For the 10th time in 11 years, the Virginia football team will open its season with a new starting quarterback. Junior transfer Kurt Benkert has won the job, beating out seniors Matt Johns and Connor Brewer, who will both be listed as No. 2. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall announced the news on Wednesday to the media.
Bronco announces Kurt Benkert as #UVa's starting QB. Johns "or" Brewer will be listed as No. 2.— Andrew Ramspacher (@ARamspacher) August 24, 2016
Benkert transferred to Virginia this spring from East Carolina. He had been named the starter for ECU in 2015 before suffering a season-ending knee injury during fall camp. UVA assistant Ruffin McNeill, who coached Benkert at ECU, spoke glowingly about him on Monday.
“Kurt earned that spot for us [at ECU] in fall camp and became a great leader for us,” McNeill told The Roanoke Times. “He’s doing a great job of blending in now.”
Benkert’s familiarity with the Air Raid offense helped him win the starting job. In addition, Benkert’s mobility and arm strength set him apart from his teammates. By many accounts, Virginia’s 2016 offense will share many of the principles that ECU’s offense had under McNeill.
“One of the things we look for with the quarterback is making sure now that he’s a dual-threat type of quarterback [and] a mobile quarterback with the defenses and how they’ve gone today,” McNeill told The Roanoke Times.
Benkert’s skills are noticeable in a recent highlight video of a UVA intra-squad scrimmage. He’s seen completing multiple long touchdown passes, including one to sophomore David Eldridge.
Benkert’s elevation to starter marks yet another quarterback change for a UVA program that’s lacked stability under center since the Marques Hagans era. With Johns losing the starting spot, former Cavalier Michael Rocco remains the only quarterback since 2006 to be named opening-day starter for two consecutive seasons. Benkert will have at least two seasons of eligibility as a Cavalier.
Johns, who assumes the back-up role, played quite a bit in that capacity in 2014. He came off the bench in the season opener against UCLA and almost led Virginia to a comeback victory. Johns threw for 2,810 yards in 2015, but was plagued by turnovers. His 17 interceptions were the most in the nation last year.
Brewer, who joins Johns in backing up Benkert, appeared in two games last season as backup for Johns. He made is debut against Boise State, where he went 4-for-8 for 34 yards, and also took one snap against Miami, handing the ball off to Olamide Zaccheaus for a 15-yard gain.