Regardless of Virginia’s tough begin, Brennan Armstrong is correct the place he needs to be

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Brennan Armstrong shouldn’t be one to sugarcoat an issue. It is one of many issues his former coach, Bronco Mendenhall, loves about him. Mendenhall used to hover over the offense throughout Virginia practices, shut sufficient to listen to each phrase that escaped his quarterback’s mouth, and if the unit struggled, the monologues typically veered into the profane.

“He’d curse like a sailor,” Mendenhall stated. “But it surely was genuine.”

It isn’t stunning then that, practically a month into his first season with out Mendenhall helming the crew, Armstrong is not attempting to promote Virginia’s early offensive woes as something apart from a significant issue. The scenario is ugly.

“I am fairly annoyed proper now,” Armstrong stated after Saturday’s 16-14 win over Old Dominion, through which he led the offense on a frenetic last drive to arrange a game-winning area aim as time expired. “I am so used to being that high-powered offense, and after I do not feel it, and I haven’t got it, it frustrates me.”

It did not must be this manner. Armstrong might’ve chosen one other path, maybe a far simpler one. That is the period of identify, picture and likeness cash and switch portal freedom, and Armstrong had his share of suitors this offseason. As a substitute, he selected to remain put, pushed his chips into the center of the desk with a brand new teaching employees, led by first-time head coach Tony Elliott, and a brand new scheme, all of which created a real threat that his last season — the one that would make or break his NFL prospects — might devolve right into a rebuilding season for the Cavaliers.

When Armstrong made the selection, he was lauded as a case examine on loyalty in an period when that is a uncommon commodity. It took simply two video games for even Virginia followers to surprise if loyalty was overrated.

A 12 months after Armstrong blossomed into one of the vital prolific QBs within the nation, throwing for practically 4,500 yards and accounting for 40 touchdowns — 31 by means of the air — in simply 11 video games, issues in Charlottesville look bleak.

By way of three video games final season, Virginia’s offense had scored 124 factors.

By way of three video games this 12 months, the Hoos have tallied simply 53, and Armstrong has simply two passing TDs — each coming within the opener in opposition to FCS Richmond.

Now Armstrong is ready to go head-to-head in opposition to the teaching employees that turned him right into a star. The Cavaliers head to 3-0 Syracuse on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App) to tackle an lively offense led by former Virginia coordinator Robert Anae and QB coach Jason Beck.

Given the reunion, it is perhaps a becoming time for Armstrong to take a step again and reassess his determination, to surprise what may need been. However the one factor the outspoken quarterback will not say, irrespective of how completely he’s prodded within the run-up to his reunion with Anae & Co., is that he regrets something.

“Yeah, I did stick it out by means of a training change and the NIL cash you might presumably put in my pocket at a distinct college — all that great things,” Armstrong stated. “You most likely do not see too many QBs sticking it out, however I am proud of what I did.”

VIRGINIA ENDED ITS 2021 common season with 4 straight losses, together with a painful fourth-quarter flub in opposition to rival Virginia Tech. Afterward, Armstrong figured he was prepared to maneuver on, his sights set on the NFL draft.

Then Mendenhall introduced he was stepping down.

Then Virginia’s bowl recreation was canceled.

Then the NFL evaluations got here again, dinging Armstrong for myriad considerations, together with the Air Raid system that he’d mastered however that did not are inclined to translate on the subsequent stage.

He was pegged as a late-round choice with upside.

“He would not have wow-you-over arm power, however he is an overachiever — a gutty, gritty gamer,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. stated. “On Day 3, any person would seize him.”

There have been affords elsewhere, too, and so they got here with guarantees of hefty identify, picture and likeness offers. Across the nation, different gamers had been keen to make use of their newfound freedom to money in and, in a minimum of a couple of instances, discover a residence that may permit them to showcase their ability set on a bigger stage.

Factor is, draft evaluations meant little to Armstrong, who shrugged off critiques of his athleticism or arm power. He is an Ohio man, and he stated he likes carrying a chip on his shoulder. He’d proven what he might do on the sphere — elusive within the pocket, a succesful runner — and he’d put collectively a spotlight reel of NFL throws.

“The extra you watch him, the extra you want him,” Kiper stated.

And Armstrong wasn’t too involved with the NIL cash both. He had pals on this crew, and a quartet of receivers as gifted and productive as any within the nation. Why would he go away that?

Get proper right down to it although, and Armstrong’s determination wasn’t about anybody factor apart from this: “I needed to do what I needed to do,” Armstrong stated.

“That is type of how I am going. Folks suppose it is a powerful activity, however it’s probably not. Each season is a troublesome activity. If I used to be drafted, undrafted, out in the actual world — none of that’s straightforward. Yeah, technically it was about attempting to show various things, however actually, it was simply — that is what I needed to take action I did it. Impulsive, I assume.”

