Virginia, depleted, this time, by COVID-19, yet again finds a way
An hour and a half before kickoff, media were alerted that six UVA football players would be out for Saturday’s ACC clash with Boston College due to COVID-19 issues.
We’re never told in these situations exactly who it is, so those of us in the press box had an assignment: scan the field below us to see if we could figure it out.
We noticed that outside linebacker Noah Taylor wasn’t out for warm-ups, and then word started circulating through the social distancing that the D line would be depleted.
Jahmeer Carter, the starter at nose tackle in the wake of the departure of sophomore Jowon Briggs, was out.
Tommy Christ, a former D lineman who had moved over to offense, was an emergency fill-in.
Olasunkonmi Agunloye, on the field for 27 snaps this season, was a next man up.
As was Jordan Redmond, who had also played, you guessed it, 27 snaps in 2020.
This on top of the defense being without emotional leader Charles Snowden, who broke his right ankle two weeks ago in the Abilene Christian win.
“There’s new faces and new names, with a similar result, in the front seven,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the ‘Hoos had concluded a 43-32 win over Boston College.
Yes, BC backup QB Dennis Grosel threw for a school-record-tying 520 yards, with four TD passes.
Yes, the Eagles gained 513 yards of total offense.
But UVA also had six sacks, and held Boston College to a net -7 yards rushing.
The patchwork front seven … worked.
Credit to the guys for making it work.
“That was really helpful in helping us make, or as the game went, for Boston College just to be one-dimensional and get enough pressure on the quarterback and enough sacks, and for us, in the secondary, to make just enough plays in terms of turnovers or stops to have the success we wanted,” Mendenhall said.
Even with Grosel throwing for the big numbers, the secondary – bolstered by the return of safety Joey Blount, who had been out since Oct. 17 – made big plays that helped turn the momentum of the game.
A second quarter De’Vante Cross red-zone INT resulted in a 14-point swing. BC, up 7-6 at the time, had a first-and-10 at the Virginia 19, when the front got pressure on Grosel, who threw late and high, and was picked off by Cross at the 5.
UVA went 95 yards on eight plays, capped by a 47-yard TD pass from Brennan Armstrong to Ra’Shaun Henry, to take the lead.
Nick Grant intercepted a third quarter Grosel pass in the end zone, and the ‘Hoos went 80 yards in two plays on the ensuing drive, capped by a 60-yard TD run by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, to put Virginia up 27-17, and you didn’t know it then, but it would get no closer the rest of the way.
Armstrong, by the way. What about that kid?
Scintillating. Threw for 287 yards, ran for 130.
It’s still the case that Virginia has only lost twice in games that Armstrong finished: Clemson (in which he threw for 270 yards and three TDs, and ran for 89) and Miami (in which he threw for 181 yards and two TDs, and ran for 91).
“I think I’m getting better every game,” Armstrong said. “That just goes with preparation and just playing a lot more. I’m finally getting the hang of it. Knowing what I’ve got to do. Knowing what I’ve got to improve on. That’s kind of what I expected after I got a full season-ish in, was to just to get better and better through each game.”
In his last four games, all UVA wins, Armstrong is throwing for 270.3 yards per game, completing 65.3 percent of his passes, with nine TDs and three INTs, running for 77 yards per game and four TDs on the ground.
“Brennan Armstrong continues to be exceptional, and continues to get better and better and better,” Mendenhall said. “To have had the start we had without Brennan, and then obviously when he’s come back and to see where the team has gone, he certainly deserves a lot of credit.”
The group, facing down a 1-4 start and a game with a North Carolina team that seemed at the time destined to doom this team to a losing season, deserves a lot of credit.
One game left: Virginia Tech.
“There hasn’t been anything easy about this year, and they just keep playing while doing whatever they have to do and whatever they can do, which is honoring the commitment they made at the very beginning of the season. They wanted to play, and have demonstrated that every single week from beginning to end,” Mendenhall said.
Story by Chris Graham