Richmond coach hopes Saturday’s opener doesn’t become track meet between two pass-happy QBs

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Reece Udinski (red jersey) leads the Richmond offense in practice. (Photo: University of Richmond Athletics)

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong passed for nearly 4,500 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. He spent most of the season leading the FBS in passing yards.

Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski passed for 7,877 yards and 48 touchdowns during his career at VMI, prior to transferring to Maryland last season.

When the two quarterbacks clash in Saturday’s season opener at UVA’s Scott Stadium, could fans be in store for a high-scoring track meet? The Cavaliers’ secondary gave up boatloads of big plays last season and even Tony Elliott expressed some dismay about his defense on the “back end,” when talking about his team on Tuesday.

With experienced, dynamic receivers on both rosters, could Scott Stadium’s scoreboard more resemble a pinball machine?

“I hope it’s not a track meet, because if it does we’re in trouble because they’ve got a lot better track stars, so to be honest with you, I really would not like it to be a track meet,” Richmond coach Russ Huesman said Wednesday.

“You know, they’re going to probably try to be as balanced as they can, running and throwing the football,” Huesman added. “They’ll be different than last year.”

The Spiders coach pointed out that he watched UVA put the ball in the air 70 times against Wake Forest and 70 times in another game.

“They will not throw the ball 70 times against us and so I think it’s going to be way more balanced on offense, and we’re trying to be balanced, so we’ll probably be a little bit more throw than run, try to get as close to 60-40 as we can, and we’re going to take what they give us,” Huesman said. “If they take the run away, we’ll try to throw the football.”

Huesman’s Spiders finished sixth in the CAA last season in offense, so he decided to make a change. He hired VMI offensive coordinator Billy Cosh, who was the Keydets’ OC the past two seasons and used his version of the “Air Raid” to push VMI into the nation’s top 20 in several offensive categories:

No. 9 in passing offense (309.4 ypg), No. 5 in first downs (201), No. 20 in scoring (29.2), No. 17 in total offense (427.6 ypg) and No. 18 in passing efficiency.

Cosh lured his old QB from Lexington away from College Park, where Udinski spent last season as a backup after smashing VMI’s passing records in 2019. He finished his Keydets career No. 6 all-time in Southern Conference history in passing yardage.

In ‘19, Udinski, now a grad student, threw for 3,276 yards (306 of 479), 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. That’s a 64-percent completion rate. In fact, he opened that season with a FCS record 368 consecutive passes without an interception.

“Accuracy,” Huesman said when asked about Udinski’s strength. Accuracy is what Cosh told Huesman about when they discussed him joining the UR program.

“He’s got unbelievable accuracy, puts the ball where it’s supposed to be with the wide receivers,” Huesman said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes with the football. He’s got a really good arm. I wouldn’t say it’s elite, but his accuracy is incredible.”

Not only that, but the Spiders’ coach said Udinski’s football IQ is extremely high.

“He moves good enough, he’s not stiff back there, he can move, so he has a lot of great qualities as a quarterback,” Huesman said. “He’s impressed me from Day One.”

Udinski has a familiar target in Jakob Herres, a former VMI receiver and also a grad student. Herres was Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 and a consensus first-team FCS All-American.

Herres hauled in 226 receptions at VMI for more than 3,000 yards and 26 TDs. He ranks first among all active players in FCS in career receptions and receiving yards.

Perhaps Huesman is correct, and both teams will try to establish running games from the get-go, but if either or both have to become one-dimensional, things just might get out of hand.