Armstrong has to be “leg-strong” if Wahoos aim to upset No. 15 Tar Heels

brennan armstrong

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong throws the ball in the first quarter.

By Jerry Ratcliffe

If there’s one key for Virginia in Saturday night’s game against North Carolina, it is clearly quarterback Brennan Armstrong.

If the Tar Heels have a weakness, it’s that they have struggled in defending dual threat quarterbacks, particularly the running part of that equation. That’s nothing new. Same was true last season and there was no better example of that than Virginia’s Bryce Perkins, who accounted for an eye-popping 490 yards of total offense, while accounting for five touchdowns.

Perkins was the difference in that game. Carolina had no answer.

Armstrong, in his first year as a starter, isn’t on Perkins’ level, at least not yet. But it may require a Perkinsesque performance for Virginia to beat UNC.

So far this season, the proof is in the pudding. Syracuse’s Tommy Divito rushed for 30 yards against the Heels, Virginia Tech’s Burmesiter had 51 and quarterback mate Hendon Hooker ran for a TD.

Then, at Florida State, the Seminoles’ Jordan Travis rushed 16 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns in an FSU upset win.

When the Tar Heels come to town, they will likely face an assortment of three UVA quarterbacks, all of whom can run. They are all three comfortable in running the ball and quite good at doing so.

Thus far, Armstrong has rushed 53 times for 221 yards (4.2 per carry), while Keytaon Thompson has rushed 15 times for 96 yards (6.3 average per attempt), and freshman Iraken Armstead has rushed 10 times for 68 yards (6.8 average).

Those are some pretty significant averages per carry and something for the Heels to worry about.

“We’re a better team with Brennan than without him,” UVA offensive coordinator Robert Anae said this week. “He’s a threat running. Those other quarterbacks have value as well.

“If we can take hits off Brennan, that will help for the rest of the year. You have to adjust and adapt to what’s best for the team. Right now we’re a better team with Brennan. We had an uphill sled without him.”

Anae is correct that the Cavaliers are better with Armstrong, who is developing as a passer and is a strong runner. He is also right that taking hits off the starter will help UVA the rest of the season.

However, if Armstrong isn’t strong against the Tar Heels, there might not be much left of the year.

Standing at 1-4 and in the midst of a surprising four-game losing streak, this could be Virginia’s last stand. The Cavaliers have to win five of their last six games to have a winning record.

It’s a challenge, but doable.

If UVA can knock off the No. 15 Tar Heels, that would give the Cavaliers momentum during a three-game home stand (UNC, Louisville, Abilene Christian). Louisville is 1-4 in the conference, just like Virginia. Abilene is winless.

Then comes a game at Florida State, which presently is also 1-4 in the ACC. The Cavaliers close against Boston College and Virginia Tech, both of which are 3-2 in the ACC heading into this weekend.

Anae said that Armstrong is still developing as a passer and that takes time.

“We are not the throw and catch team we were a year ago,” the OC said. “Some of that is on Brennan. The majority of that is on the guys running out there getting open. We’ve got room to grow.”

Certainly, Armstrong will have to be the true definition of what Bronco Mendenhall calls as a “Thorterback,” sort of a super hero quarterback who can both throw and run and remain durable … like Perkins.

The three-headed quarterback monster gives the Cavaliers a chance because all three can damage the Carolina defense with strategic runs. Armstrong has to be the ringleader.

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