'Just Be Brennan': Virginia rallies behind Armstrong
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Admittedly, Brennan Armstrong is a tough critic of himself, so the imperfect start for the Virginia offense has hit the senior signal caller harder than others.
"Just finding joy again because I'm trying to be perfect out there," Armstrong said on Saturday after Virginia's 16-14 win over Old Dominion, "I'm so used to being that high-powered offense that it's like when I don't feel it, don't have it, it frustrates me."
Armstrong led the Cavaliers on a six play, 56 yard drive with a minute to play to set up Brendan Farrell's game-winning field goal on Saturday. The drive provided momentum for a sometimes sputtering UVA offense, but the mistakes still sit with Armstrong more than anything. At one point Tony Elliott spotted his senior quarterback with his head dipped heading to the sidelines and told receiver Dontayvion Wicks to go pick him and say 'I got you'.
"I think for Brennan, it's one, just quit worrying about everything," Elliott said, "Just worrying about what's going on, what's being said, and just focus on controlling what you can control."
Entering week four Armstrong has thrown for 710 yards, which ranks fourth in the ACC, but has only accounted for a total of three touchdowns and ranks last in the conference in completion percentage (52.9%). Through three games last season, Armstrong had 13 total touchdowns and had thrown for 1,298 yards.
"Keep talking to [Brennan] and not making him feel like it's all on him, he doesn't have to throw a freaking perfect ball every single time that's why we're on the field," junior receiver Lavel Davis Jr. said, "Throws us the ball, we're supposed to make it right, we're supposed to make him that man."
A Friday night trip to Syracuse comes at an interesting time with Armstrong's former offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck on the opposite sideline. The Cavaliers offense this season is vastly different to the one Armstrong broke multiple school passing records in.
Where Anae's had Armstrong freelancing more often, Elliott and offensive coordinator Des Kitchings are working with the senior to develop into a more pro-style scheme, managing the game by handing the ball off, knowing when to live for another down and keeping his footwork in the pocket. But Kitchings believes inside the system there is still an avenue for 'Brennan to be Brennan'.
"He can still make plays with a game manager it's like taking care of the ball, throw the ball where the defense is giving it to you," Kitchings said, "But the scrambles, playing football, do that just take care of it when your out of the pocket."
On one specific play before the first half against Old Dominion, Armstrong escaped the pocket and picked up a first down, but instead of going down and 'fighting for another down', an ODU defender forced a turnover which eventually led to a Monarchs touchdown. The term 'game manager' can often be construed, but all Elliott and Kitchings want from Armstrong is to make the smart play, take advantage of a rushing attack currently ranked in the top half of the ACC (176.7 yards per game) and avoid additional hits.
"That's the thing that I'm trying to get him to understand is like hey, it's okay," Elliott said, "You're a warrior, and I know you're a warrior, and I will never question your toughness, but I need you to be smart, too, because your body is your greatest asset."
At times this season Kitchings feels Armstrong is pushing and trying to do too much in his final season with an eye on proving himself again and to NFL scouts. Teammates have noticed too and their message to Armstrong in practice this week is similar to the one Elliott told Wicks to communicate to the quarterback, 'we got you'.
"Something that we reiterated to him to let him know we got your back, you can trust us," senior running back Perris Jones said, "You don't have to be superman, you can just be BA, the same BA we know you to be and we'll take care of the rest for you."
While not the ideal start to the season, coaches and players have continued to show they have the utmost confidence in their star. Now Armstrong is beginning to discover it too.
"Just finding joy again in football, that's what it is for me," Armstrong said.