Armstrong held his left shoulder Saturday and Elliott held his breath; wants less runs from his QB

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Michael Bruder

The last thing that Tony Elliott wants from his offense this season is for Brennan Armstrong to lead the team in rushing, which is exactly what happened in last Saturday’s season-opening win over Richmond.

UVA’s quarterback led all rushers with 105 yards, although 64 of those came on a long touchdown run. Elliott wasn’t against that kind of run, he just doesn’t want to see his quarterback exposed that much when it isn’t necessary.

In fact, there was a point in the 34-17 win over Richmond where Elliott and others held their collective breath when it appeared Armstrong might have been injured.

“It was a scary moment there for a second because he was grabbing his left shoulder,” Elliott said. “But as soon as I got to him in the huddle, and just in Brennan fashion, waved like ‘I’m all right, I’m going to be OK,’ so I was like, all right, he’s OK.”

That wasn’t the only time Saturday that Elliott was concerned that his quarterback was taking too many chances with the run. Armstrong had 10 carries in the game, some on scrambles, but that didn’t make it any easier on his coach’s nerves.

“There was also one where I was like, ‘Dude, be smart. Don’t drop your pads on three defenders and try to be a running back and split them,” Elliott said. “Let’s live to fight another day.”

Armstrong is a fiery player, who has been known to run over would-be tacklers at the goal line. He has no fear, which can be both good and bad. Elliott just wants his QB to make smart decisions. The coach wants a happy balance.

“You don’t want to take away what makes him great and that’s the edge that he plays with, but you want him to understand he’s a field general now,” Elliott said. “We need you in the battle. I don’t need you on the sideline for something foolish.”

He wants his running backs to run over defenders, not his quarterback. He wants Armstrong to slide or run out of bounds.

“Get your butt out of bounds and get on to the next play,” Elliott said.

Armstrong is apparently fine for this Saturday’s first road test at Illinois (4 p.m., ESPNU). Still, don’t expect Elliott to drop the subject in practice this week.

We all saw what UVA was like last season when Armstrong suffered a rib injury late at BYU and missed the Notre Dame game. While backup Jay Woolfolk has looked good in practice, the Cavaliers are currently not the same team without Armstrong.

“I addressed it to the team and challenged the running backs,” Elliott said. “I said, it’s great to have two 100-yard rushers in the game (tailback Perris Jones had 104 yards on 19 attempts), but I don’t want my quarterback having to lead the way.

“I want my running backs to carry the load and what I want my quarterback to do is keep us right, make us right with his legs, but what I need out of my quarterback is I need him to be the field general.

“I need him to command the offense. I need him to be in control of the game and manage the game.”

Now, don’t get Elliott completely wrong. It’s not like he never wants Armstrong to run, but be wiser about the whole running deal.

“Sometimes we’re going to ask him, we’re going to put the ball in your hand and say you’ve got to go get it,” Elliott said. “But when you have opportunities and you extend plays, let’s just be smart and not be foolish and reckless, and getting him to understand that his greatest asset as a football player is his body, that as a football player there is a shelf life on your body and there’s only so many hits at any position that your body can take before your body says, ‘Hey, your’re expired, it’s time to hang it up.’”

Last season, Armstrong was second on the team in rushing behind tailback Wayne Taulapapa, although Armstrong had 36 more rushing attempts (again, some of those were scrambles when protection broke down or his receivers were covered). Armstrong was credited with 98 rushing attempts in 2021, and averaged 18 yards per carry.

Even as good as that averaged was, Elliott doesn’t want a repeat.