In the Virginia Cavaliers’ 43-0 win over William & Mary on Saturday Virginia’s three backup quarterbacks that saw the field combined for 128 rushing yards on 13 carries and 66 yards receiving on five catches. Despite the lopsided score, only one of them threw the ball with Ira Armstead throwing a sole incompletion.
Of course, with Keytaon Thompson playing the role of “Football Player” (FBP), there was always going to be a fair bit of trickery and unorthodox scheming within the Virginia offense this season. Yet with one week in the books, the heavy reliance and usage on four of the team’s quarterback’s is quite unique.
But despite the unusual appearance, the Virginia coaching staff is solely looking to put the best players on the field. “It’s back to the same philosophy that we’re using defensively,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “It’s just the maximization of resources, so we’re looking at every good football player on our team, and we’ve got four different quarterbacks that all can do different things, and there’s no reason they all have to play quarterback.”
KEYTAON THOMPSON JUST COOKED A WHOLE TEAM— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 5, 2021
As Mendenhall implies, with starter Brennan Armstrong firmly planted as the leader of the Wahoo offense, that would leave three dynamic quarterbacks relegated to sideline duties.
Instead — according to Mendenhall — UVA has decided to work on “maximizing any good football player on our team, putting him out there in as many unique, creative, but productive ways as we can.” He adds that “the concepts remain relatively the same. The personnel and maybe formations that we use, those are kind of where the main differences come. [But it’s all meant] to highlight the best players on our team.”
Of course, the usage of multiple quarterbacks isn’t a new concept for the Wahoos under Mendenhall. “I think we saw some of the benefits a year ago,” he notes, “and I think we certainly saw it happening throughout the course of just this one game.”
But even with quarterbacks like Jacob Rodriguez and Ira Armstead getting carries out of the backfield, Mendenhall doesn’t see it as a reflection on Virginia’s running backs. “I really like our running backs,” he says, “it is just atypical. [For opposing defenses] those things are difficult to prepare for and hard to identify and what personnel group it is or who might carry the ball.”
Then — along with the potential confusion that these multi-quarterback schemes can cause for defenses — Thompson, Armstead, and Rodriguez also pose significant threats wherever they line up on the field. “Those kids are really good carrying the football,” notes Mendenhall. “They’re good throwing it. They’re good football players.”
Additionally, Mendenhall says that since those guys all have experience leading offenses and taking on the responsibilities of playing quarterback, the game “seems to be slower for them right from the beginning, so they’re more ready to play and play early.
With Armstead as the backup quarterback and Thompson as the team’s do-it-all “Football Player,” true freshman Jacob Rodriguez entered the season with a fairly undefined role as the team’s fourth quarterback. But, now, he’s listed alongside Thompson in the FBP role while also maintaining his duties as a backup quarterback.
When speaking on Rodriguez and his role, Mendenhall is quick to note that “we still consider him a quarterback,” and that rather than transitioning him away from that the staff has decided that “while he’s battling in the quarterback world, there’s no reason he can’t help us and play football. We saw [his ability to carry the ball] in the spring, and I was really impressed then”
At the end of the day, Virginia’s usage of these four quarterbacks in a variety of different methods comes down to a simple theory. “We have a saying here that playing is more fun than watching,” Mendenhall says, matter of factly.
So, even while guys like Armstead and Rodriguez develop into the quarterback’s of Virginia’s future, their dynamism as football players is too intriguing for the UVA coaching staff to ignore. And, even if it means some unorthodox offensive schemes and fewer traditional running plays, seeing a program fully embrace its players and looking to utilize their strengths on the field rather than restraining them to positional labels is refreshing in a sport that can be so rigid and defined.