“Any reasons at this point will be private and personal,” Cavaliers Coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Briggs on Tuesday night during his weekly radio show. “And if he ever chooses to share those, that’s completely his call, but for me, there’ll be nothing other than in my conversation, ‘Where can I help you go?’ …
“I hope that Jowon can find a place, and I can help him find a place that will match exactly what he’s looking for, and that’s my commitment to him, and that’s what I shared with him today.”
The departure leaves Virginia (3-4) even more shorthanded along a defensive front already without another starter heading into Saturday’s game against visiting Abilene Christian (1-4) after defensive end Richard Burney had his season end because of a medical issue.
Of the Cavaliers’ four healthy defensive linemen, two are freshmen (Nusi Malani and Jahmeer Carter) and another is a graduate transfer (Adeeb Atariwa).
Briggs was Virginia’s most highly rated recruit since Mendenhall took over in 2016. The sophomore was a four-star out of high school, according to several notable recruiting websites, and had collected 20 tackles and three sacks, second on the team, this season.
He’s also the most prominent player to have announced his intention to transfer from Virginia during the program’s transformation under Mendenhall that has included winning the ACC Coastal Division title for the first time and an inaugural Orange Bowl berth, both of which occurred last season.
The news of Briggs seeking to play elsewhere came in the same wave as an initial executive order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) capping gatherings, including sporting events, at 250, placing a significant strain on staging a game at Scott Stadium.
Virginia has 80 players on its roster, plus 15 coaches and graduate assistants. The Cavaliers also have strength and conditioning staff, athletic trainers and team physicians and nutritionists who push the total number requiring stadium access to more than 100.
Northam’s office subsequently clarified the order, indicating spectators could not number more than 250, meaning players, coaches, support staff from both teams and others required to conduct a game such as officials, scoreboard operators and statisticians do not count against that total.
Before the recent surge in cases across the country, the commonwealth of Virginia had permitted 1,000 spectators at sporting events. For football games, the Cavaliers used that allotment of tickets exclusively for family of players and coaches.
“I’ve learned to take nothing for granted,” Mendenhall said Monday during a Zoom call with the media. “I mean every morning I wake up, hitting the ground like in an agile position to see like, ‘What, where, what’s coming?’ And I’ve been wrong most mornings as to what our team or personnel or anything might look like in terms of what’s predictable.”
There is one certainty for Virginia if it defeats Abilene Christian: The Cavaliers’ record moves to .500 for the first time since Oct. 3, a mark that appeared a long shot after a loss to Miami, 19-14, Oct. 24, punctuating a four-game slide with quarterback Brennan Armstrong just back from concussion protocol.
With the sophomore left-hander fully recovered, the Cavaliers have reclaimed offensive balance, scoring 75 points combined over the past two games, both victories, including last weekend against Louisville, 31-17.
Armstrong has accounted for nine touchdowns in the last three games. The Cavaliers are 3-2 this season when Armstrong has played the entire game, with both losses coming against ranked opponents (then-No. 1 Clemson and then-No. 11 Miami).
“Losing four games in a row was pretty rough for everyone,” said tight end Grant Misch, who played high school football at Potomac Falls (Va.) High. “We never want to lose faith. Every week coach would tell us, ‘Guys, you aren’t a bad team. We’ve just got to put everything together to win these games.’ I think we’re starting to see that.”