CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kurt Benkert passed for a school-record breaking 455 yards and Virginia avenged a heartbreak loss last season with a 38-18 victory over Connecticut on Saturday.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall praised his signal caller for his ability to direct a vertical offense.
“I think our quarterback had a very strong day, not only in accuracy completion percentage, but on the downfield throws, which we had talked about from a week ago,” Mendenhall said of his senior quarterback.
Virginia came in a rare double-digit favorite and the Cavaliers (2-1) jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and never looked back. Benkert, a fifth-year senior, broke his own passing record of 421 yards set last season against Central Michigan with a 73-yard touchdown pass to Andre Levrone in the middle of the fourth quarter. Levrone finished with a career-high 127 yards on four catches.
Mendenhall discussed the success his offense had attacking UConn’s 3-3-5 defense.
“Each and every week, the matchups are different,” Mendenhall said. “There has been lots of time spent playing against that system. Our offensive staff put together a really nice plan with something we’ve spent a lot of time dissecting, and the execution was strong.”
The Huskies offense struggled to keep pace with the constant pressure of the Virginia front early. UConn (1-1) went 1 of 4 on red zone possessions — including two turnovers and a turnover-on-downs.
Olamide Zaccheaus became the 37th Virginia player to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards with a catch in the second quarter, then added a 30-yard touchdown reception from Benkert in the third. He finished with nine catches for 122 yards.
His touchdown catch came on an audible directed by Benkert. “That’s just something we’ve been working on over the summer,” Benkert said about the audible. “If they give us a certain look that I see, and he (Zaccheaus) gives me the nod, we see the same thing.”
UConn finally got on the scoreboard with Bryant Shirreffs’ 60-yard touchdown pass to Hergy Mayala in the third. Mayala finished with two catches — both touchdowns — for 77 yards.
VIRGINIA: The rumored big-play capabilities of the Cavaliers appeared — and in great frequency. Benkert put up a career day and Virginia had three receivers with over 100 yards with touchdown receptions. Doni Dowling led the corps, tallying 136 yards on six grabs with a touchdown.
UCONN: Shirreffs had opportunities to compete but his two red-zone turnovers cost the Huskies precious drives deep into Cavalier territory. Shirreffs passed for 227 yards and led the team in rushing with 90 yards but missed out on early tone-setting opportunities. “There is obviously a bad taste in all of our mouths after missing some of those opportunities,” Shirreffs said. “If we want to be a good team, we have to make those.”
BROWN SAYS BYE
Virginia defensive end Andrew Brown was ejected in the middle of the second quarter on a targeting call. Shirreffs dropped to a slide after a short gain, and Brown led with his shoulder to the quarterback’s head.
Virginia takes to the road for the first time this season to face Boise State in its second straight nationally televised game (ESPN2).
Connecticut will host East Carolina in its first of five straight American Conference opponents.
LOCAL NOTE: Fort Chiswell grad Daniel Hamm made history Saturday for UVa, becoming the first Cavalier to score at least one touchdown in each of five seasons at Virginia.