Elliott said no thoughts of replacing Armstrong; “I’m going down with Brennan”

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Michael Bruder

After Brennan Armstrong had thrown back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns to open the game, spotting Pitt a 14-0 lead, there was no thought by Virginia’s coaches about going to backup Jay Woolfolk.

Sometimes, after such a rocky start, coaches will substitute just so the starting quarterback can settle down and regain his composure. Sometimes, it’s just the hook because the backup can’t do any worse.

Under siege the entire game by an aggressive Pitt defensive front that Virginia couldn’t block, Armstrong was sacked eight times, didn’t throw another interception and never came out of the game. His completion percentage was once again mediocre at best, 17 of 33 for a mere 152 yards and a touchdown. The eight sacks were the most by a UVA opponent since Notre Dame in 2019.

Woolfolk, who has already been deemed the Cavaliers’ starter for the future, is not gaining any experience this season and may not, according to Tony Elliott after the game.

“I didn’t have any thought to go to Jay,” Elliott said about the two early Armstrong interceptions. “There was no talk about putting [Woolfolk] in at quarterback.

“Brennan’s our guy. I mean for anybody to question … I mean, come on. This is one of the best quarterbacks that’s come through this league. Tough season, I get it, but there was no consideration on my end. I’m going down with Brennan. I’m going down with all these guys in that locker room.”

Elliott said he had gotten a question about going to a youth movement with the team, looking toward the future since Virginia can’t possibly have a winning season or even a break-even season now at 3-7 with two games to play.

“I told [the person asking that question] and I told the guys last night, this is exactly what I told them, and I mean this, right?” Elliott said. “They came to the University of Virginia. No, they did not come to play for me at the University of Virginia, but they came to the University of Virginia, and I’m going to respect that.

“I want all the guys that want to be part of it. They can play a vital, valuable role in laying the foundation and so there’s no consideration to go younger and there was no consideration to go to the backup quarterback. We’re going to dig in our heels and fight with the guys that are available to play.”

The head coach said instead of pulling Armstrong out of the game after the disastrous start, he told his quarterback to stop thinking and just go play.

“He’s probably his biggest critic and he’s going to be hard on himself, and he’s played enough football and knowledgeable enough to know by the time he gets to the sideline, what the mistake was and what he needs to correct,” Elliott said.

“Don’t put it all on your shoulders. We still have a ball game to play. Don’t overthink it. There’s still plenty of opportunities to go win the game.”

Armstrong did settle down, although Pitt led 28-0 at the end of the first quarter. From that time on, Pitt barely outscored Virginia 9-7 as the defense stiffened.

Elliott swallowed some of the blame for the loss.

“What I saw was I’ve got to do a better job of coaching Brennan in those situations to help him,” Elliott said. “I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that he is prepared.”

Armstrong did manage to break the ACC’s record for passing yards by a left-handed quarterback, leap-frogging former Wake Forest QB Tanner Price with 9,034 career passing yards, the 12th-most by a southpaw passer in FBS history.

The numbers don’t really mean anything after losing six of the last seven games. All Armstrong wants is a win. UVA knew going into Saturday that Pitt was probably one of the two best defensive fronts it would face this season (Illinois was the other, although Miami wasn’t bad either).

Even with the eight sacks, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi felt like his team could have had more.

“Great job by the D-line,” Narduzzi said. “I think they probably had six of the eight. We’re getting four-man pressure. It’s like I tell the officials all day and even on one of [UVA’s] scrambles late in the fourth quarter, there’s two holding calls that don’t get called. Guys are getting tackled. I tell the officials they can’t block eight (Calija Kancey) and they can’t block 87 (Habakkuk Baldanado). They can’t block them. Kancey was unbelievable.”

Kancey, a defensive tackle, had three sacks and a hurry, while Baldonado, a defensive end, added a sack.

Virginia could never establish a running game against Pitt’s physical front, and due to 46 yards in losses on Armstrong sacks, the Cavaliers were minus-8 yards rushing as a team on the day. Mike Hollins was UVA’s leading rusher with 23 yards on eight attempts.

Offensive coordinator Des Kitchings was quizzed on the two early picks that changed the game and he explained the calls.

“On the first one, we had a draw RPO on and [Pitt] blitzed up the middle and their guy dropped to the field,” Kitchings said. “Obviously a little late getting it back. Then the second play, we tried to move the pocket and the corner came off the route. [Armstrong] didn’t see it.”

UVA’s players are still firmly supporting their quarterback, as captain Nick Jackson clearly pointed out.

“Brennan is an unbelievable player,” Jackson said. “He’s an unbelievable leader. He’s a battler, he’s a champion. He owns almost every record here.

“He came back for us (a fifth year). He didn’t have to come back. So he’s a fighter, man. Everyone in that locker room is behind 5 (Armstrong’s number). We love 5 and that’s the bottom line. He’s sacrificed a lot for us, so we’re behind 5.”