ARMSTRONG SAW VALUE in refining his ability set by taking part in in a extra professional model scheme, taking snaps underneath heart, adjusting protections and relying extra on his run recreation. A 12 months in the past, Virginia’s offense did not merely run by means of him. It primarily ran in any respect solely due to him. Armstrong missed a full recreation and was nonetheless answerable for the best share of his crew’s yardage of any Energy 5 participant. But it surely was solely ok for six wins, and so it was straightforward for Elliott to promote Armstrong on the concept a extra pedestrian stat line might equate to extra wins at 12 months’s finish.

“It is all about discovering methods to win, and that is the one stat that issues,” Elliott stated.

After which, in Week 2, Virginia misplaced. It misplaced ugly, 24-3 to Illinois, in one of the vital listless offensive performances of Armstrong’s five-year profession with the Cavaliers.

“I do not suppose there was a single play when all 11 guys had been doing what they had been speculated to,” Armstrong stated.

Final week, the offense confirmed marginal enchancment in opposition to Outdated Dominion, however it slowed down within the purple zone and wasted scoring probabilities, and till Armstrong’s heroics on the finish, the Hoos had been observing one other irritating loss.

When Virginia’s SB Nation site polled fans this week as to who ought to shoulder the blame for the offense’s sluggish begin, simply 2% of respondents pointed the finger at Armstrong. Almost half blamed the brand new teaching employees.

Armstrong finds that notion absurd. It is unimaginable to evaluate the brand new scheme, he stated, when the gamers have not executed it correctly. He blames himself for that. He has all the time been arduous on himself, Mendenhall stated, and so he makes some extent of maintaining the noise from followers and message boards at arm’s size.

“I do not give it some thought,” Armstrong stated. “That is all outdoors stuff you may’t deal with or it breaks down your total crew. It is a harmful world on the market with that stuff. It is simple to get misplaced.”

Armstrong is not misplaced. He is proper the place he needs to be, and it is his job to play effectively sufficient that the remainder of the world comes round to his viewpoint.

“It isn’t prefer it’s the tip of the frickin’ world that we misplaced and put up three factors [against Illinois],” he stated. “Let’s simply hold attempting to get higher.”

ARMSTRONG WON THE beginning QB job as a freshman in highschool, beating out a senior for the spot, however it was hardly an in a single day success story. That Shelby (Ohio) crew opened the season 2-5, and Armstrong suffered by means of the everyday freshman struggles. In late October, Shelby hosted Columbian (Tiffin), and Armstrong was sharp. The issue was, his protection supplied no assist. With six minutes left within the recreation, Shelby trailed 75-54.

That is when Armstrong took over.

Shelby scored 3 times within the last 5:48 to ship the sport to time beyond regulation. Armstrong threw 5 TD passes and accounted for 520 yards of offense.

“That is Brennan although,” his mom, Heather, stated. “There is a minute left, it is not over. He will combat to the tip. That is simply him.”

And but, Shelby nonetheless misplaced the sport. Columbian went for 2 after scoring in time beyond regulation and transformed. Ultimate rating: 83-82. It was, unofficially, the best scoring recreation in Ohio highschool historical past.

Mendenhall has an analogous story about Armstrong — concerning the second he knew his quarterback was particular.

It is 2018, and Armstrong was a real freshman. Beginning QB Bryce Perkins went down with an harm halfway by means of the primary half in opposition to Georgia Tech, with the Hoos trailing 13-7. Enter Armstrong, who drove the offense 65 yards on six performs, hitting Joe Reed for an extended landing to take the lead.

“I’d swear his pulse was about 48,” Mendenhall recalled. “It was simply so matter of truth, and after that rating, the look he gave me was like, ‘Properly, what else did you count on?'”

Perkins returned to motion on the subsequent drive, nevertheless, and the Yellow Jackets gained the sport 30-27 in time beyond regulation.

Look again over Armstrong’s profession, and the identical story performs out repeatedly. He is good, however the wins are a battle.

Armstrong had the stats. He even set the college file for passing yards final season. However he did not have the wins. That ate away at him.

That is the actual cause he got here again. Sure, he can refine his ability set, show he can function a professional model offense, earn some NIL money — “all these good issues,” as he stated. However what he needed, greater than something, was to win — to win a lot that his legacy at Virginia was etched into stone. He did not need to be remembered because the poster boy for loyalty in an period of transience in faculty soccer. He needed to be remembered because the man who led Virginia to a season for the ages.

There’s nonetheless time to do it, he insisted. It is all forward of him — which is why there isn’t any time to look again.

“I nonetheless need to win 10 video games,” Armstrong stated. “There are 9 left, and I’ve acquired to win eight of them. It is going to be a hell of a battle. I do know that for a truth. However that is one thing I needed to do. And if it would not occur, I will know I gave this college every part I had, no matter that appears like.”

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