Elliott to team: ‘What y’all did offensively last year doesn’t matter’

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Tony Elliott (Photo: UVA Athletics)

Established as a 9-point favorite for this Saturday’s return home with visiting Old Dominion (2 p.m., ACC Network), Tony Elliott and his coaching staff have been busy in practice this week in an attempt to correct what went wrong at Illinois.

The Cavaliers (1-1) were rather pathetic offensively and improved defensively, but Elliott wasn’t happy when he met with media this week.

“What was evident when I watched the tape (of UVA’s 24-3 loss to Illinois), the guys didn’t respond well to the adversity,” Elliott said. “Illinois punched us in the mouth and the guys were reeling the entire game.

“I was hoping that somebody was going to step in and say, ‘Hey fellas, follow me, I’ll find us a way out of this situation.’”

As Elliott reviewed tape of his first loss as a head coach, he wasn’t encouraged, at least in terms of the team’s offense.

“I was trying to find some positives, but there wasn’t a ton of positive,” the coach said. “The positive is we now understand what real work we’ve got to do with this offensive unit and team in general. It was a piece of humble pie for all of us offensively.”

Illinois (2-1) used suffocating man pressure and often sent more pass rushers than Virginia’s offensive line could block, leading to one of Brennan Armstrong’s worst days as a quarterback. The guy who led the nation in passing for most of the 2021 season didn’t grade out well in last weekend’s 13-of-32 effort passing, for a mere 180 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Last season, Armstrong would often reach the 180-yard mark by halftime.

He was running for his life most of the day, under heavy pressure.

Statistically, one must go back to the 2020 season, his first as a starter, to find his passing yardage close to Saturday’s. Armstrong threw for 181 yards in a loss at Miami on Oct. 24 of that season, his first game back after being injured in a controversial hit in a loss to NC State on Oct. 10 that caused him to sit out the Wake Forest game the following weekend.

Elliott doesn’t use past success as a crutch when it comes to current production.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Elliott said. “I told them, ‘Look, fellas, what I’ve done in the past doesn’t matter because all we’ve got is today. What y’all did offensively last year doesn’t matter.’

“I said, ‘Look at the defense. What they did last year, they’re not thinking about it. They’re not paying attention to what’s in the rear-view mirror.’ That’s the biggest challenge for us offensively is for these guys to say, ‘Hey, it’s a new system.’

“We’re not doing what you did last year. We’re building a foundation offensively here. If you will buy into the system and play within the system and trust the fundamental and the technique that we’re trying to teach you, then it will lead to success. When you play outside of the framework of the team and the scheme, then you’re going to have situations where you get exposed.”

Elliott said his team didn’t practice particularly well leading up to its first road game of the season, that there were distractions, and that it seemed like some of his players were more interested in talking trash to Illinois than winning between the whistles.

He reported that practices have gone better this week and he would police the trash talk to prevent a repeat come Saturday.

Certainly the loss gave Elliott license to bark all he wants in practice this week, and he has his players’ attention after such a lopsided performance last week, particularly offensively.

“The message is, this isn’t last year,” Elliott said loud and clear. “Those plays don’t carry over to this season. We’ve got to focus on what we have right here. Yes, it’s new, but just embrace the opportunity to grow and be developed and just trust.

“Y’all [media] are getting to know me, but I don’t like to talk about things that I’ve done and accomplished. But just illustrating to [the team], ‘Fellas, I can help you, just as Marques Hagans can help you. Just let us coach you. Let us make you better. Let’s not worry about what happened last year, let’s focus on today.’”