The red hair, the beard, the tats, they’re both left-handed. Yeah, you can see why his teammates refer to UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong by the name of the notorious one from the world of MMA.
“I just walk around the locker room calling him Conor McGregor, asking him when his next fight is,” wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks said last week.
Armstrong sees it, too.
Not that he’s totally into it.
“That’s been an inside joke. That kind of just started like, the beginning end of spring ball, beginning of fall camp. So yeah, that’s a funny one. I didn’t I didn’t think that was going to be out to the media,” said Armstrong, who is entering his second year as the QB1 at Virginia.
“I don’t know if I could be so like vulgar like Connor can on the on the mic, but, um, yeah, no, I get it, I can see why. You know, Tay says that he thinks it’s the beard, he thinks the Irish, that’s why he kind of made that comparison. But, uh, you know, I feel like on the field, I’m pretty unlike Conor,” Armstrong said.
Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck isn’t so sure on that last point.
“He is a competitor, a fighter, intense,” said Beck, explaining that a focus for him, coaching-wise, is on “pulling that back, and, you know, keeping him, that’s who he is, and that’s who we want him to be, and the guys love him because of that, but at the same time, when you’re playing quarterback, just having that within reason.”
“So, it’s actually kind of a little bit more, you know, ranging in that fighting spirit, for the right times and the right places,” Beck said. “Because he’s just naturally that way, competitive, aggressive, combative, high intensity, you know, in practice, so it’s more just kind of managing that and keeping things a little more steady when you need to.”
Armstrong first endeared himself to UVA fans as the fiery QB2 for two years to Bryce Perkins who would occasionally be used in wildcat and short-yardage situations in what was effectively a preview of how offensive coordinator Robert Anae would later use Keytaon Thompson.
In 2020, in his first year as a starter, Armstrong threw for 2,117 yards and 18 TDs, and also led the ‘Hoos in rushing, with 552 yards and five TDs on the ground.
The offense actually improved in most categories from 2019 under Perkins on the team’s way to the Orange Bowl – in total offense (423.3 yards per game in 2020, vs. 388.8 yards per game in 2019), in rushing (162.7 yards per game vs. 121.2), with only a small drop-off in passing (267.7 yards per game in 2019, vs. 260.6 in 2020) and scoring (32.7 in 2019, 30.7 in 2020).
Armstrong also outperformed Perkins year to year – his pass efficiency rating, 138.9, was actually a tick better than Perkins in 2019 (134.2), and he averaged more TDs per game (2.56 to 2.36) and was close in total offense (Perkins averaged 307.6 yards per game in 2019, to the 296.6 that Armstrong put up in 2020).
And now he has a year under his belt, an O line that returns 11 of the 12 guys who took snaps in 2020, a tailback room that Bronco Mendenhall thinks is the deepest and most talented in his six years on the job.
This, plus the fact that Armstrong had spring practice and a chance to build on spring with summer workouts with his receiver corps, has Beck, among others, expecting a lot heading into the fall.
“Yeah, there’s definitely been an improvement where we left off in spring with things we’re looking to do, in his chemistry with those receivers that’s happened over the summer,” Beck said. “KT’s in that bigger role as a receiver, so there’s a lot of chemistry there. And then with our young guys, you know, Wicks, with Ra’Shaun (Henry) coming back, Billy (Kemp IV), all those guys, it’s a year more. Jelani (Woods) was new in the spring. So, it’s another summer’s worth of chemistry. We have a decent amount of young guys returning that really worked this summer to improve, and you could see that chemistry that they’ve put in.”
Armstrong has “confidence” heading into the season, but he doesn’t sound like Conor McGregor in exuding it.
“I had a lot of confidence in this offense to begin with. Going into spring, I was just, you know, feeling it out, making sure we’re on the same page. And boom, we hit the ground running pretty fast. The offense was clicking right away,” Armstrong said.
“So yeah, I mean, I think there’s a lot of guys, I think a lot of guys will start to they’re not yet confident in our offense. I think they’re going to be, but I’ve been confident with the guys and the experience that we have coming back.”
Story by Chris Graham