UVA vs. Duke: Five things to keep an eye on

uva footballI’ll be as socially distanced as the rest of you on Saturday when UVA opens its 2020 football season at home against Duke.

Which is to say, my TV will be tuned in to the ACC Network at 4 p.m., thanks to the fact that I pay for a YouTube TV subscription on top of what I already pay Comcast.

Pretty sure the food will be better in the virtual press box, at least.

Anyway, here goes, with the five things I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Brennan Armstrong vs. the banged-up Duke secondary

Brennan Armstrong isn’t Bryce Perkins, which is a key reason the consensus of the ACC media is that Virginia will fall from the ACC Championship Game a year ago all the way to ninth in 2020.

What they’re missing: Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore who was Perkins’ understudy the past two years, doesn’t need to be Perkins.

Armstrong will have the most experienced offensive line of the Bronco Mendenhall era in front of him, which should make the tailbacks – Wayne Taulapapa, Shane Simpson and Perris Jones – that much more effective.

The wideout room still has Terrell Jana, who had 73 catches last year, plus grad transfer Ra’Shaun Henry, who had 90 catches at St. Francis (Pa.) in 2019, alongside returnees Tavares Kelly and Billy Kemp.

And Armstrong will have a legit NFL prospect at tight end in 6’7”, 260-pound matchup nightmare Tony Poljan, another grad transfer, from Central Michigan.

The offense the past two years was basically, Hey, Bryce, do something.

Armstrong doesn’t need to do all of the heavy lifting.

And he has the advantage of going up against a team that just lost both of its starting corners – senior Mark Gilbert and redshirt junior Josh Blackwell – to injury.

UVA OLBs vs. Chase Brice

Daniel Jones didn’t bypass what would have been a redshirt senior season just to avoid another UVA smackdown, but one would have been coming.

Nine of Jones’ 29 career INTs came in his three losses to the ‘Hoos, who have won five straight in the series, including a 48-14 win in Charlottesville last year, in which UVA forced five Duke turnovers, two of them interceptions by fifth-year senior QB Quentin Harris.

Enter Chase Brice, a grad transfer from Clemson who won the QB1 job in camp, and has struggled a bit in his first two games, both Duke losses, completing 54.4 percent of his passes, with two INTs, and only leading the Blue Devils on four scoring drives and 19 points through eight quarters of action.

Expect co-defensive coordinators Nick Howell and Kelly Poppinga to dial up the pressure on Brice with edge linebackers Charles Snowden and Noah Taylor, who I think are as good as any OLB tandem in the nation with their versatility – both as good at dropping back in coverage as they are at getting into the backfield.

The JMU transfers

Defensive end Adeeb Atariwa and safety D’Angelo Amos were foundational pieces at JMU, but coming out of camp, both were listed at #2 on the depth chart at their respective positions (Atariwa backing up Mandy Alonso, Amos behind Joey Blount).

No disrespect in either case, considering who’s ahead of them, but I’m still expecting to see a lot of reps for both.

And it has to be a signal of depth in the return game that Amos, who has five career punt-return TDs, isn’t among the top three on the depth chart there – with Kemp at 1, Kelly at 2 and Simpson at 3.

Does Keytaon Thompson see the field?

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said in camp that it wouldn’t make sense to keep an athlete like Thompson, a grad transfer from Mississippi State, on the sideline beside him with a clipboard, but …

Putting Thompson on the field is a risk. A big risk.

The QB depth chart is thin behind Thompson. Don’t buy senior Lindell Stone being QB2. He’s fourth, behind Thompson and true freshman Ira Armstead.

If something happens to Thompson, the option is a guy who was playing high school ball a year ago, or a guy who hasn’t taken a meaningful snap in a hundred years, give or take.

Which is to say, it might be hard to keep Thompson off the field, but, let’s be sensible here.

The Fourth Side

There will be many less than a thousand people in Scott Stadium on Saturday, meaning the energy will have to come from within.

Mendenhall has long emphasized what he calls The Fourth Side, in which his players are coached to be active, energetic and loud on the sidelines.

I’m expecting this to be noticeable on the TV broadcast.

I’d love to be able to tell you how loud it is inside the stadium, but I’m not considered essential to the media operation.


I expect it to be a factor. There will be video.

Story by Chris Graham

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