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Brennan Armstrong is leaving: The bigger picture of what this means for Virginia Football

tony elliott
Photo: UVA Athletics

Brennan Armstrong is on his way out, and it’s not hard to imagine that he’s just the first of many to be headed out the door after the first season of the Tony Elliott era at Virginia.

If things had ended the way they were supposed to, odds are that we’d have heard the news about Armstrong, who set a slew of school records in 2021, then regressed big-time under Elliott and his offensive coordinator, Des Kitchings, in 2022, as early as this past Sunday.

We, of course, all know what happened, and it’s still hard to process the events of the night of Nov. 13, which took Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. from the world way, way, way too soon.

The last two games were cancelled, and their teammates spent the past several days going back and forth to funeral services in three states.

The final one, a memorial service for Davis, an NFL prospect at wideout, was on Wednesday, and when that date was put on the calendar, the new target for when announcements would be made about the future was then targeted for Thursday.

Armstrong, basically, is just the first domino to fall.

Leading us to explore: what does Armstrong’s announcement about heading out for the portal mean for Virginia Football?

There’s going to be a Year 2 of Kitchings at OC

That Armstrong is out the door tells us something about what he thinks, or knows, Elliott is going to do at offensive coordinator: namely, nothing.

Yes, unfathomable as it was a few weeks ago, Kitchings must be coming back.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in all of college football doing a worse job this year than Kitchings, who inherited the nation’s third-ranked offense and turned it into a laughingstock.

The numbers tell the story, starting with Armstrong, who passed for 4,449 yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs and a 156.4 passer rating in 2021 under offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, who left for Syracuse after head coach Bronco Mendenhall stepped down last December.

Kitchings’ pro-style offense never clicked with Armstrong back at QB, and his top wideouts from 2021, Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson, joined by Davis, a 2020 freshman All-America, who missed the 2021 season after suffering a torn ACL in spring practice, back with him.

Everybody saw their numbers drop dramatically under the new regime.

In 10 games, Armstrong passed for 2,220 yards and seven TDs, with 12 INTs and a 109.4 passer rating.

His completion percentage also dropped more than 10 points, from 65.2 percent in 2021 to 54.7 percent in 2022.

After averaging 404.5 yards per game through the air in 2021, Armstrong had just one game over 300 yards in 2022, passing for 313 yards in Virginia’s 34-17 loss to Louisville on Oct. 8.

The wideouts also struggled. Wicks, a first-team All-ACC pick in 2021, followed up his 57-catch, 1,203-yard season from 2021 with a 30-catch, 430-yard season in 2022, a big problem being drops – nine on 72 targets in 2022; he had five drops on 93 targets in 2021.

Thompson, who somehow still earned third-team All-ACC honors this season, saw a drop-off from 78 catches, 990 yards in 2021 to 53 catches, 579 yards in 2022 – with him also suffering from the dropsies, nine on 77 targets in 2022, after having seven on 112 targets a year ago.

Last year’s offensive line left town, and despite Elliott’s efforts to spin it as a series of decisions that had been made before he got there, the exodus actually came about after it had become clear to the guys in the program that he wasn’t retaining Beck and was going in another direction for an offensive coordinator.

That two of those guys, Olu Oluwatimi (Michigan) and Bobby Haskins (Southern Cal) are starters for likely playoff teams, is a big what if? for UVA fans.

Wicks is next

With Kitchings presumably back, you can bet that Wicks is among the next to go.

Wicks, like Armstrong, seemed a surefire bet before the season to be a Day 2 or Day 3 NFL draft pick next spring, but like Armstrong, he’s now going to have to rehabilitate his reputation, and it’s hard to imagine that he’d think hanging around at UVA, without his QB, is the way to do that.

As far as possible destinations for Armstrong and Wicks, head coaches and offensive coordinators aren’t thinking they’re getting the 2022 Armstrong or the 2022 Wicks; they’re recruiting the 2021 Armstrong and the 2021 Wicks.

They’ll each have long lists of suitors, and will pretty much be able to go wherever they want to go, within reason.

Going to need to hit the portal for QBs

One other thing that we know now is that Elliott and Kitchings are going to have to recruit at least one, and probably two, QBs off the transfer portal.

If you’re scoring at home, I’d recommend not looking at the bevy of four- and five-stars putting their name into the portal the next few days.

No one who has a thought of doing enough at the college level to get a sniff at the NFL is going to want to put their futures in the hands of the staff that ruined Brennan Armstrong.

Think: guys who put up decent numbers in the MAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA, maybe FCS, who want a chance at a starting job in Power 5, even if it’s the bottom rung.

I say that because, if you look at the high school recruiting for the upcoming Class of 2023, that’s the kind of talent that the new staff has been able to get to commit – the kids whose other offers are coming from the Group of 5 and FCS.

I say Elliott and Kitchings are going to probably need two guys because I don’t assume that they really think Jay Woolfolk, this year’s backup, is actually their QB of the future.

Remember that, one, Woolfolk was recruited by Anae and Beck to play in Anae’s Air Raid, and two, that he’s also an elite baseball prospect, who would either have to miss a month in the middle of the 2023 UVA Baseball season for spring practice, or miss spring practice so that he doesn’t have to sit out the middle of the 2023 UVA Baseball season.

And, yes, he can try to do both, but you can’t really expect him to learn the offense and get the reps he needs in the spring, do what he needs to do in baseball, somehow still get to class every so often, and not put himself in the hospital with exhaustion.

And even if he does, and wins the starting QB job, you’re still going to need depth at QB, which went from being a position of great strength in the Anae/Beck era to barely there in Year 1 of Elliott/Kitchings, and that was before Armstrong announced that he was leaving.

Maybe it all works out?

Maybe Elliott and Kitchings are able to lure a QB that one or the other had recruited who ended up at another school and would be a perfect fit for the offensive scheme.

Virginia, under Mendenhall, got two starters who ended up doing enough at UVA to get NFL jobs off via the transfer route, Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins.

Armstrong was the only homegrown QB of the Mendenhall era.

It’s not the ideal way to build, but until you can get your own guys in and get them acclimated, which can take a couple of years, it can work, as we’ve seen.

I hope for Armstrong, who seems like a good kid, from the limited time I’ve been able to speak with him the past couple of years, that he lands a new gig that gives him the chance to make 2022 go away.

Looking back, he should have looked out for #1 last year, but credit to him, he was loyal to the guys he came up with, and wanted to do something special with them, though it wasn’t meant to be.

One person close to the program has painted to me a dire picture of how things stand in the program right now, that of fear of just how many guys are actually going to come back for the spring semester, given how the football part of the season went, and then on top of that, the way things ended on Nov. 13 making it so that some guys just want to get a fresh start somewhere else.

The football part was already not looking all that promising for 2022 before Nov. 13; after Nov. 13, it may be years before things are right with Virginia Football from an emotional standpoint, and I don’t think we could blame anybody who would decide that they just can’t be a part of it anymore, given everything that has happened.

All we really know is this: absent a decision to shut the program down, they’re going to play games next fall, and there will be 85 guys on scholarship and another 10 to 15 walk-ons in the orange and blue, and we’ll be rooting like hell for them to win.

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Chris Graham

In addition to being the editor of Augusta Free Press, I've written seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For my commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, youtube.com/chrisgrahamAFP. Want to reach me? Try [email protected].