Clash of offensive philosophies when Virginia goes up against former coaches Anae & Beck on Friday

By Jerry Ratcliffe


The obvious storyline of Virginia’s game at Syracuse on Friday night is the matchup between the Cavaliers and their former coaches Robert Anae and Jason Beck.

Anae served as offensive coordinator, while Beck was quarterbacks coach during the entire six-year Bronco Mendenhall era at UVA, which came to an abrupt end only days after the Cavaliers’ regular season last November. Anae ended up with the same position at Syracuse, followed by Beck.

Most Wahoo fans hoped Beck would stay, but the majority of them celebrated Anae’s exit. While his offenses put up numbers, they didn’t produce wins. He could never establish a running game for a balanced attack, often became too conservative in his play-calling, and really drew the ire of Wahoo Nation when he would call a slow-developing, trick play. When asked to explain the call to media, he would say something like “we tried to fool them,” i.e. the tackle-eligible play on fourth-and-forever with the Virginia Tech game on the line, a winning season on the line.

Both UVA and Syracuse have played down that portion of Friday night’s matchup (7 p.m., ESPN). Anae and Beck have not been available for interviews, and Virginia coach Tony Elliott said he hasn’t been following the storyline.

“The only challenge that I had to my guys, because they do have relationships with those individuals, is let’s not make it bigger than what it needs to be,” Elliott said. “It’s all about the game. Let’s focus on what we can control.”

Elliott said he’s not adjusting anything, changing anything or doing anything different because of the two former UVA coaches. He’s more concerned about getting his team right in a short week.

Syracuse coach Dino Babers recognizes the connection, noting that it can be different when there are former coaches or players on the other sideline.

“I’ve been in those games and it’s an emotional game when you got your old family, and you’re in front of them again and those kids are going to want to prove something as well, like, ‘Hey, I’m all grown up, I can ride this bike without the training wheels without you being here,’” Babers said. “So it’ll be an emotional game. I’m sure that there will be some hugs and hellos either before or after the game. Either way, it doesn’t bother me.

“We need to understand that it’s bigger than all that … it’s about Syracuse versus Virginia, and we need to bottle up all that emotion until the final whistle and then they can unleash some of that stuff and hug each other.”

One would think it would be much more emotional in that respect for Virginia’s players than for Anae and Beck.

While Elliott said he wasn’t going off-script in preparation for the Orange, Babers wasn’t shy about his intentions in using the inside knowledge Anae and Beck might provide.

“Those guys work for Syracuse University and they need to do everything in their power to make sure that Syracuse has success on Friday night,” Babers said bluntly.

In terms of offensive firepower, Syracuse has much more scoring than Virginia, but the passing offense and total offense aren’t that different. The Orange rank No. 43 nationally in scoring at 37 points per game as opposed to UVA, which ranks No. 117 out of 131 FBS programs at only 17.7 points per game.

In passing offense, Syracuse is tied for No. 71 (243.7), while Virginia is No. 81 (236.7). Total offense speaking, UVA is actually ranked above Syracuse. The Orange are No. 74 (406.7 yards per game), while UVA is No. 72 (413.3).

Elliott was complimentary of UVA’s offense in 2021, which put up elite numbers nationally thanks to quarterback Brennan Armstrong and spectacular play by his receivers.

“[Anae and Beck] did a great job of being creative and using their personnel,” Elliott said. “They had a different approach. That’s just my perspective and I don’t know this for certain, but it was more kind of ‘just go make plays and focus more on the play aspect,’ where my approach is more off of the timing, the design of the play, the progression of the reads, the balance of the offense.

“So they did a great job with what they did, they found a way. I think it helped Brennan because he was able to get in a rhythm where he threw the ball a lot, where it’s a little bit different here, and it’s more – in the pros, you don’t throw the ball every single play. You have to be balanced. There’s going to be times you’ve got to hand it off. You’ve got to manage the game.”

Elliott believes that’s where Armstrong tends to try to make every single play because of the freedom he had in Anae’s offense, and became confident as a result. 

“The biggest thing I learned (from studying last year’s offense) is that they fit their personnel with the kids that they had,” Elliott said. “They built it around them. The guys were confident in it. They had success and now it’s just a transition because my philosophy is a little bit different.”

Armstrong said after Saturday’s win over Old Dominion that he didn’t expect to be asked to share his knowledge with UVA’s defensive staff on tendencies he may have picked up playing for Anae and Beck.