CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Brennan Armstrong isn’t one to sugarcoat an issue. It is one of many issues his former coach, Bronco Mendenhall, loves about him. Mendenhall used to hover over the offense throughout Virginia practices, shut sufficient to listen to each phrase that escaped his quarterback’s mouth, and if the unit struggled, the monologues usually veered into the profane.
“He’d curse like a sailor,” Mendenhall mentioned. “But it surely was genuine.”
It is not shocking then that, almost a month into his first season with out Mendenhall helming the crew, Armstrong is not making an attempt to promote Virginia’s early offensive woes as something apart from a major problem. The scenario is ugly.
“I am fairly annoyed proper now,” Armstrong mentioned after Saturday’s 16-14 win over Old Dominion, through which he led the offense on a frenetic last drive to arrange a game-winning area purpose as time expired. “I am so used to being that high-powered offense, and once I do not feel it, and I haven’t got it, it frustrates me.”
It did not must be this fashion. Armstrong may’ve chosen one other path, maybe a far simpler one. That is the period of title, picture and likeness cash and switch portal freedom, and Armstrong had his share of suitors this offseason. As an alternative, he selected to remain put, pushed his chips into the center of the desk with a brand new teaching workers, led by first-time head coach Tony Elliott, and a brand new scheme, all of which created a real danger that his last season — the one that might make or break his NFL prospects — may devolve right into a rebuilding season for the Cavaliers.
When Armstrong made the selection, he was lauded as a case research on loyalty in an period when that is a uncommon commodity. It took simply two video games for even Virginia followers to surprise if loyalty was overrated.
A 12 months after Armstrong blossomed into one of the crucial prolific QBs within the nation, throwing for almost 4,500 yards and accounting for 40 touchdowns — 31 by means of the air — in simply 11 video games, issues in Charlottesville look bleak.
By way of three video games final season, Virginia’s offense had scored 124 factors.
By way of three video games this 12 months, the Hoos have tallied simply 53, and Armstrong has simply two passing TDs — each coming within the opener in opposition to FCS Richmond.
Now Armstrong is about to go head-to-head in opposition to the teaching workers that turned him right into a star. The Cavaliers head to 3-0 Syracuse on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) to tackle an lively offense led by former Virginia coordinator Robert Anae and QB coach Jason Beck.
Given the reunion, it is likely to be a becoming time for Armstrong to take a step again and reassess his resolution, to surprise what may need been. However the one factor the outspoken quarterback will not say, irrespective of how totally he’s prodded within the run-up to his reunion with Anae & Co., is that he regrets something.
“Yeah, I did stick it out by means of a training change and the NIL cash you would probably put in my pocket at a unique faculty — all that great things,” Armstrong mentioned. “You in all probability do not see too many QBs sticking it out, however I am proud of what I did.”
VIRGINIA ENDED ITS 2021 common season with 4 straight losses, together with a painful fourth-quarter flub in opposition to rival Virginia Tech. Afterward, Armstrong figured he was prepared to maneuver on, his sights set on the NFL draft.
Then Mendenhall introduced he was stepping down.
Then Virginia’s bowl sport was canceled.
Then the NFL evaluations got here again, dinging Armstrong for myriad considerations, together with the Air Raid system that he’d mastered however that did not are likely to translate on the subsequent degree.
He was pegged as a late-round choice with upside.
“He does not have wow-you-over arm energy, however he is an overachiever — a gutty, gritty gamer,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. mentioned. “On Day 3, anyone would seize him.”
There have been provides elsewhere, too, and so they got here with guarantees of hefty title, picture and likeness offers. Across the nation, different gamers have been keen to make use of their newfound freedom to money in and, in at the least just a few circumstances, discover a dwelling that may enable them to showcase their talent set on a bigger stage.
Factor is, draft evaluations meant little to Armstrong, who shrugged off critiques of his athleticism or arm energy. He is an Ohio man, and he mentioned he likes carrying a chip on his shoulder. He’d proven what he may do on the sphere — elusive within the pocket, a succesful runner — and he’d put collectively a spotlight reel of NFL throws.
“The extra you watch him, the extra you want him,” Kiper mentioned.
And Armstrong wasn’t too involved with the NIL cash both. He had buddies on this crew, and a quartet of receivers as proficient and productive as any within the nation. Why would he go away that?
Get proper all the way down to it although, and Armstrong’s resolution wasn’t about anybody factor apart from this: “I needed to do what I needed to do,” Armstrong mentioned.
“That is form of how I’m going. Folks assume it is a powerful process, nevertheless it’s not likely. Each season is a troublesome process. If I used to be drafted, undrafted, out in the actual world — none of that’s simple. Yeah, technically it was about making an attempt to show various things, however actually, it was simply — that is what I needed to take action I did it. Impulsive, I suppose.”
