The biggest questions facing Virginia Football heading into the spring
The most significant departure is that of safety Chris Moore, who made five starts in 2019 as coach Bronco Mendenhall and defensive coordinator Nick Howell tried to piece things together from the slew of mid-season injuries that took the likes of Bryce Hall and Brenton Nelson out of the two-deep.
Moore, a rising senior, had 42 tackles in 2019, including seven tackles each in the losses to Clemson and Florida to end the season.
But Moore hadn’t been listed on the two-deep for either of those, and the secondary brings back all eight of the guys who were, including starting safeties Joey Blount (95 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 PBUs in 2019 and De’Vante Cross (60 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs), and with Nelson (30 career starts at UVA) returning, Moore’s departure may be more of a numbers-game thing than anything else.
The Cavaliers also lose depth at tailback with the departures of P.K. Kier (174 yards, 1 TD in 2019) and Lamont Atkins (73 yards, 1 TD), leaving the backfield a bit thin behind 2019 starter Wayne Taulpapa (473 yards, 12 TDs).
Their departures leave Virginia with just two guys who have any carries at the college level – Mike Hollins (112 yards, 3 TDs in 2019) and fullback Jamari Peacock (one career carry; primarily used as a blocking back).
There have been reports the past couple of days that Indiana tailback Ronnie Walker, a former UVA recruiting target, has entered the transfer portal and may have interest in signing with Virginia, but Walker would have to sit a transfer year, barring an NCAA immediate-eligibility waiver, so that option can’t be counted on to help for 2020.
There was talk in the media room at JPJ this week about Virginia maybe being in the market for a grad-transfer QB, but that one seems a reach.
Brennan Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore, would seem to be ensconced as the starter, with Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae able, for the first time since arriving in Charlottesville in 2015, to hand the offense to a quarterback who has had time to learn the system from within, after having to rely on transfers Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins to get through their first four seasons in the ACC.
It would seem that the best UVA could hope for on the transfer market would be a second-tier guy looking for nothing more than a chance to compete for a job, who also wouldn’t be disruptive in the likely event that he would enter the 2020 season as the backup.
At this stage in the academic semester, too, that guy would be limited in competing for a job by not being able to be on Grounds for spring practice.
Which is to say, it wouldn’t seem all that likely that the transfer market is going to prove fruitful for the QB room, leaving Mendenhall and Anae without a lot of options behind Armstrong, as much as you love Lindell Stone, a Mike London recruiting-era holdover whose skill set doesn’t fit the Anae scheme, as the QB2, and three-star freshmen Luke Wentz and R.J. Harvey battling for scout-team snaps.
The QB issue is, honestly, the biggest question mark for UVA heading into 2020, more than the losses of Moore, Kier and Atkins.
There’s plenty of depth in the secondary and backfield, and as nice as it is to have Armstrong ready to take the keys to the offense, you’d feel a lot better about the QB room if there was a viable option behind him, given the exposure that comes with playing QB in Anae’s system.
Story by Chris Graham