Virginia pushing for fast start at Wake Forest

Virginia pushing for fast start at Wake Forest

Virginia stumbled out of the gate three games in a row and now the Cavaliers look for a faster start Saturday at Wake Forest in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Cavaliers (1-2, 1-2 ACC) have been outscored 34-0 in the first quarter this season, including 14-0 in Saturday’s loss to North Carolina State in Charlottesville, Va.

Mistakes and missed opportunities also contributed to the loss that snapped Virginia’s nine-game home winning streak. The Wolfpack scored 17 points off four UVA turnovers, the exact margin of victory in a 38-21 win. The Cavaliers managed just 4 of 18 conversions on third down.

When starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong exited in the second quarter after being hit in the head by NC State safety Tanner Ingle (who was ejected for targeting), Virginia already trailed 24-0. Backup Lindell Stone, came in and performed well, twice rallying the Cavaliers to within 10, but threw a costly pick-6 to 320-pound defensive tackle Alim McNeill.

Armstrong is in the concussion protocol and is day-to-day, but coach Bronco Mendenhall said he is comfortable with Stone taking over as needed. Stone completed 30 of 54 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns in relief despite having few reps in practice with the starting offense.

“Lindell brings poise, maturity, clarity and confidence, and he just sees the field like a coach from that position,” Mendenhall said.

“I feel really bad for him,” Stone said of Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore who won the starting job during the preseason in competition primarily with Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson (who has since moved to H-back). “He’s like a little brother to me. Hopefully we’re able to get him back for (this) week, because he earned the starting job.”

Through three games, Virginia has turned the ball over nine times and is next to last in the ACC in third-down success at 31.3 percent.

Saturday’s road trip could help turn things around, as Wake Forest (1-2, 0-2) has allowed opponents to convert a league-high 52.3 percent of third-down chances.

Coach Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons have been a disciplined bunch thus far, committing the fewest penalties (nine) and turnovers (one) in the league.

Wake Forest has not played since a 66-14 win on Oct. 2 against Campbell, an FCS school. The Demon Deacons rushed for 299 yards in that one. In the past two games, the backfield tandem of sophomore Kenneth Walker III and redshirt junior Christian Beal-Smith have combined to run for 405 yards and eight touchdowns.

“We always compete, but we keep each other going and push each other,” Walker told the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. “When he’s doing good, I’m excited for him. When I’m doing good, he’s excited for me. It’s always good to compete because we make each other better.”

Walker and Beal-Smith are facing a Virginia run defense that ranks fourth in the ACC in yards per carry (3.4) and fifth in yards per game (124.0). Cavaliers safety Joey Blount returns after missing one game with an injury.

Both teams’ losses this season were against No. 1 Clemson and NC State.

Virginia leads the all-time series 34-14, but this is the first meeting since 2012 and the first in Winston-Salem since 2008.

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