ARMSTRONG SAW VALUE in refining his talent set by enjoying in a extra professional type scheme, taking snaps underneath heart, adjusting protections and relying extra on his run sport. A 12 months in the past, Virginia’s offense did not merely run by means of him. It basically ran in any respect solely due to him. Armstrong missed a full sport and was nonetheless accountable for the very best share of his crew’s yardage of any Energy 5 participant. But it surely was solely ok for six wins, and so it was simple for Elliott to promote Armstrong on the concept a extra pedestrian stat line may equate to extra wins at 12 months’s finish.
“It is all about discovering methods to win, and that is the one stat that issues,” Elliott mentioned.
After which, in Week 2, Virginia misplaced. It misplaced ugly, 24-3 to Illinois, in one of the crucial listless offensive performances of Armstrong’s five-year profession with the Cavaliers.
“I do not assume there was a single play when all 11 guys have been doing what they have been imagined to,” Armstrong mentioned.
Final week, the offense confirmed marginal enchancment in opposition to Outdated Dominion, nevertheless it slowed down within the pink zone and wasted scoring probabilities, and till Armstrong’s heroics on the finish, the Hoos have been observing one other irritating loss.
When Virginia’s SB Nation site polled fans this week as to who ought to shoulder the blame for the offense’s sluggish begin, simply 2% of respondents pointed the finger at Armstrong. Almost half blamed the brand new teaching workers.
Armstrong finds that notion absurd. It is inconceivable to evaluate the brand new scheme, he mentioned, when the gamers have not executed it correctly. He blames himself for that. He has all the time been onerous on himself, Mendenhall mentioned, and so he makes some extent of protecting the noise from followers and message boards at arm’s size.
“I do not give it some thought,” Armstrong mentioned. “That is all outdoors stuff you’ll be able to’t deal with or it breaks down your whole crew. It is a harmful world on the market with that stuff. It is easy to get misplaced.”
Armstrong is not misplaced. He is proper the place he needs to be, and it is his job to play nicely sufficient that the remainder of the world comes round to his viewpoint.
“It is not prefer it’s the tip of the frickin’ world that we misplaced and put up three factors [against Illinois],” he mentioned. “Let’s simply preserve making an attempt to get higher.”
ARMSTRONG WON THE beginning QB job as a freshman in highschool, beating out a senior for the spot, nevertheless it was hardly an in a single day success story. That Shelby (Ohio) crew opened the season 2-5, and Armstrong suffered by means of the everyday freshman struggles. In late October, Shelby hosted Columbian (Tiffin), and Armstrong was sharp. The issue was, his protection supplied no assist. With six minutes left within the sport, Shelby trailed 75-54.
That is when Armstrong took over.
Shelby scored thrice within the last 5:48 to ship the sport to time beyond regulation. Armstrong threw 5 TD passes and accounted for 520 yards of offense.
“That is Brennan although,” his mom, Heather, mentioned. “There is a minute left, it is not over. He will battle to the tip. That is simply him.”
And but, Shelby nonetheless misplaced the sport. Columbian went for 2 after scoring in time beyond regulation and transformed. Remaining rating: 83-82. It was, unofficially, the very best scoring sport in Ohio highschool historical past.
Mendenhall has an identical story about Armstrong — in regards to the second he knew his quarterback was particular.
It is 2018, and Armstrong was a real freshman. Beginning QB Bryce Perkins went down with an harm halfway by means of the primary half in opposition to Georgia Tech, with the Hoos trailing 13-7. Enter Armstrong, who drove the offense 65 yards on six performs, hitting Joe Reed for a protracted landing to take the lead.
“I might swear his pulse was about 48,” Mendenhall recalled. “It was simply so matter of reality, and after that rating, the look he gave me was like, ‘Properly, what else did you anticipate?'”
Perkins returned to motion on the following drive, nevertheless, and the Yellow Jackets gained the sport 30-27 in time beyond regulation.
Look again over Armstrong’s profession, and the identical story performs out repeatedly. He is good, however the wins are a wrestle.
Armstrong had the stats. He even set the college document for passing yards final season. However he did not have the wins. That ate away at him.
That is the actual cause he got here again. Sure, he can refine his talent set, show he can function a professional type offense, earn some NIL money — “all these good issues,” as he mentioned. However what he needed, greater than something, was to win — to win a lot that his legacy at Virginia was etched into stone. He did not need to be remembered because the poster boy for loyalty in an period of transience in school soccer. He needed to be remembered because the man who led Virginia to a season for the ages.
There’s nonetheless time to do it, he insisted. It is all forward of him — which is why there isn’t any time to look again.
“I nonetheless need to win 10 video games,” Armstrong mentioned. “There are 9 left, and I’ve received to win eight of them. It will be a hell of a battle. I do know that for a reality. However that is one thing I needed to do. And if it does not occur, I am going to know I gave this college all the things I had, no matter that appears like.”