CHARLOTTESVILLE – Saturday night was supposed to be the launching point for Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong to finally gain the national attention his gaudy statistics had yet to earn him this season.
And through three quarters at No. 17 BYU, that’s exactly what was happening. Armstrong had led UVa back into game it trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and his prolific passing and productive running had the internet buzzing.
Virginia-BYU – and more specifically, Armstrong – was must-see TV. Some national pundits even wondered if he was playing his way into being a fringe candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
But five minutes into the fourth quarter of the eventual 66-49 loss, Armstrong suffered an apparent rib injury that now has the future of his season in doubt as the Cavaliers (6-3) go into their open week.
“With the injury to Brennan, that could reframe what we do during the bye week,” said UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall after the game. “Getting our team, not only healthy, but a quarterback trained if Brennan is out. I don’t know that yet.”
Virginia turned to freshman Jay Woolfolk, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound Chesterfield native who played high school football in Richmond at Benedictine, to finish the night against the Cougars. He went 2 for 5 passing for 35 yards and ran twice for six yards in his only drive, one that ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4 at the BYU 34-yard line.
Armstrong – who still leads the nation in passing yardage after throwing for 337 yards Saturday –appeared to suffer the injury reaching to extend the ball for first-down yardage while converting a third-and-3 play near midfield early in the fourth quarter. He picked up four yards but on the next play, he badly underthrew Billy Kemp IV and was intercepted.
Armstrong, a left-hander, came off the field pointing to the left side of his rib cage and appeared to tell UVa coaches, “It’s broken.”
UVa has not updated Armstrong’s status and predicting how long he could be out if he suffered broken ribs is tricky because of the many variables – how many ribs are broken, which ones, what type of fractures and where on the ribs the crack or cracks occurred.
As a left-handed quarterback, an injury to the left side of his rib cage could have a more significant impact on his ability to throw the football, as it clearly did on the one pass he threw after the injury occurred.
The rib or ribs themselves, if they were broke, could take anywhere from 3-8 weeks to heal. The Cavaliers host Notre Dame on Nov. 13, the first game after their open date.
Virginia, which leads the ACC in passing and ranks third in scoring, would certainly like to have Armstrong back for its Nov. 20th game at Pittsburgh and Nov. 27 at home against rival Virginia Tech. With wins in those two contests, UVa would claim its second ACC Coastal Division title in the last three years.
(The ACC did not use divisions last season during the COVID-10 pandemic.)
Virginia played one game without Armstrong last season. The quarterback suffered a concussion against North Carolina State on Oct. 10 and missed the next contest, at Wake Forest. UVa went with a quarterback-by-committee approach in a 40-23 loss, with Lindell Stone, Keytaon Thompson and Ira Armstead all playing the position.
While Woolfolk has seen action in three games, it’s likely the Cavaliers would use a similar approach against Notre Dame if Armstrong is a no-go.
Can Virginia’s offense still be explosive without Armstrong? Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has skillfully manufactured a run game using Thompson, Armstead and Jacob Rodriguez, but that success has been predicated on opponent’s respect for Armstrong’s passing ability.
Now, if Armstrong can’t go, it may need more from senior running backs Wayne Taulapapa and Devin Darrington in the traditional game. Still, with a veteran offensive line and a corps of talented pass catchers led by Thompson, Kemp, Dontayvion Wicks, Jelani Woods and Ra’Shaun Henry, the players are confident Virginia will still be able to score.
“I think we have a great quarterback – Jay Woolfolk – and we have a next-man-up mentality,” said Thompson, a former Mississippi State quarterback who has been used as a do-it-all offensive weapon at UVa. “Of course, Brennan’s a great quarterback. But I believe in our coaches and I believe in our players to find a way to fill that void.”