What UVA Football fans need to know about Illinois

uva footballThere were two minds as to how Virginia would approach its game plan on offense last weekend.

My expectation: Robert Anae would keep it vanilla, not put anything on tape for Illinois to get a gander at, then throw the kitchen sink at the Illini on Saturday.

Scott German’s expectation: Anae would throw the kitchen sink at William & Mary, and make it so that Bret Bielema and his staff would have to prepare for four quarterbacks.

Scott: for the win.

“Tremendous task in front of us,” Bielema said in his weekly presser on Monday. “I think offensively they played four different quarterbacks on Saturday, and it sounds like they plan to do the same throughout. They kind of have a quarterback package, and then they have a little bit of a different offset wildcat-type package. He calls those guys football players, and that’s exactly what they are.”

The UVA two-deep now lists two FBPs – football players – Keytaon Thompson and Jacob Rodriguez, both natural quarterbacks who lined up all over the place in Saturday’s 43-0 win over W&M.

Thompson, a 6’4” grad senior, led the ‘Hoos in receiving with five catches on six targets (one drop) for 66 yards, and had 43 yards on four carries on the ground.

Rodriguez, a 6’1” freshman, got 10 snaps, lining up at wideout and running back, and had 31 yards on four carries on the ground.

The two-deep still lists 6’3” redshirt freshman Ira Armstead as the backup quarterback, but Armstead was in for 21 snaps, 15 of them at wildcat, receiver and running back, and he actually ended up leading the team in rushing, with 54 yards on five totes.

The “other” quarterback, starter Brennan Armstrong, had a game himself – 21-for-31 passing for 339 yards, two TDs and a 180.9 QB rating, and two more TDs on the ground.

So, yeah, it can be a lot to prepare for.

Bielema is still trying to figure out who his starter at QB will be on Saturday. The starter for the opener, Brandon Peters, went down early in the 30-22 Illini win at Nebraska, with his replacement, Artur Sitkowski, going 12-for-15 for 124 yards and two TDs in the win.

Sitkowski threw for three TDs in the 37-30 loss to Texas-San Antonio this past weekend, but he wasn’t nearly as efficient – 22-of-46 for 266 yards.

Peters is expected to be available for practice this week, but whether he can be in the mix to start or back up on Saturday is uncertain, according to Bielema, who didn’t sound to be decided on who would get the start if Peters would be available.

“I think that’s a great conversation when it becomes real,” Bielema said. “Last week BP wasn’t cleared. As of right now, he’s practicing but he’s not cleared. Until that bridge comes, we’ll cross it when it comes.”

Illinois averages 30 points and 371 yards per game, with Bielema hoping to bring the smashmouth style that he worked to great success at Wisconsin.

It might take some time. The Illini, through two games, are averaging a pedestrian 158.5 yards per game, and 3.8 yards per carry.

The carries get split between 6’0”, 205-pound senior Mike Epstein (53.5 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry) and 5’11”, 195-pound redshirt freshman Reggie Love III (42.0 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry).

The big-play weapon is speedy 5’10” redshirt freshman wideout Isaiah Williams (14 catches, 142 yards, 1 TD), with the best red-zone target being 6’4”, 250-pound junior tight end Daniel Barker (5 catches, 74 yards, 2 TDs).

The Illinois defense got gashed last week in the loss to UTSA, which put up 37 points and 497 total yards, including 217 yards on the ground, in the upset.

This after an admirable effort from the D in the win at Nebraska, holding the Cornhuskers to 22 points and 392 yards.

That’s the game that UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall is hoping his players pay more attention to as they get ready for this weekend.

“Oh, sure. I think our players, our coaches, I think all of college football paid attention,” Mendenhall said. “What a great start for a coach taking over a program, and to have that kind of exposure and that kind of win, you really couldn’t have scripted it any better, so I think everyone paid attention and saw the capability there.”

Story by Chris Graham

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