
The offense came quickly as Virginia scored touchdowns on its first two possessions Saturday against Illinois on its way to a 42-14 win.
“I have a belief that we’re designed for the results we get,” Mendenhall said. “And so we just flipped the script.”
Brennan Armstrong threw for five touchdowns and became the third quarterback in program history to pass for over 400 yards as Virginia snapped a 9-game regular-season losing streak in non-conference games against Power Five opponents.
Armstrong threw for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the opening quarter, connecting with tight end Jelani Woods for a 32-yard score and wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks from 28-yards out, for a 14-0 lead while many fans were still filing into the stadium for the unusual 11 a.m. kickoff.
Armstrong went 27 for 36 for 405 yards, joining Kurt Benkert (who did it twice) and Marc Verica as Virginia quarterbacks who surpassed 400 yards in a game.
Wicks finished with a pair of touchdown catches for Virginia (2-0).
Virginia’s defense, coming off its first shutout since the 2018 Belk Bowl, sacked quarterback Artur Sitkowski three times and held the Illini without points on 12 of 14 possessions.
“Obviously to start the game the way we did defensively, giving up two big scores, we battled ourselves back into it,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously we did not hold them defensively. We had a few things go against us but the reactions were good, so, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Wide receiver Deuce Spann caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter for the Illini (1-2), and running back Chase Brown capped the opening drive of the second half with a 21-yard scoring run.
Virginia: Stepping up from FCS to Power Five competition proved more than manageable for the Cavaliers, who scored their most points against a Power Five non-conference opponent since putting up 47 points on Indiana in 2009.
Illinois: The Illini’s season-opening win over Nebraska feels like a distant thing of the past. Brett Bielema’s team struggled on offense and defense with a middle-of-the-pack ACC team.
Woods, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Oklahoma State, became the first Virginia tight end to have 100 yards receiving in a game since Heath Miller had 110 against Florida State in 2004. Woods’ 122 yards were the most since Miller’s 145 against Virginia Tech in 2003.
Justin Duenkel missed a pair of field goal for Virginia, going wide right from 31 and 46 yards. Duenkel hit from 25 and 39 yards in the opener against William & Mary.
Virginia opens ACC play with a road game at preseason division favorite North Carolina. Virginia has won the last four meetings with the Tar Heels.
The Illini play their second Big Ten game when hosting Maryland on Friday night.