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What the 30-point loss to Pitt tells us about the UVA Football program

Evaluating what yesterday’s loss means in the bigger picture.

Pittsburgh v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The team was 3-6 and the expectations were low. Somehow, the Virginia Cavaliers managed to leave us speechless once again. The Cavaliers fell behind 14-0 merely seconds into the game after the first two plays from scrimmage resulted in Brennan Armstrong pick sixes. There was no way that this Virginia team would claw its way back after that. It was already over.

At this point, it’s time to look solely at the future, discouraging as it may be. Some serious and uncomfortable conversations need to be had. Let’s get into it.

Using Jay Woolfolk in previous weeks has cost the program an opportunity

I should preface this section by saying I would be shocked if Tony Elliott actually made the quarterback switch. Especially considering that Jay Woolfolk has already played four games and were he to appear in another he’d lose out on the redshirt season he didn’t take last year due to Armstrong’s injury.

If it weren’t for the sake of protecting a third potential season with Woolfolk as the program’s quarterback, it would need to happen.

Throughout the year, Armstrong has struggled and a small part of us gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was important to consider that he has a track record of vast success and is the team’s clear leader. Well, that has slowly faded each game and is all but gone.

In ten games this year, Armstrong has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions just once, eclipsed the league average 7.6 yards per attempt just three times, and completed barely 50% of his passes overall.

There is no promise that Woolfolk would change the trajectory of this offense. He has little experience and a tendency to hold onto the ball too long when we have seen him. But the arm talent is there and he’s the plan for the future. There is not too much riding on this non-conference game either. If Woolfolk struggled too, trot your leader back out there against the arch-rival. It could have been a clear low-risk/high-reward situation.

Unfortunately, doing so now could jeopardize the team’s future. Yes, all of this could be a moot point due to his potential as an MLB draft pick in 2024. But using Woolfolk in games as a decoy (most notably against UNC) feels pretty unwise now when he could have a great opportunity to gain experience leading Tony Elliott’s offense. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and benching Brennan Armstrong when plans were made from this season would’ve sounded mutinous. But maybe that’s just a sign of how much of a downturn this season has unfortunately been.

A different approach could have provided Elliott more immediate success

Former Virginia signal caller Kurt Benkert took to Twitter to speak on this matter. He pointed out that “when a coaching change happens while a program is in good standing (aka not losing), the new coach needs to come in a little differently than when a program is in shambles.”

Mendenhall had a very unique yet deliberate style of running a football program. Under his guidance, UVA experienced a degree of success they hadn't in a while because he was willing to admit Virginia’s competitive disadvantage. He recruited to a specific niche and it worked for a bit.

Elliott was dealt a roster full of Bronco’s guys and tried to impose a completely different mentality upon them. It was inevitable that the players would struggle with buy-in, discipline, etc. Not to mention how they had to learn different scheme on both sides of the ball. This brings be to my final point.

The UVA fanbase’s expectations were completely unfair

Benkert has good perspective but also (understandably) a pro-Bronco bias. What we also must admit is that Mendenhall left the program in a difficult spot. Yes, there were some pieces to work with but also plenty of gaps and not too much time to fill them with recruiting.

Let’s not act like we were in UVA football’s golden age either. Armstrong’s first two campaigns under center featured records of 5-5 and 6-6. Virginia was competent but not great.

As I prefaced, Elliott has some tough decisions to make in order to push the program in the right direction. It’s valid to be pessimistic but foolish to give up on him.