Virginia’s Jones, Armstrong Balance Run, Pass on Offense

Ken Cross

September 06, 2022 at 11:00 am.

Virginia Cavaliers Brennan Armstrong (5) runs with the ball as Richmond Spiders linebacker Wayne Galloway (9) and Spiders defensive back Bryson Parker (4) defend during the second half at Scott Stadium. (Photo: Amber Searls/USA Today Sports)

Balance on offense was a major expectation of new Virginia Cavaliers football coach Tony Elliott when he came to Charlottesville after seven years as the offensive coordinator at Clemson. He had elite talent that performed at the highest level when the Tigers won two national championships and played for two others during those seasons.

Elliott saw his Virginia offense work to his expectation in Saturday’s 34-17 win over Richmond. Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw for 246 yards, while Virginia operated a rushing attack that ran for 259 yards behind 105 from Armstrong and 104 from senior running back Perris Jones.

Armstrong passed former Virginia quarterbacks Bryce Perkins and Shawn Moore to become the Cavaliers’ all-time leader in total offense on Saturday. 

“Brennan is the type of person you want to be around and be associated with,” said Elliott. “He is low maintenance, low key, a hard worker, blue collar, and doesn’t care what some people say.” 

Armstrong’s 105 yards on the ground was just the second time in his career that he had broken 100 yards rushing. He went 64 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Cavaliers a 21-7 lead. 

Elliott became concerned about his quarterback keeping the potential handoff and running when Virginia had the game in hand.

“I had to tell him, ‘Don’t take that hit,’” said Elliott. “‘It is late in the game, so get out.’ He said, ‘Nah Coach, we weren’t playing to the standards, so I had to do it.’ You just love everything about what his DNA is.”

Armstrong averaged 404.4 yards through the air per game last season as the Cavaliers’ rushing attack put up only 123 yards on 28 carries per game. 

“There were a couple where if it presented itself he could keep it like on the long touchdown,” said offensive coordinator Des Kitchings. “Point of emphasis is when we need to run the ball, we are able to do that. I know he scrambles and he is playing football, but he can’t take those hits.” 

Virginia may have found itself a featured running back as Jones not only had 104 rushing yards, but he ran for a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put UVa ahead for good at 14-7. He then caught an 11-yard pass late in the game which gave the Cavaliers their 34-17 margin for the win. 

“It’s nice to be in the passing game,” noted Jones. “We have some excellent receivers, some of the best in the nation. Any time that I can help B.A. (Armstrong) after that, it’s a blessing.”

Those were Jones’s first two touchdowns of his career and one came in each phase of the offense. 

“As the game wore on, I thought we were getting more push up front and more creases and then the opening,” explained Jones. “He (Armstrong) did a great job. He put it into my hands, so it was a great day.”

Jones had a three-yard run late in the game where he refused to go down, so he was able to get those three yards. Armstrong has realized Jones’s work ethic and ability as the two have been teammates since they came aboard in 2018.

“He had a lot of carries,” said Armstrong. “He’s a workhorse. You can see that in his workouts, too. He never gets tired and he never backs down.”

Elliott was pleased with Jones, who settled into Virginia’s offensive attack from the beginning of the game.

“Perris had that run, but he was dragging guys and just fighting,” Elliott noted. “Everybody was just watching. That’s the heart of a champion right there. That’s where you win.”

The Cavaliers have depth at wide receiver as Dontayvian Wicks caught a team-high six passes for 47 yards. Lavel Davis, Jr., had a game-high 89 yards on four catches with a touchdown.

The 6-7 Davis missed last year due to a torn ACL. His 56-yard touchdown catch tied the game at 7-7 with 5:56 to play in the first quarter. It was an answer to Richmond running back Savon Smith giving the Spiders a 7-0 lead on an eight-yard run which was 31 seconds earlier.

“It took some time in the spring because you have got to be patient,” said Davis. “I tried to get myself in shape, football-wise. I feel like through all the practice in the spring and into fall camp, I just worked it out.”