“The times they are a changing”, with the abrupt resignation of Bronco Mendenhall, the Tony Elliott era begins in Charlottesville. Elliott has been an offensive coordinator at Clemson for the past seven seasons, winning the Frank Boyles award in 2015, and had been at Clemson since 2011. Elliot brought in John Rudzinski from Air Force to be his defensive coordinator and Des Kitchings of the Atlanta Falcons to be his offensive coordinator.
Virginia lost all five of their start offensive lineman from last season, some to graduation and some to the portal. It was a unit that looked to be the strength of the team. They brought in two players in the portal, Mac Hollensteiner from Georgetown and John Paul Flores from Dartmouth, to help mitigate the losses. The other big loss for the Hoos offense was tight end Jelani Woods, who exploded on the scene after a pedestrian career at Oklahoma State. He was fourth on the team in receiving with 44 catches for 598 yards and 8 touchdowns. Grant Misch and Joshua Rawlings look to have the first chances at replacing Woods’ production.
The Cavaliers return the core of what was one of the most explosive offenses in the country last year. They were 21st in scoring, 2nd in passing yards, and 3rd in total yards nationally, ranking 4th , 1st, and 1st in the conference in those categories.
The most important piece is the returning triggerman, Brennan Armstrong who was 326/500 65.2% and 4,449 yards, 31 touchdowns to 10 Interceptions. Joining Armstrong are the top three receivers from last season, Dontayvion Wicks, Billy Kemp IV, and Swiss army knife player Keytaon Thompson, who is also the 2nd leading returning rusher as well, behind Armstrong. The Cavs also will regain the services of 6-7 receiver Lavel Davis Jr, who missed 2021 but had 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2020.
The Cavalier defense struggled last season, not a usual occurrence for the Hoos during the Mendenhall era. They finished ranked in the 100s nationally in most defensive categories. They lost their two leading pass rushers last season in Noah Taylor and Mandy Alonso, in fact they lost 12 of their 19 total sacks from last season. Chico Bennett Jr, a name known to Tech fans, and Mike Green will be expected to help produce a better pass rush.
Linebacker Nick Johnson was the leading tackler last season for Virginia, and he is the returning player with the most sacks as well. Anthony Johnson tied for the team lead in interceptions in 2021 and returns to lead at Cavalier secondary including four seniors.
Brendan Farrell returns after being the Hoos kickoff specialist and field goal kicker. There is a chance he takes on the punting duties as well. Wide receiver Billy Kemp IV and running back Mike Hollins look to be main options as return men.
The biggest questions for the Cavaliers are, will the offensive line gel early and not hamper the explosive potential of the QB and receiving corps and will the defense be able to find a pass rush and allow the defense to improve from a poor 2021. The Yellow Jackets were in the game with the Hoos last season and were able to make it close in the end. If the Jackets improve and Virginia has struggled in their early season tests, mainly at Illinois and home to Louisville, this is a winnable game for the good guys.