Last week gave us the full glory of the football season. Every time slot was jam-packed with riveting action. Oklahoma was upset by Kansas State in the noon slot, LSU went down to Mike Leach’s Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 3:30 slot, and U of SC blew it at home in the night slot. Along with that, Virginia finally got to play their first game after COVID-19 issues at NC State and Virginia Tech led to rescheduling of both games. Virginia hosted Duke and won 38-20. We connected with Jay Pierce from Streaking the Lawn to learn more about the 1-0 Cavaliers. You can follow him on Twitter at @pierceRX.
Ryan: Virginia entered the fourth quarter trailing the Blue Devils before outscoring them 21-0 to secure a 38-20 victory. Duke’s generally looked pretty bad this season scoring a combined 19 points against Notre Dame and Boston College in their first two games. Do you believe Virginia just shaking the rust off against Duke or are they close competition?
Jay: There was definitely a lot of rust for the Hoos to shake off - but the biggest question for the team was how the new starting QB would do (and how much of Bryce Perkins’ production he could replace). Armstrong wasn’t outstanding, but he made a bunch of better plays later in the game that I think speak to him growing more comfortable as his first start went on.
The defense also lit up Duke for six turnovers (and another on special teams), so that piled things on in the fourth quarter. Considering it was UVA’s first game, I think they settled in well in the second half and are a much better team than the Blue Devils.
Ryan: Virginia tormented former Clemson QB Chase Brice last week, intercepting him 4 times! They also intercepted Jalon Calhoun on a WR-pass and held Duke running backs to just 3.6 YPC. We expected the Virginia defense to be a major strength of the team. Are you as optimistic about the defense as those stats may lead some to be?
Jay: Oh absolutely! Though I’m not confident they’ll get a similar total against Clemson, I think the defense should be one of the best in the ACC this season. The talent in the front seven is really strong and they love to play an aggressive and disruptive style with the four linebackers. So far, the secondary is healthy, which is a big difference from last year’s ACC title game, so hopefully the Hoos can rely on some better depth there as well this season. Regardless, I’m extremely optimistic about the defense this year.
Ryan: Brennan Armstrong has the tall task of replacing Bryce Perkins at quarterback. In his debut, Armstrong threw for 269 yards and 2 TDs while running for 47 yards and another TD on the ground. He also threw two picks and was just 24/45 passing. What’s your evaluation of his debut and more broadly what he brings to the QB position?
Jay: It’s definitely a big ask for Brennan to take over the offense after Bryce - but I think the best way to describe him is he’s a gamer. He plays with obvious confidence and certainly wasn’t discouraged by the early mistakes. He’s a very capable runner and once you get over the fact that he’s using his wrong hand to throw the ball, he’s plenty capable throwing it as well. I’d evaluate his debut as a starter as an optimistic meeting of expectations: there were some hiccups, but he looked good overall. Statistically, the completion percentage wasn’t there, but by the fourth quarter, he had turned it on (going 8-for-9 on throws). I liked the command of the offense he showed throughout the game and definitely expected there to be some growing pains in his debut (and there were plenty of them). He’s got a 6’7” freshman WR in Lavel Davis to chuck it to, so that’ll help.
Dabo said this morning that Armstrong looked “like a young Steve Young out there” - which, if you ignore the Hall of Fame pedigree, actually makes a lot of sense - lefty who likes to throw all of the route tree but is plenty adept at running when needed and does well making things up as they go along when a play breaks down. We’ll see if he lives up to the comparison.
Ryan: QB Bryce Perkins was the Hoos’ leading rusher a year ago. With him gone, they leaned heavily on the passing attack throwing 47 times. QB Brennan Armstrong had 10 of the team’s 36 carries. Will the QB run still be a key element of the offense? Against Clemson’s tough defensive line, do you expect a pass-focused attack?
Jay: I think OC Bob Anae loves calling passing plays no matter who they’re playing, but you’re right that particularly against Clemson it’ll be a pass-focused game plan. Armstrong can run it when he needs to, but isn’t anywhere close to what Perkins was in the open field. I liked what I saw from both UVA tailbacks against Duke as well, but if the offense has any chance to keep up with Clemson’s production, it’ll have to come through the air.
I mentioned Lavel Davis earlier, but the Hoos have some other talented wideouts, with Terrell Jana as a steady presence out wide and Billy Kemp as your shifty slot receiver. They also will continue to rely on grad transfer tight end Tony Poljan - he’s a massive target who was All-MAC for Central Michigan before coming to Charlottesville.
Ryan: Clemson toppled Virginia by 45 points in last season’s ACC Championship Game. Is there reason to believe the Hoos can keep it competitive deep into the game this season? If so, what’s the big key to doing so?
Jay: A lot would have to go right for UVA to keep it close, but I think the health and depth across the defense is the biggest difference and biggest reason for optimism in this year’s matchup. The linebackers are the real strength, with Noah Taylor and Charles Snowden returning on the edge, and hopefully they’ll be able to disrupt things for Trevor Lawrence - but the secondary for the Hoos last December was not as healthy or experienced as it will be on Saturday, so they should be able to hang in there a little better (at least).
The obviously huge issue is the speed and talent Clemson brings across...every position? Etienne is still a nightmare no matter who is healthy on defense and, while Tee Higgins’ absence helps, I’m sure Rodgers and Galloway are up for the challenge of meeting his production. If Brennan Armstrong can connect on some chunk plays, limit mistakes, and a healthy UVA defense can force some of the opposite for Clemson, they could make it much more competitive than the last meeting.
Ryan: Thank you to Jay for participating in this Q&A. You can read the other half of this Q&A over at Streaking the Lawn!