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For UVa, injuries to key players have been the biggest challenge this season

For UVa, injuries to key players have been the biggest challenge this season

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Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall hasn’t been stressing over which of Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks his defense will be facing Saturday night at Lane Stadium.

As far as that goes, he can fall back on the Cavaliers’ game last week with Boston College, when backup Eagles quarterback Dennis Grosel passed for 520 yards but the Cavaliers prevailed 43-32.

Later that evening, Virginia Tech used three quarterbacks in a 45-10 loss to No. 4-ranked Clemson in Blacksburg.

The mission is simple for a Cavaliers team that is giving up 314.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 127th out of 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in that category.

“At Virginia Tech, each quarterback has a slightly different skill set,” Mendenhall said this week. “They’ve done a really nice job of succession planning.

“At the quarterback position, they have good enough depth and that’s been a huge thing for anyone in college football. It certainly affected us when we didn’t have Brennan.”

UVa quarterback Brennan Armstrong was injured in the first half of an early home game against N.C. State and couldn’t play the next week at Wake Forest. The Cavaliers lost both games.

Injuries were also an issue for UVa with its secondary. Fourth-year safety Joey Blount, the most seasoned of the Cavaliers’ defensive backs, returned last weekend after dealing with a hamstring injury for five weeks.

Another veteran safety, Brenton Nelson, started a total of 34 games over his four-year career but has not played in the last five games.

Defensive starters at the beginning of the season who are no longer available include Nelson, outside linebacker Charles Snowden and defensive tackle Richard Burney. Starting nose tackle Jowon Briggs left the team after seven games and transferred to Cincinnati.

“Who would have ever imagined that our team would have been struggling mostly with depth and capabilities to play through injury and not COVID?” Mendenhall said this week on his radio call-in show.

“That’s where we are. COVID has had little effect on our roster from beginning to end. When we did lose Brennan [Armstrong], that was because of a concussion, which was probably the most significant thing at the beginning of the season that really became challenging for us.”

Senior offensive tackle Dillon Reinkensmeyer was the biggest loss on offense, suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 44th start of his UVa career.

“And, yet, here we still are,” Mendenhall said. “We’re doing the very best we can with just kind of an amazing ‘who’s next’ [approach]. I think I’m right that 22 players were lost for the season and that’s just an amazing number.

“Some of that, certainly, could be attributed to a lack of a normal preparation cycle. Our heart goes out to all those kids for just for [how] so hard that they’ve tried.”

Turning back to Saturday’s game, Virginia (5-4, 4-4 ACC) has showed it can put points on the board, scoring 173 points over the past four games, However, the Cavaliers have given up 32 points or more in five of nine games.

The Hokies (4-6, 4-5) scored 45 points against North Carolina State and North Carolina, 42 against Louisville and 40 against Boston College. Tech won all of those games except for a 56-45 shootout at UNC.

“We didn’t play the ball in the air [against Boston College] and we had several assignment breakdowns,” UVa defensive coordinator Nick Howell said at midweek. “There was a lot of yardage everywhere. We just didn’t execute our assignments at a very high level.

“I believe that everything is fixable and improvable, so that’s what we’re working toward for sure. We talk about this a lot. There’s no magical formula or rocket science. When things go wrong, the chances that it’s just something simple are pretty high.”

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