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Relax, Worry, or Panic: Dissecting UVA Football’s Offensive Struggles vs Illinois

Addressing how concerned we ought to be about the Wahoos’ offense after a poor outing against Illinois.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Virginia at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welp... that was painful to watch. The Virginia Cavaliers were handled by the Illinois Fighting Illini in quite the opposite way one would have expected.

The defense actually played extremely well. They forced four turnovers and were only responsible for 17 points. In fact, of the 11 power conference games UVA has played since the beginning of the 2021 season, the 1.06 points allowed per drive against Illinois ranks the third best.

Instead, it was the previously high powered offense that let the ‘Hoos down. Needless to say, there are several emerging issues that led to this disappointing output. Should we be panicked, a little worried, or simply relax? Let’s dive into it.

Brennan Armstrong

After breaking all sorts of records in the UVA history books in 2021, the Virginia signal caller had perhaps the worst day of all quarterbacks around the conference on Saturday. On 32 attempts, he completed just 13 passes for 180 yards and two interceptions.

Armstrong was simply off from what we are used to seeing. He could not establish any timing, passes were often wobbly and inaccurate, and he clearly was not seeing the field well.

The Verdict: Relax

Armstrong himself will be okay. We’ve obviously seen him perform much better, making Saturday more of a fluke.

Yes, there are plenty of problems around him, and we will get to those. However, one thing you can count on is Armstrong bouncing back. He is a competitor and simply needs time to adjust to the new system. Plus, Armstrong has a beyond capable group of receivers which he has established chemistry with.

While it is clear that he will probably not pass for 4,500 yards again, he will still have his dominant moments on the football field in 2022.

The Play Calling

Although Tony Elliott is an established mastermind at the ACC level, Des Kitchings has been given the keys to call the plays. A lot of his game plan fed into the rest of the offensive issues, rather than overcoming them.

For example, Virginia continuously handed the ball off to their tandem of backs and had them try to run between the tackles. Perris Jones, Mike Hollins, and Xavier Brown averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt.

The Verdict: Worry

This was a discouraging sign for the coaching staff. According to Kitchings himself, “balance” does not mean evenly mixing the pass and run but rather being able to adjust the game plan to the opponent. However, it appeared that UVA was forcing different elements of their offense that were unsuccessful in this instance.

Believe it or not, there were flashes of excellence within such a brutal day.

I would like to see more of Armstrong rolling out of the pocket by design in addition to quick passes to his playmakers. Many of Virginia’s routes last Saturday simply took too much time to develop.

**Side Note: Speaking of long-developing plays, the “do we miss Robert Anae?” debate is complicated, folks. He was great at utilizing exotic formations to throw off defenses but we have also seen his offenses struggle just as much with poor offensive line play. Visiting Dr. Bob in Week 4 will be quite interesting.

The Offensive Line

UVA was absolutely manhandled up front by their first taste of power five competition. According to Pro Football focus, here is where their qualifiers rank after two weeks:

  • Jonathon Leech: 522nd/535 FBS tackles
  • McKale Boley: 493rd/535 FBS tackles
  • Logan Taylor: 292nd/535 FBS tackles
  • Ty Furnish: 258th/270 FBS centers
  • Derek Devine: 357th/543 FBS guards
  • John Paul Flores: 216th/543 FBS guards

The Verdict: Panic

It has been well established that Virginia’s offensive line is inexperienced and would be a work in progress. But this unit has been worse than anybody could have anticipated.

Sure, it can improve. But, even so, the o-line will still likely be a liability for the rest of the season. Positional coach Garett Tujague has done wonders with various groups over his first six years in Charlottesville. Now, he’s got what is likely his biggest test yet with a group that needs to mesh and learn quickly or risk ruining this team’s chances for a successful season.

The Bottom Line

Just about everything on the offensive side of the ball went wrong on Saturday. Yet, overall, the sky is not falling. Not all of the issues will sustain. Plus, the defense showed plenty of signs of progress.

Old Dominion will be a good measuring stick as a game the Wahoos should win but which could still be competitive.