The story of how Brennan Armstrong became UVA’s QB1
Spring 2020 was supposed to be the Spring of Brennan Armstrong. The understudy for two years, Armstrong, in his third spring practice, was to take over the reins of the Virginia offense from record-setting QB Bryce Perkins.
Then, there was no spring practice, scuttled due to the public health response to COVID-19.
And then came news from the transfer wire.
Keytaon Thompson, the former future star QB at Mississippi State, three coaches in three years ago, was transferring in to challenge Armstrong for the QB1 job.
And this Thompson kid, man.
Four-star prep recruit, outplayed future NFL MVP Lamar Jackson in Jackson’s last college game, in leading Mississippi State to an upset bowl win.
Big at 6’4”, elite athleticism, like a Perkins, like a Taysom Hill, who played QB for UVA offensive coordinator Robert Anae when Anae was at BYU.
Armstrong had to be thinking, Something is up here.
But actually, that wasn’t what he was thinking.
“The coaches were really transparent with me. They said, hey, we’re going to need to bring another guy in. I said, totally fine. Helps me, helps the team,” said Armstrong, who was named the starter for 2020 two weeks ago, after winning a pitched battle with Thompson in training camp.
In a day and age where kids transfer after being presented with the prospect of having to battle for playing time, Armstrong’s approach is throwback, old school.
“You know, I’m here to do whatever helps our team,” said Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore who appeared in 11 games in 2018 and 2019 as the primary back-up to Perkins, going 17-of-25 for 258 passing yards and two TDs and adding 93 yards on 16 carries on the ground.
“I was going to work no matter what, whoever came in. And so, yeah, it didn’t bother me at all. And, like I said, the coaches were transparent. It was easy decision. And like I said, I’m just a team guy. So, I just wanted them to make the decision for the team. They thought that was the best decision.”
It was the best decision for the team to, at the least, add depth in the quarterback room. Anae and head coach Bronco Mendenhall rave about senior Lindell Stone’s deep knowledge of the offense and how Stone is almost a coach on the field, but they clearly do not feel that Stone is a viable option as a QB2.
That was clear last fall when Armstrong was lost for several weeks after going down to injury in the William & Mary game. The decision was made to go as vanilla as possible with the offense, limiting Perkins’ exposure to injury by cutting back on designed quarterback runs and read-options.
This, you may remember, was the rough stretch where Virginia struggled to beat an awful ODU team, then lost three of four, before Armstrong was able to return in late October for the stretch run that saw the ‘Hoos close out the regular season with four straight wins and the program’s first ACC Coastal championship.
Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck pointed to Armstrong’s experience in the system as being a key in the decision to go with him as the starter, but both are still high on the talented Thompson, leaving the feeling that he could press Armstrong for playing time if Armstrong falters or the offense fizzles early on.
“From our standpoint, it would not be a good idea if one of our better athletes was standing next to me with a clipboard, so we’re looking for opportunities to get him on the field and to get him involved,” Anae said.
The coaches don’t seem worried that Armstrong will spend too much time looking over his shoulder.
“One of Brennan’s greatest strengths is his work ethic. He’s a really hard worker. He’s a competitor. He’s kind of a fighter,” Beck said. “Bryce was very calm. Brennan’s more intense on the field. I’d kind of describe him as a fighter. Just his day to day, how he carries himself, how he competes, how hard he works, I think is what set him apart where they voted him a captain and, and he leads through that.”
“He can make all the throws, you name a throw in the program, you name a throw in the game, and he can make it,” Anae said. “Emotionally, there’s a lot to cover, a lot that we’ve got to develop and grow along those lines. But, dang, I think the players will respect how competitive he is, especially in the offseason and those areas that, you know, you earn the respect of your team with how you how you perform in the weight room and in the conditioning program, and, hey, I can’t say enough on him as a young quarterback.”
Armstrong credits his time as the understudy to Perkins, now in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, for getting him ready to step up.
“The one thing I picked up from Bryce was he didn’t let a lot of time go to waste,” Armstrong said. “Each second of the day, either, you know, when we have school, we have school, but when we didn’t, it was, you know, trying to get the with the receivers, or things like that, just dial in a few things. Obviously, when we have our game plans in for each team, we’ll get to dial in specific things on those weeks, but um, yeah, the main thing is as a leader. We’re different styles of leadership, but he didn’t waste time, and that’s one thing I try to carry over with my leadership style.”
That’s the foundation of how he won the training camp battle to be QB1.
“I really didn’t take any day lightly,” Armstrong said. “However I felt, if I was ahead or not ahead, I just came into each day to work. And, you know, with the amount of work I put in, and the product that came out in the field when I was in, that was the decisions up to the coaches to, you know, name me.”
Story by Chris Graham