The Virginia Cavaliers head down to Clemson on Saturday for a primetime matchup with the No. 1 Clemson Tigers. The game will be a rematch of last years ACC Championship Game that the Tigers thoroughly dominated in a 62-17 win.
While the Cavaliers are coming off of their first ever Coastal Division title and a berth in the Orange Bowl, they lost a ton of production on the offensive side of the ball. The biggest loss is second team All-ACC quarterback Bryce Perkins, who really made that offense go in 2019.
Redshirt sophomore Brennan Armstrong takes over this season and in his first career start last week against Duke had some really good moments. particularly late. The Cavs were down 21-20 headed into the fourth quarter, and Armstrong led the team to a 38-20 win. Overall he was 24-45 for 269 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in that fourth quarter.
Junior Wayne Taulapapa is back at running back and had 16 carries for 95 yards in the win over the Blue Devils. Last season he rushed for more than 400 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. In last season’s ACC title game he had 8 carries for 43 yards. He is an experienced back that played second fiddle to Perkins last season, but should see a lot more opportunities this season.
Terrell Jana and Lavel Davis Jr are the teams biggest receiving threats, but they have some young talented wideouts behind them too. Dontayvion Wicks, Tavares Kelly Jr, Billy Kemp IV, Ugo Obasi and Dorien Goddard are all capable of contributing in the passing game. Davis and Kemp combined for 11 catches and 171 yards against Duke, with Davis hauling in both touchdown passes. They also have a solid tight end in Tony Poljan, a grad transfer from Central Michigan.
“They feel really good about their quarterback, athletic, tough, great leader,” Brent Venables said after the Tigers win over The Citadel. “Some really good other transfers at skill position, at running back, and they played in the Orange Bowl. It’s a confident team with a good culture, an established program.”
Their offensivle line might be their best yet under Bronco Mendenhal. The Cavs have seven players back who started games last season. They also added Alex Gellerstedt, another grad transfer from Penn State who missed all of last season injured. They allowed just one sack in the season opener and paved the way for the Cavs to average more than 5 yards per carry on the ground.
On the defensive side, they did not lose nearly as much from last season’s team. They only lost three starters, two of which missed substantial time last year injured. 15 players who started at least one game returned this season. That’s a lot of experience for the coaching staff to work with.
Last week against Duke, the unit gave up less than 350 total yards and held the Blue Devils to just 1.5 yards per carry on the ground. The Dookies tried to establish the run, rushing the ball 38 times, but could never get anything going against the Cavs 3-4 defense. They also picked off former Clemson quarterback Chase Brice four times in the game, had five total picks and recovered two fumbles.
“Obviously, Virginia’s an experienced team coming back, they’ve got the same staff,” Venables also said. “I’m sure they tweaked some things, added some new wrinkles, and things like that. I know they feel really good about their personnel.”
Having as many losses as they did on the offensive side, in particular Perkins, UVA is having to establish a new identity on offense. Armstrong can make some plays with his legs, but he is not a guy that will consistently beat you with his running ability. It will be hard for them to not take a slight step backwards this season. One of the many reasons they are such huge underdogs coming into this game with the top ranked Tigers.