After years of instability and frustration at the quarterback position and numerous battles ending in a revolving door at the position throughout the season, the past three years of quarterback play have been a source of consistency for the Cavaliers and joy for Cavalier fans. Stability at the position during this stretch came primarily as a result of two transfers ending up in Charlottesville: Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins.
These two players became key orchestrators in the program’s turnaround under Bronco Mendenhall, and the Hoos were very fortunate to have landed them. With those two at the helm, UVA has rattled off three straight bowl appearances and back-to-back winning seasons.
3-year production – quarterbacks
- 2017: 300/519 (57.8%), 3,233 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 121.8 passer rating, 65 carries, -63 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
- 2018: 228/358 (63.7%), 2,751 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 147.2 passer rating, 221 carries, 997 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns
- 2019: 337/520 (64.8%), 3,748 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 134.2 passer rating, 235 carries, 783 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns
- 3-year average: 288/466 (61.8%), 3,244 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 134.4 passer rating, 174 carries, 572 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
- 2017: Kurt Benkert, 298/509 (58.5%), 3,207 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 124.1 passer rating, 65 carries, -63 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
- 2018: Bryce Perkins, 225/349 (64.5%), 2,680 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 147.5 passer rating, 212 carries, 929 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns
- 2019: Bryce Perkins, 320/496 (64.5%), 3,538 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 134.2 passer rating, 227 carries, 769 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns
As mentioned at the beginning, the quarterback position haunted the program for many years following the days of Matt Schaub, Marques Hagans, and Jameel Sewell. The Cavaliers struggled to find a clear starter in most years, and the team’s play and record suffered from it. That changed when Mendenhall arrived.
With Benkert and Perkins clearly in place as starters, Mendenhall and his offensive staff were able to design a playbook every year that featured each player’s specific strengths. Benkert’s offense resembled an air raid style, while the offense with Perkins featured more read option looks and a balance of having him beat teams through the air and on the ground. Both guys were heavily trusted by the coaches and given more of a leash and freedom to make plays than Cavalier fans had seen in a long time. The result of this faith in the player and system was an exciting and productive offense for each of the last three Virginia football teams.
2020 Virginia spring football look ahead
With the departure of one of the most electric players in school history in Perkins, to say the Hoos quarterback in 2020 will have big shoes to fill would be an understatement. Most signs point to the Cavaliers turning to redshirt sophomore Brennan Armstrong to be their next “Thorterback” at the helm.
While he may not be as dynamic as Perkins, Armstrong is still a solid athlete in his own right and will be able to beat defenses with his arm and legs. He’s shown that in limited appearances behind Perkins early in his career. Coach Mendenhall has said that Armstrong reminds him of Taysom Hill, the swiss-army knife for the New Orleans Saints who Mendenhall coached back at BYU. As offensive coordinator Robert Anae did for Benkert and Perkins, he will alter his playbook and style to match Armstrong’s strengths.
Luckily for the Hoos, Armstrong has been in Charlottesville since January of 2018 after he graduated high school early so he will not have to acclimate himself to the program or his teammates in the locker room. Virginia and Armstrong took advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule in his first season as he appeared in four games and retained his redshirt year. While he has played in 11 games, overall, his opportunities have been limited. For his career, he is 17-of-25 for 258 passing yards with two passing touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also flashed his athleticism with 16 carries for 93 rushing yards.
While Armstrong looks capable, Cavalier fans should not be surprised when there is most likely a drop-off in quarterback play from the last couple of seasons. That tends to happen when a player shatters school records in two seasons then graduates. However, the offense should be in prepared hands with Armstrong.
Even with Armstrong in line to likely take over the QB spot, there is not much experienced depth on the roster otherwise. Lindell Stone has taken a few snaps, but is mainly a signal caller assisting the coaching staff. RJ Harvey redshirted last season while spending a little time at other positions and Ira Armstead enrolled in January as a true freshman.
UVA has reportedly entertained graduate transfer Jack Sears to help bolster the depth at quarterback and possibly compete with Armstrong for the starting job. Sears, who is 6’3″, 215 pounds, is in search of a new home after deciding to transfer from USC. He played only one game in two seasons with the Trojan football program before making the decision to transfer last August. Sears did not play last season but stayed in school and earned his degree. He will have two seasons of eligibility remaining wherever he ends up.
Sears a San Clemente (CA) native, has ability as a passer and runner, which is important to Mendenhall. He signed a grant-in-aid with San Diego State in December but did not enroll. Sears has reportedly visited Northwestern and NC State recently as well.
Given the lack of experienced depth at quarterback, Mendenhall confirmed to Jeff White at VirginiaSports.com that he is in search of a graduate transfer to add to the program this spring.