If Armstrong can’t go, Virginia’s running game has to step up

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Wayne Taulapapa (Photos: UVA Athletics)

If Brennan Armstrong is unable to answer the bell this week due to a concussion suffered in the first half of Saturday’s loss to NC State, just what kind of offense are we going to see from Virginia at Wake Forest?

Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that if Armstrong can’t clear concussion protocol, then senior Lindell Stone will be UVA’s starting quarterback. Stone, who filled in admirably for the injured Armstrong against the Wolfpack, is the least mobile quarterback in the program at 6-foot, 240 pounds. 

In fact, one observer jokingly tweeted during the UVA-State game, “This Sonny Jurgensen kid playing QB for UVA looks pretty good.”

The mention was in reference to former Redskins quarterback Christian Adolph Jurgensen III, who was 5-11, 202 (right), and once said “All I ask of my blockers is four seconds. I try to stay on my feet and not be forced out of the pocket. I beat people by throwing, not running.”

When Stone entered the game late in the first half, he inherited a 17-0 deficit and an offense that had sputtered up to that point. He passed for 240 yards and three touchdowns in just a tad more than a half of football. Not bad for a guy who got little if any reps with the first team offense during game week.

Stone isn’t known for his running. He put it up 54 times because UVA shelved its running game at that point for the most part in trying to play catch-up, and maybe because, like Jurgensen, running is not his thing, although he did rush three times for 13 yards and avoided getting sacked.

Unless the Cavaliers secretly prepare Keytaon Thompson for some “run-only” plays as a backup this week, or true freshman Ira Armstead gets some action, what will Virginia’s offense be like against the Demon Deacons (assuming Armstrong isn’t back)?

Armstrong likes to run the football and is quite good at doing so — through Virginia’s first two games, he led the team in carries (32 of the team’s 75) and accounted for just over 40 percent of UVA’s net yards gained on the ground (136 of 335).

Assuming none of that happens, Wake Forest will likely load up the box in an attempt to shut down Virginia’s running game and make the Cavaliers one-dimensional. If that’s the case, it will be up to Stone to beat the Deacs with his arm.

Stone was very proficient against a hobbled NC State defense, missing a couple of starters for an assortment of reasons and another ejected over the hit on Armstrong. His only miscue came on the tipped pass returned for a TD by the Wolfpack’s 320-pound nose tackle. All things considered, Stone played his butt off.

So what needs to happen in Winston-Salem is for Virginia’s running game to step it up bigtime. That aspect of the Cavaliers’ offense was disappointing against the Wolfpack, as UVA managed a mere 82 yards on the ground (2.8 yards per carry).

Mendenhall wasn’t happy with the running attack, and well realizes that with a somewhat immobile QB, he needs run support from his backs.

Shane Simpson

“Yeah, it has to happen,” the coach said during Monday’s presser. “In the game last week, quite frankly, with the percentage of drop-eight that North Carolina State did, which was a high, high, high percentage, both teams have to pay through getting the ball run against them, to not be able just to drop eight consistently.

“And so our effectiveness in running the ball kind of caught me by surprise because I really thought we’d done a nice job in the first two games. Again, yeah, surprised that we didn’t, couldn’t or, just weren’t effective in doing it. So yeah, that would help in terms of Lindell’s play and the offensive production overall.”

UVA starting tailback Wayne Taulapapa was held to 35 yards (2.9 per carry) on a dozen attempts. Shane Simpson, who transferred in from Towson, finished with 37 yards (5.3 average) but didn’t play again after he fumbled on his seventh rush of the game. He was shook up on the play, which impacted his lack of action, but we suspect the fumble did, too.

After running the ball well against Duke and No. 1 Clemson, the Cavaliers slid to No. 53 among FBS teams in rushing (139 yards per game). Perhaps there will opportunities against Wake, which is giving up 192 yards per game on the ground (No. 59 nationally).