CHARLOTTESVILLE — The last thing Virginia would have wanted Saturday night was to lose to a guy named “Brice.”
That’s what it looked like for a while as Chase Brice, a graduate transfer from Clemson, led Duke to an early 10-0 lead at Virginia.
A year earlier, it was Bryce Perkins at quarterback for the Cavaliers as they routed Duke 48-14 en route to a Coastal Division championship.
Perkins helped transform the UVa program in his two years in Charlottesville, but he’s gone now and his successor in waiting, Brennan Armstrong, attempted 20 passes in seven games last year as a backup.
There has been little question since the end of the season that Armstrong would get the first shot at the job.
As expected, that was the case Saturday night and, if Armstrong wasn’t Bryce Perkins, he more than held his own against Chase Brice.
Of course, they weren’t on the field at the same time, but Armstrong put up comparable numbers. Maybe the most important numbers were the four interceptions yielded by the Blue Devils’ Brice as opposed to the two yielded by Armstrong.
Brice was sacked four times while Armstrong was sacked twice. Armstrong had 10 rushing once for 47 yards, while Brice was listed with seven attempts for minus-23 yards.
At the end of the night, Armstrong not only put up better numbers but he was instrumental in Virginia’s victory on a night when the Cavaliers trailed going into the fourth quarter.
If some UVa fans were unfamiliar with Armstrong, it’s unlikely that they had heard of Lavel Davis Jr., a 6-foot-7, 210-pound freshman whose 18-yard touchdown reception gave the Cavaliers a 24-20 lead with 12:43 remaining.
Armstrong and Davis made it a two-score game when they connected from 26 yards with 9:59 left.
“We hit the ground running when he got here in July,” Armstrong said. “He’s 6-7 and he’s going to be a huge talent, I think. Performance-wise, I have a lot to learn but it’s nice to have a win under our belt.”
Davis finished with four catches for 101 yards but Armstrong spread the ball around. Billy Kemp led the Cavaliers with seven catches for 70 yards.
Terrell Jana, the top returnee in the receiving corps, did not have one of his best performances statistically, finishing with four receptions for 29 yards, but maybe the best news was when he returned to the lineup after being helped from the field after suffering an apparent injury late in the third quarter.
No sooner had he been helped from the field, he was back in the Cavaliers’ huddle to start the fourth quarter, catching a 15-yard pass to keep alive the drive that led to Davis’ first TD.
Virginia finished with 450 yards in total offense, compared to 342 for the Blue Devils, and it was the kind of balance that anybody would want — 262 passing and 188 on the ground.
Next week will be a better measure as the Cavaliers visit a Clemson team that included backup quarterback Brice in last year’s ACC championship game.
Regardless of what happens there, Virginia heads to Death Valley with a 1-0 record, something that wasn’t assured for much of Saturday night’s affair.
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