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 typically veered into the profane.
“He’d curse like a sailor,” Mendenhall stated. “Nevertheless it 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 significant issue. The state of affairs is ugly.
“I am fairly pissed off proper now,” Armstrong stated after Saturday’s 16-14 win over Old Dominion, during which he led the offense on a frenetic closing drive to arrange a game-winning subject objective 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 identify, 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 closing season — the one that would 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 marvel if loyalty was overrated.
A 12 months after Armstrong blossomed into one of the prolific QBs within the nation, throwing for almost 4,500 yards and accounting for 40 touchdowns — 31 via 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 towards FCS Richmond.
Now Armstrong is ready to go head-to-head towards 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 perhaps a becoming time for Armstrong to take a step again and reassess his resolution, to marvel what might 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 via a training change and the NIL cash you would presumably put in my pocket at a special college — all that good things,” Armstrong stated. “You most likely do not see too many QBs sticking it out, however I am pleased with what I did.”
VIRGINIA ENDED ITS 2021 common season with 4 straight losses, together with a painful fourth-quarter flub towards 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 recreation was canceled.
Then the NFL evaluations got here again, dinging Armstrong for myriad issues, together with the Air Raid system that he’d mastered however that did not are inclined to translate on the subsequent stage.
He was pegged as a late-round choice with upside.
“He does not have wow-you-over arm power, however he is an overachiever — a gutty, gritty gamer,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. stated. “On Day 3, anyone would seize him.”
There have been presents elsewhere, too, they usually got here with guarantees of hefty identify, 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 a number of instances, discover a dwelling that may enable them to showcase their ability set on a bigger stage.
Factor is, draft evaluations meant little to Armstrong, who shrugged off critiques of his athleticism or arm power. He is an Ohio man, and he stated 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 stated.
And Armstrong wasn’t too involved with the NIL cash both. He had pals on this crew, and a quartet of receivers as gifted and productive as any within the nation. Why would he depart that?
Get proper all the way down to it although, and Armstrong’s resolution wasn’t about anyone factor apart from this: “I wished to do what I wished to do,” Armstrong stated.
“That is sort of how I am going. Individuals assume it is a robust job, nevertheless it’s not likely. Each season is a troublesome job. If I used to be drafted, undrafted, out in the true world — none of that’s straightforward. Yeah, technically it was about making an attempt to show various things, however actually, it was simply — that is what I wished to take action I did it. Impulsive, I suppose.”
ARMSTRONG SAW VALUE in refining his ability set by taking part in in a extra professional model scheme, taking snaps beneath heart, adjusting protections and relying extra on his run recreation. A 12 months in the past, Virginia’s offense did not merely run via him. It primarily ran in any respect solely due to him. Armstrong missed a full recreation and was nonetheless chargeable for the very best proportion of his crew’s yardage of any Energy 5 participant. Nevertheless it was solely adequate for six wins, and so it was straightforward 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 stated.
After which, in Week 2, Virginia misplaced. It misplaced ugly, 24-3 to Illinois, in one of the 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 purported to,” Armstrong stated.
Final week, the offense confirmed marginal enchancment towards Previous Dominion, nevertheless it slowed down within the crimson 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. Practically half blamed the brand new teaching workers.
Armstrong finds that notion absurd. It is inconceivable to evaluate the brand new scheme, he stated, when the gamers have not executed it correctly. He blames himself for that. He has all the time been arduous on himself, Mendenhall stated, and so he makes a degree of conserving the noise from followers and message boards at arm’s size.
“I do not give it some thought,” Armstrong stated. “That is all outdoors stuff you may’t concentrate on or it breaks down your complete 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 effectively sufficient that the remainder of the world comes round to his viewpoint.
“It is not prefer it’s the top of the frickin’ world that we misplaced and put up three factors [against Illinois],” he stated. “Let’s simply maintain 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 via 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 recreation, Shelby trailed 75-54.
That is when Armstrong took over.
Shelby scored 3 times within the closing 5:48 to ship the sport to extra time. Armstrong threw 5 TD passes and accounted for 520 yards of offense.
“That is Brennan although,” his mom, Heather, stated. “There is a minute left, it isn’t over. He will struggle to the top. That is simply him.”
And but, Shelby nonetheless misplaced the sport. Columbian went for 2 after scoring in extra time and transformed. Closing rating: 83-82. It was, unofficially, the very best scoring recreation in Ohio highschool historical past.
Mendenhall has an analogous story about Armstrong — concerning 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 via the primary half towards 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’d swear his pulse was about 48,” Mendenhall recalled. “It was simply so matter of truth, and after that rating, the look he gave me was like, ‘Nicely, what else did you count on?'”
Perkins returned to motion on the subsequent drive, nonetheless, and the Yellow Jackets received the sport 30-27 in extra time.
Look again over Armstrong’s profession, and the identical story performs out repeatedly. He is good, however the wins are a battle.
Armstrong had the stats. He even set the college file for passing yards final season. However he did not have the wins. That ate away at him.
That is the true purpose he got here again. Sure, he can refine his ability set, show he can function a professional model offense, earn some NIL money — “all these good issues,” as he stated. However what he wished, greater than something, was to win — to win a lot that his legacy at Virginia was etched into stone. He did not wish to be remembered because the poster boy for loyalty in an period of transience in school soccer. He wished 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 is not any time to look again.
“I nonetheless wish to win 10 video games,” Armstrong stated. “There are 9 left, and I’ve acquired to win eight of them. It should be a hell of a battle. I do know that for a truth. However that is one thing I wished to do. And if it does not occur, I will know I gave this college every thing I had, no matter that appears like.”