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Teel: Bank on big numbers from Brennan Armstrong on Saturday. Can UVA translate them to win over Hokies?
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Teel: Bank on big numbers from Brennan Armstrong on Saturday. Can UVA translate them to win over Hokies?

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Virginia Pittsburgh Football

The top 10 quarterbacks in FBS this season based on passing yards per game, and the team’s record of each quarterback:

Pass yards/ Team Player, school game rec.

Bailey Zappe, W. Kentucky 421.8 7-4

Brennan Armstrong, UVA 404.4 6-5

*Will Rogers, Mississippi State 373.9 7-4

Carson Strong, Nevada 354.4 7-4

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh 350.6 9-2

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State 346.8 10-1

Bryce Young, Alabama 325.8 10-1

Sam Hartman, Wake Forest 315.4 9-2

Jake Haener, Fresno State 315.2 8-3

Grant Wells, Marshall 305.5 7-4

*Does not include Thursday’s late game

Source: CBSSports.com

Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong ranks second nationally in passing this season. Each of the other nine quarterbacks among the top 10 plays on a team with at least seven victories. Four in the group — Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman — are a combined 38-6.

That UVA is only 6-5 entering Saturday’s regular-season finale against Virginia Tech reflects oft-chronicled defensive shortcomings and a demanding schedule. Indeed, as much as fans and media harp on the Cavaliers’ defense, let’s not forget that four of their setbacks came against opponents ranked among the top 20 this week by the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Pitt and Wake Forest are a combined 37-7, and the other team to defeat Virginia, North Carolina, is 6-5 and quarterbacked by a probable first-round NFL draft choice, Sam Howell. Moreover, Armstrong missed the Notre Dame contest after sustaining a rib injury at BYU, where he led the Cavaliers on six consecutive touchdown drives.

Still, the idea of UVA finishing the regular season 6-6 and on a four-game losing skid, even as Armstrong shatters school and ACC records, is difficult to compute. Which ratchets up the magnitude of Saturday’s Commonwealth Cup game, plus the Cavaliers’ subsequent bowl.

“The significance of the game itself can really just decide the way the season’s going to go,” safety Joey Blount said. “So, we’re 6-5 right now. We could lose the last two, end in a decline. We could win one, lose one, be mediocre. Win out? 8-5.”

Decline, mediocrity or the program’s third season in the last four years with at least eight victories. The differences there are XXL.

Programs backsliding or stuck in neutral don’t often have quarterbacks such as Armstrong.

Think about this: If Armstrong were to play Saturday and in UVA’s bowl, without throwing for a single yard in either, his final per-game average would be 337 yards, fourth-best in ACC history behind Duke’s Anthony Dilweg (1988), Florida State’s Chris Weinke (2000) and N.C. State’s Philip Rivers (2003).

In those seasons, by the way, Duke finished 7-3-1, FSU 11-2 and N.C. State 8-5.

Armstrong’s current pace, 404.4 yards per game, is 56.8 yards better than Dilweg’s standard of 347.6. That’s 16%!

If a sprinter lowered Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters by the same percentage, the new standard would be an inhuman 8.05 seconds.

If a basketball player bested Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA single-season scoring mark of 50.4 points per game by 16%, the new record would be 58.5.

“They’ve done that to every team they’ve played,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said after Armstrong threw for 487 yards and three touchdowns against the Panthers last week. “Didn’t do it to Notre Dame because he wasn’t out there. It would have been a different story [today] if a different guy was out there. I’ve got a ton of respect for Armstrong. He’s outstanding.”

Narduzzi is right. Armstrong has lit up virtually every opponent. His least-productive outing was at Miami, where he threw for 268 yards and a touchdown in a 30-28 victory.

Conversely, Virginia Tech has passed for at least 260 yards once all season, 276 in a blowout of the ACC’s worst team, Duke.

This season has elevated Armstrong into a pantheon of UVA quarterbacks headlined by Shawn Moore, Matt Schaub and Armstrong’s former teammate, Bryce Perkins, each of whom led the Cavaliers to seasons of at least nine wins. He has broken many of their single-season UVA records, and presuming he returns in 2022, will surpass several of their career marks.

Now part of Armstrong’s gaudy numbers stem from offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck wisely tailoring the offense to their personnel. Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, Jelani Woods, Billy Kemp and Ra’Shaun Henry comprise a fleet of receivers that most any program would envy, allowing the Cavaliers to use running backs such as Wayne Taulapapa, Mike Hollins and Devin Darrington sparingly in the run game.

How dependent is Virginia on Armstrong’s passing? Even with him missing the Notre Dame contest, the Cavaliers have thrown on 61.6% of their snaps. The only Power Five team passing more often, 72.1%, is Mississippi State, coached by Air Raid innovator Mike Leach.

And for whom did Anae work from 2000 to 2004 at Texas Tech? Leach.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall credits Anae and Beck for distilling a complex offense into a teachable package.

“There’s some really good analogies and research done on teaching and methodologies,” Mendenhall said, “where it’s really, you take everything, and if you can’t present it to where a 12-year-old would understand it quickly, then you’re not going to have success implementing it at a level where it can be executed.”

But could a coaching staff install this offense without a quarterback as gifted as Armstrong?

“Oh, man,” Mendenhall said. “I think you could, but it wouldn’t be as much fun or as easy.”

The mission now is translating that fun into more wins, starting Saturday against Virginia Tech, which sacked Armstrong four times and intercepted him twice last season in a 33-15 victory.

“There’s just so much I’ve gotten better at and been improving on,” Armstrong said when reflecting on last season, his first as UVA’s starter. “Most of the stuff the defense has thrown at me I feel like I’ve seen and dealt with pretty easily.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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