Perkins has proved prophetic, with Armstrong leading the country with 2,824 passing yards. He is just 715 shy of eclipsing his immediate predecessor for the most at Virginia in a single season. Armstrong is averaging 403.4 passing yards per game, which ranks second nationally and first in the Power Five.
He also is second overall in total offense (414.6 yards per game) and has four games of at least 400 passing yards. Before this year, no Virginia quarterback had thrown for 400 yards more than twice in one season.
Armstrong next faces Georgia Tech in an ACC Coastal Division contest Saturday night at Scott Stadium. The Cavaliers (5-2, 3-2) have won three straight and are seeking to become bowl eligible for the fourth time in the past five seasons under Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
“Timeline-wise as a quarterback matched up perfectly,” Armstrong said of the two seasons he spent behind Perkins. “For the records, you just keep playing. They just kind of come about. It’s always a cool thing to smash some records and get your name in the books, but overall we’re just looking to continue our win streak and keep climbing the Coastal.”
That Armstrong has ascended to the sport’s highest levels after attempting just 25 passes over his first two seasons underscores the countless hours he dedicated to film study and refining his delivery.
Armstrong had an inordinate amount of time to focus on all facets of the position when the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports throughout the country last year. Unable to practice during the spring, he used a neighbor’s garage as a makeshift gym and threw to ex-high school teammates while at home in Shelby, Ohio.
Much of his instruction from quarterbacks coach Jason Beck came via regular conversations on Zoom. They would watch game film together and discuss throwing motion, timing on various patterns and other details to prepare Armstrong to become the full-time starter.
Armstrong also communicated extensively with Virginia teammates, keeping in touch with players such as wide receiver Billy Kemp IV, a senior this season, through calls and text messages.
There was an adjustment period on the field given Armstrong’s admittedly imperfect throwing motion from his days playing baseball. He holds the football lower in his dropback, for instance, to allow for a longer windup before his release, reminiscent of when he pitched in high school.
Armstrong’s passes also spin in the opposite direction of a right-hander, but that quirk has not been an issue. The Cavaliers have five players with at least 300 receiving yards. No other Football Bowl Subdivision program has more than four.
Pro Football Focus rated Armstrong (6 feet 2, 215 pounds) as the No. 8 quarterback in the country with an elite passing grade above 80.0 in five of eight starts dating from last season.
“I love to see it, and I love to be a part of it,” Kemp (474 yards, team-high 48 receptions) said of Armstrong’s splashy statistics. “I love that our group, the receiver group, is a part of that, and hopefully we just come out every day and continue what we’re doing, continue to add to his success. That’s what we look forward to doing.”
Armstrong also has embraced his skills as a dual threat, often confounding defensive coordinators attempting to counter his accuracy and elusiveness. The fourth-year junior excels at extending plays with his legs and either completing passes into tight windows or scrambling out of trouble when defenders have their backs turned.
Last season Armstrong rushed for 552 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. His rushing total led the Cavaliers, who grew so weary of pandemic-related cancellations, delays and protocols that they withdrew from bowl consideration with a 5-5 record.
This year Armstrong has been nursing a knee injury he suffered Sept. 11 during the second half against Illinois. The Cavaliers won, 42-14, but Armstrong has been playing with a brace on his right leg ever since, although that encumbrance did not inhibit him from amassing a school-record 554 passing yards the next weekend against North Carolina.
Still, Virginia’s offensive staff had limited designed running plays for Armstrong with his knee not fully healed. Last weekend in a 48-0 win against Duke, however, Armstrong carried eight times, including on designed runs, for 34 yards and one touchdown, an indication he is mending just fine.
“Early on, and I don’t want to come off as I told you so, right, but I think he’s the best quarterback in the ACC,” Mendenhall said. “And I wouldn’t trade him for anyone, and I don’t know what else he has to do for there, like, to be a campaign or something, and he wouldn’t want that, nor do I, but he’s really good.”
National acclaim has not necessarily followed Armstrong, with the ACC less stout among the Power Five this season.
The Cavaliers only recently have been on an upswing, and two of their past three wins have come by a combined three points despite strong performances from Armstrong. Virginia lost its first two ACC games to North Carolina and Wake Forest by scores of 59-39 and 37-17, respectively.
Winning out to remain in contention for the ACC championship game could alter that narrative dramatically and perhaps vault Armstrong into the discussion as a Heisman Trophy contender next season.
“I think the reason why he doesn’t get the hype is because it’s a ‘down’ year for the ACC because Clemson is not good, which is kind of annoying,” said EJ Manuel, an analyst for the ACC Network and a former quarterback at Florida State as well as in the NFL. “Just because Clemson isn’t the best doesn’t mean there aren’t other good teams, right, so I feel like Brennan really should be talked about on a national level and not just within our conference.”