Brennan Armstrong faces Virginia after transferring to NC State

In 2021, quarterback Brennan Armstrong rewrote the Virginia record book in virtually every major offensive category, confounding defenses with a combination of arm strength, accuracy and improvisation that sparked speculation that he would be taken in the NFL draft.

After careful consideration, the doppelganger decided to remain in Charlottesville for his redshirt-senior season under new coaching leadership last year. The thought of working with Tony Elliott was intriguing on several levels, especially considering that as Clemson’s offensive coordinator, Elliott oversaw future NFL quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.

Armstrong envisioned potentially continuing their path to the NFL after running an offense that more closely resembled a prostyle attack. However, the plan fell apart after Armstrong never fully familiarized himself with the playbook, gaining less than half the passing yards and less than a quarter of the touchdown passes from the previous year.

With one season left, he transferred to North Carolina State and reunited with offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who in the same position with the Cavaliers was largely responsible for Armstrong’s rise to one of the most productive quarterbacks in the ACC.

Armstrong’s NFL ambitions were rekindled when he returned to Scott Stadium Friday night to face his former team in both schools’ ACC opener.

“I played crappy last season,” Armstrong said. “If I want to go to the NFL, which is my goal, I can’t play like that. There’s a lot at stake, but I feel like I have a good attitude about it because there can be pressure and I can put pressure on myself about what I do because I expect a lot from myself. . . .

“I don’t know if you envisioned 2022, but that’s not how I go to the NFL, so we have to get back on track.”

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Armstrong had an inconsistent start to the season, completing 66 of 105 passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions in his first three games. In his biggest test yet, he completed 22 of 47 passes for 260 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a 45-24 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 9. He’s aiming for performances more in line with 2021, when he passed for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns and produced 4,700 yards of total offense, all Virginia records.

After the final game of the regular season that year, then-coach Bronco Mendenhall abruptly resigned for personal reasons. Most of his assistants soon followed, including Anae, who served as offensive coordinator at Syracuse last season before taking the same position with the Wolfpack.

Not long after Virginia athletic director Carla Williams hired Elliott, Armstrong, along with a handful of teammates, took center stage at the opening news conference, welcoming their new coach, who was tasked with building on the growth of the revitalized program under Mendenhall.

Armstrong should be the centerpiece of the next chapter of Cavaliers football. Instead, the elusive left-hander never came close to recapturing the magic that catapulted him to the top of school records in several categories, including total offense (10,301), passing yards (9,034), passing touchdowns (58) and 300-yard passing games ( 12) and 400-yard passing games (six).

“There was no specifics as to what it was,” Armstrong said of his final season with the Cavaliers, in which he completed 185 of 338 passes (54.7 percent) for 2,210 yards and seven touchdowns, with a career-high 12 interceptions . “A lot of different things happened. I tried to face it all with a good attitude, but it was frustrating week after week.

“You try to restart, turn the page and say, ‘Let’s get back out there next week,’ and after about six next weeks it’s like you’re dead tired, frustrated, and that’s how it happened. I just don’t want to go back to it.”

Even after Armstrong left Virginia, he remained in touch with many of his ex-teammates as they formed an unbreakable bond following the campus shooting last November that killed Cavaliers player Lavel Davis Jr. Devin Chandler and D’Sean Perry.

Armstrong and Davis shared the court for the first time on September 26, 2020, leading to a 38-20 win over Duke at Scott Stadium. Armstrong made his debut as a starter. Playing in the first game of his college career, Davis caught his first pass from Armstrong during a touchdown drive early in the second quarter before finishing with four catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m really, really proud of him,” Armstrong said of Davis at the time, “and I think he’s going to be a great player.”

The last time Armstrong and Davis caught a pass was on October 29, 2022 at Scott Stadium in a 14-12 loss to Miami. On the fourth snap of the third quarter, Armstrong completed a 47-yard throw to Davis, who did not play the next two games due to an injury.

A little more than two weeks later, Armstrong and his teammates dealt with unimaginable grief over the shooting spree that left running back Mike Hollins seriously injured.

Out of consideration for the families of their slain teammates, the Cavaliers decided not to play the final two games of the regular season, including the annual finale against arch-rival Virginia Tech, so that they could attend each memorial service without the distraction of preparing for an opponent.

“I feel like I did a good job, at least personally,” Armstrong said. “The funerals were more of a celebration. The way they did it was great. I’ll tell you what, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life, the way we were able to celebrate their lives with their families and our team. It really cleared up a lot of feelings.”

Armstrong waited until he and his teammates had said final goodbyes to Davis, Chandler and Perry before informing Elliott that he was entering the transfer portal. Elliott remembered giving Armstrong his blessing and wishing him nothing but the best wherever he ended up.

North Carolina State first caught Armstrong’s attention when quarterback Devin Leary, the school’s record holder for touchdowns in a single season, entered the transfer portal on its opening day, December 5. A week later, Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren announced Anae’s hiring.

“When [Armstrong] intrudes [Scott Stadium] I’m sure he’ll have feelings for the first time,” Doeren said of Friday’s game. “He loved this place, has great friends and memories there, but he plays for our team and he knows that, and he goes there to win a football game and put us and his style of play on the map, and that is it.” somehow where it is.”

A handful of Cavaliers defensive players hinted this week that they would try to spoil Armstrong’s homecoming based on his track record throwing interceptions. He had at least 10 in each of his three seasons as the Cavaliers’ full-time starter.

However, Elliott revealed that he has no intention of using Armstrong’s return to Scott Stadium as a motivational tactic. Virginia getting off to an 0-3 start for the first time since 2016, its first season under Mendenhall, should be more than enough to remind players of what’s at stake.

“What I want to say about BA is that I’m grateful for two reasons,” Elliott said. “First, for everything he did as a player here for the University of Virginia and this football program. I am [also] grateful for how he handled his departure. He got it right with me and when he was here he made an effort to make the transition to help me and this coaching staff on this team. To me, there’s nothing personal about this game when it comes to BA other than he’s the opposing quarterback.” Brennan Armstrong faces Virginia after transferring to NC State

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