The return of students to Charlottesville and the start of fall semester classes means that another event is just around the corner: football season. The Cavaliers kick off this year’s slate of games with a Sept. 3 matchup against Richmond, and a lot has changed within the program in the past year. So whether you’re a freshman waiting for your first chance to pack up Scott Stadium for an actual game or a returning student just looking to get more involved in Virginia athletics, here’s what you can expect from the Virginia team. this year when I take to the field. for the first time.
A new era of coaching begins
Without a doubt, the biggest change in Virginia football since last season was the hiring of Tony Elliott as their new coach. Following the surprising resignation of Bronco Mendenhall at the end of the season, the Cavaliers embarked on a coaching search that ultimately ended in former Clemson offensive coordinator Elliott. Elliott brings championship pedigree to the program, having won two national titles with the Tigers during his time on staff. However, Virginia’s new coaching staff isn’t made up entirely of Clemson transfers: It includes a mix of returning assistants and successors handpicked by the new man in charge. He looks to continue success at the highest level here with the Cavaliers, recently detailing a plan that ultimately ends with Virginia winning the national championship.
Outside of training, Elliott has wasted no time embracing both the fans and the culture of Virginia. At his first Coach’s Corner on August 23, he mentioned that players and staff would now stay on the field at the end of each game to sing “Good Old Song” with the fans, a tradition that had fallen by the wayside. Mendenhall. . Also, in an effort to build excitement for the upcoming season, Elliott and the football players handed out free ice cream to students on the South Lawn to celebrate the first week of school. Overall, Elliott seems to be passionate about creating a closer bond between the football program and the broader campus community.
Both familiar and new faces take the field
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and Elliott couldn’t have asked for a better starting point in that regard. Senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong returns for his third season as Virginia’s starter. Armstrong had a prolific season last year, finishing third in the nation in passing yards and earning All ACC third-team honors. The Ohio senior also has the majority of his receiving corps returning, with Keytaon Thompson and fifth-year Billy Kemp returning along with junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks. When one also takes into account junior Lavel Davis, who had an outstanding season in 2020 but missed last year with a torn ACL, the Cavaliers’ passing attack has to be feared once again.
The question for Virginia, however, will be how long Armstrong will have to throw to his receivers. Last year’s offensive line lost four top starters, including Remington Award finalist Olusegun Oluwatimi, who transferred to Michigan. This means that the line will have a completely new look in 2022, which could be concerning given that the offensive line is usually the unit that takes the longest to establish anyway. Succeeding up front is key to any good offense, so the hope is that the new set of bodies on the line will perform well enough to allow a powerful passer like Armstrong to reach his full potential.
Virginia’s defense also lost some pieces of last year’s drive. Gone are three of the top four tacklers of 2021, but senior linebacker Nick Jackson returns to retain his role as the leader of the Cavaliers’ defensive front. On the defensive line, junior nose tackle Jahmeer Carter will head a unit that saw an influx of talent from the transfer portal, the most notable being graduate student Kam Butler, a highly sought-after transfer from Miami, Ohio. And finally, senior cornerback Anthony Johnson will be the leader of the secondary, a unit that has lost some key pieces but also has promising young talent moving up the ranks. Defense wasn’t Virginia’s strong point last season, but with a new defensive philosophy and leaders at all three levels, the Cavaliers hope to improve on that in 2022.
Scouting the opponent
Virginia begins the season with an enemy in the state in Richmond. The Spiders are an FCS team, which means they play one level below the Cavaliers, but even a game like this shouldn’t be taken for granted: Richmond actually beat Virginia in 2016. That said, the Cavaliers are in a different level now, even with a new coach at Elliott, and he should be able to win this game easily. Usually, a player of Armstrong’s caliber, especially at quarterback, is enough to get past an FCS opponent without too much trouble, which is what the Cavaliers hope to do. He also gives the team a chance to iron out some wrinkles before facing a Power Five opponent in Illinois the following week. While Saturday’s game may not be the closest, the first football game of the season, coupled with the start of a new era at Scott Stadium, should create an atmosphere where excitement and buzz are tangible. .