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Four observations from Virginia Football’s spring game

The spring scrimmage gave us a taste of what Tony Elliott will be bringing to this program.

As the Virginia Cavaliers spring football season came to a close in the spring scrimmage earlier this afternoon, the Blue squad took home a 23-0 victory over the White team. While spring scrimmages aren’t going to be entirely indicative of a team’s standing in the fall, there’s still plenty to take away for Tony Elliott’s squad moving into the future.

Virginia stays committed to the running game

Last season under former head coach Bronco Mendenhall and and offensive coordinator Robert Anae, the UVA offense was quite pass heavy as it heavily burdened Brennan Armstrong with high volumes of passing attempts each and every game. Meanwhile, the running game was often pushed aside.

While last season’s offense had plenty of success, with Tony Elliott now at the helm, the program is looking to reinvigorate the running game to provide more balance. Elliott and his staff’s words were back up Saturday afternoon. Even with Ronnie Walker Jr. out due to injury, Perris Jones, Mike Hollins, and Amaad Foston still got a solid number of carries.

While both the Blue and White teams struggled to run the ball and create holes in the first half, more success came in the second half. Jones rattled of a 75-yard touchdown run to boost his stats to nine carries for 129 yards and that score. Foston — who played for both teams and got the most non-QB touches on the day — ran the ball 16 times for just 45 yards while Hollins took nine carries for 19 yards.

After the game, Elliott pointed to the banged up offensive line and the fact that UVA couldn’t utilize Armstrong to occupy a defensive end with the no-contact rule for QB’s as reasons for some of the struggles to chunk running gains together.

Nevertheless, merely the fact that either Wahoo team remained so committed to putting the ball on the ground implies that will be the case in the fall as well. There will need to be growth in the running backs’ room and development among the offensive line. But if Virginia could truly establish an efficient run game that could go a long way towards helping ease Armstrong’s load and allowing the ‘Hoos to control games with their offense.

Wahoo tight ends fighting to make up for Jelani Woods’ departure

While the passing game wasn’t necessarily electric on Saturday, three guys who did impress were tight ends Grant Misch, Sackett Wood Jr., and Joshua Rawlings. With Jelani Woods and his production from the tight end position gone and likely to be on an NFL roster come the fall, it’s encouraging to see his backups producing.

On Saturday, Misch caught three passes for 62 yards for the Blue team while Wood reeled in four balls for 42 yards and had one play where he hurdled two White team defenders. Rawilings added three receptions for 30 yards of his own.

Even beyond each of their individual growth, those three — and Misch and Wood in particular — continuing to develop chemistry with Brennan Armtrong would be meaningful for this UVA offense. The wide receiver room is fairly stacked but there’s opportunities for those three to establish themselves.

Injuries and scrimmage format limit the passing offense

Considering that only 23 points were scored in this game and that Brennan Armstrong finished the day 23-42 for 218 yards and an interception, it’s worth noting that this scrimmage format and the injuries the team is dealing with limited the offensive production.

In fact, only eight offensive linemen were active for the two squads while the offensive skill players were split up and missing Billy Kemp IV and Walker Jr. Add in that Armstrong only played a half and couldn’t truly utilize his legs because he couldn’t be tackled and it’s reasonable that the offense sputtered some on Saturday.

Defense trending in the right direction

With that in mind, the Wahoo defense showed out on Saturday. Linebacker Nick Jackson led the way with eight tackles, two sacks, and a pass breakup while junior safety Chayce Chalmers had ten tackles. Fellow safety Donovan Johnson had two pass break ups and Coen King had another in the back of the end-zone to prevent an early touchdown.

Antonio Clary was another guy who came up with a big play as he tipped an Armstrong pass and Jaylon Baker dove under it to secure the interception.

Again, it’s one scrimmage months before the season so taking any large conclusions from performance is hasty. But it was nice to see the defensive line’s activity and some of the playmaking in the secondary.

All in all, Saturday was a fun kickoff to what will hopefully be a long tenure for Tony Elliott at the head of Virginia football. Now, the coaching staff hits the recruiting trail and the team heads into the real offseason.