CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Brennan Armstrong knew Virginia's backup quarterback, Keytaon Thompson, wasn't available for Saturday's game against Louisville, but didn't let it affect his play.
"I told myself coming into the game not to be timid," Armstrong said after running for two touchdowns and passing for another as the Cavaliers beat Louisville 31-17 in a game that was pushed back a week by a COVID-19 outbreak among the Cardinals.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said the Cavaliers called few, if any, designed runs for Armstrong, but he still carried the ball 15 times and led the team with 60 rushing yards.
"The majority of the runs were scramble runs and the majority of the yards were scramble yards," Mendenhall said.
Armstrong scored on runs of 8 and 9 yards, the latter with 4:29 remaining, to give Virginia (3-4, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) a two-score cushion. He also hit Lavel Davis Jr. with a 9-yard scoring pass that gave the Cavaliers a 21-10 lead in the third quarter.
Quarterback Malik Cunningham gave the Cavaliers fits all day as he ran for a career-high 197 yards for the Cardinals (2-6, 1-6), but his first-quarter interception was returned 85 yards for a touchdown by Noah Taylor and he had the ball ripped out of his hands by Nick Grant at the end of a 27-yard run, setting up Armstrong's second rushing score.
"We're in this game in the fourth quarter and huge fumble there by Cunningham where we're inside the — probably 35-yard line driving to go tie the game up. That was huge," Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. "... That was the difference in the game,"
The Cardinals were without seven players, including tailback Javian Hawkins and wide receiver Tutu Atwell, and coach Scott Satterfield said both absences were COVID-related.
"We kind of knew that they probably weren't going to be able to play with all the stuff that's been going on," he said. "These last two weeks have obviously been very trying on all of us, and particularly our program of things that have gone on."
Virginia had prepared to try to stop all three, linebacker Zane Zandier said.
"Ten, one and three were our main focus for the last week, two weeks actually," he said, citing the jersey numbers of Hawkins, Atwell and Cunningham.
Cunningham, who ran 20 times, scored on bursts of 19 and 1 yard, the latter after a 46-yard flea-flicker connection with Marshon Ford. He was 13 for 21 throwing for 161 yards.
"He deserves a lot of credit. I thought he was a dominant football player tonight, very competitive and I was impressed by him, really from beginning to end," Mendenhall said.
Armstrong finished 15 for 23 for 203 yards with an interception.
Louisville rushed for 317 yards and outgained the Cavaliers 478-368, but couldn't overcome the turnovers
Louisville: The Cardinals caught a break late in the first quarter when Armstrong hit Tony Poljan with a 20-yard pass and Poljan fumbled trying to get into the end zone. The play was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but was overturned on review. Jack Fagot recovered for Louisville, which managed one first down before punting then intercepted Armstrong on the next series and went ahead 10-7 on Cunningham's 19-yard run.
Virginia: The Cavaliers had only two penalties, but one was costly. Armstrong hit Davis for 24 yards on third-and-9 from the Cardinals' 30, and when the 6-foot-7 freshman stood up after the catch, he appeared to taunt defensive back Russ Yeast and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That moved the ball from the 6 to the 21 and six plays later, Brian Delaney kicked a 23-yard field goal to give the Cavaliers a 24-17 lead.
The Cardinals are at home against Syracuse on Friday night.
Virginia is at home against Abilene Christian next Saturday.