You know who you really feel sorry for? Wake Forest and Miami. They have one less day with short weeks coming up to prepare for the wrinkles and permutations that UVA offensive coordinator Robert Anae has in his playbook.
“We all have the same amount of time, and it’s a race. And if you can’t name something, it’s harder to have the resources to prepare for it. Every minute counts, and so the longer it takes to decipher it, and if it’s ever-changing, then might still not be enough time,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said, after his team ran up 558 yards of total offense in a 42-14 win over Illinois on Saturday.
And it could have been – should have been – worse. Justin Duenkel missed two field goals, and turnovers at the edge of the red zone snuffed out two other second-half drives.
Brennan Armstrong threw for 405 yards and five touchdowns. Jelani Woods had 122 yards on five catches. Keytaon Thompson had 68 yards receiving, 24 yards and a TD on the ground, took snaps at QB – and memorably faked a snap under center.
With the game still in doubt, at 14-7, late second quarter, UVA faced a third-and-goal at the Illini 6. Thompson lined up wide to the left, went in motion across the formation, then stopped under center.
You assume Illinois watched its game tape from last week’s 43-0 Virginia win over William & Mary. Thompson, in a similar situation, came in motion from the right, stopped under center, then took the snap for a QB sneak.
Only on the third-and-goal play Saturday, Thompson lingered for a moment under center, then went about his way in motion to the left.
The Illini defense, befuddled, left Dontayvion Wicks uncovered a step inside the inside. Armstrong connected on the easy pitch-and-catch for the 6-yard score and a 21-7 halftime lead.
Then with the score at 28-14 late in the third quarter, on a second-and-goal from the 8, Thompson lined up at wildcat QB, took the direct snap, made a juke at the line, before bowling over an Illini defender to get to the pay window for another score.
“We just have a lot of playmakers all over the place, and I really feel like we can be a special offense this year with the plethora of weapons that we have,” said Thompson, who transferred from Mississippi State in 2020 to compete for the starting QB job, then was shifted to FBP – Football Player – when he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder late in training camp.
KT is currently tied for the team lead in receptions with 10 – on 13 targets, with one drop – with 134 yards through the air and 67 yards on the ground.
I voted him first-team preseason All-ACC all-purpose for a reason, the reason being, I just assumed that everybody else would, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw that some kid from Georgia Tech who returns kicks got the nod.
I went with the herd on voting Sam Howell preseason All-ACC QB, but after two weeks, it’s BA leading the pack, averaging a conference-best 339.0 yards passing per game, with a 180.9 passer rating.
Howell is a distant second in both – 280.0 yards passing per game, 151.2 QB rating.
“He’s unmatched in terms of how competitive, how tough (he is) in his determination,” Mendenhall said.
Armstrong told me back at the ACC Kickoff in July that he thought the UVA offense could be among the top offenses in the country this year because of the playmakers and the scheme from Anae.
“It just puts pressure on them to decide what they want to do, and I know we had a good little tricky play with Wicksy to me today, but with just KT back there, you know, bounces it, breaks it for a touchdown,” Armstrong said. “That stuff, you don’t know what’s really going to happen, you don’t know how they’re going to address it. I mean, it just puts a lot of pressure on the players out there to quickly make a decision on what they want to do.”
Mendenhall cited the diversity of playmakers and looks as the key to the offense.
“Brennan, I think threw for 400 today, but the size of the chunks that are happening are increasing in the number of targets, so when you see Jelani downfield, you see Ra’Shaun Henry downfield, and you see Dontayvion Wicks downfield, it just starts to build,” Mendenhall said. “It’s hard to narrow down on four different or five different threats, and with a quarterback that’s making good decisions and fast decisions, throwing accurately, that’s leading to points. What we saw today is it certainly could have been more with some field goal attempts and one turnover; but just lots and lots of positive things happening.”
One thing Mendenhall is sure of – he’s glad he doesn’t have to try to scheme against his offense.
“The influence from my defensive background is, I’m not going to say is the determining vote, but it’s influencing it and anything that I think is difficult – we do and add to it. With limited time and a team traveling and an early start, you just run out of time,” Mendenhall said.
Story by Chris Graham