He especially admired Perkins’s poise in the pocket when chaos unfolded around him.
Those qualities and then some came via meticulous preparation, Armstrong observed, over countless hours of quarterback meetings and film study, allowing Perkins to be ready for virtually any contingency.
“The one thing I picked up with Bryce was he did not let a lot of time go to waste,” Armstrong said. “When we have school, we have school, but when we didn’t, it was trying to get with the receivers and dial in a few things. Obviously we’re different styles of leadership, but he didn’t waste time.
“That’s one thing I try to carry over with my leadership style.”
Cavaliers Coach Bronco Mendenhall tabbed Armstrong as the starter this season following a training camp competition against Keytaon Thompson, a highly regarded transfer from Mississippi State who gained prominence in directing a 31-27 victory over Lamar Jackson-led Louisville in the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl.
Armstrong’s first career start comes Sept. 26, when the Cavaliers face Duke at Scott Stadium in the third iteration of the season opener.
Virginia was scheduled to play its first game Sept. 11 against Virginia Military Institute before the Southern Conference postponed fall sports because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. That pushed the Sept. 19 showdown against Virginia Tech into the opening slot until a spike in positive cases throughout the Hokies locker room led the schools to reschedule to a date to be determined.
Armstrong becomes the third starting quarterback during the Mendenhall era at Virginia and the first non-transfer to do so. The previous two, Perkins and Kurt Benkert, each set program records in helping to transform the Cavaliers from ACC afterthought to Coastal Division champions last year.
The sophomore is the first left-handed quarterback on track to start for the Cavaliers since Jameel Sewell in 2009.
“When I’m under pressure or when I’m making critical decisions, there’s a pretty simple mantra I use,” Mendenhall said. “The facts are our friends, so the numbers matter to me. Yeah, we charted everything, and I was just really impressed with [Armstrong’s] numbers and the results.”
In 11 career games at Virginia, Armstrong is 17-of-25 passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He also has 16 carries for 93 yards and, despite a limited in-game body of work, drawn accolades within the locker room for his fearless demeanor.
The Cavaliers received a glimpse of that moxie two seasons ago when Armstrong led two scoring drives with Perkins on the sideline for a medical evaluation. Armstrong appeared in four games in 2018, which under recently revised NCAA rules allows him another year of eligibility.
He also gained additional practice reps in each of the past two seasons with Virginia advancing to a bowl game, including the first Orange Bowl in program history.
“A lot of it has to do with his experience in the system, his knowledge of everything that we do,” Cavaliers quarterback coach Jason Beck said. “With that big head start for being here for two years, it gave him a big leg up, and it kept him ahead in the competition throughout it.”
Armstrong’s comfort level with the offense served as a major benefit when the virus outbreak compelled Virginia to scrap spring workouts. Although he did not practice in an official setting, Armstrong still was able to discuss concepts and terminology with coaches and teammates via video conferencing.
He used a neighbor’s garage to lift weights. He threw to former high school teammates at his Shelby, Ohio, home to preserve his timing and arm strength. When not outside tossing the football, Armstrong poured over the playbook in anticipation of becoming the centerpiece of an offensive overhaul.
In addition to deploying a new starting quarterback, the Cavaliers are without graduated starting wide receivers Joe Reed, also a prolific kick returner, and Hasise Dubois. Reed led Virginia in receptions (77) and touchdowns (seven) and Dubois in receiving yards (1,062).
The Cavaliers also are down to two scholarship running backs (Wayne Taulapapa, Shane Simpson) with Mike Hollins opting out and Ronnie Walker Jr., a transfer from Indiana, denied immediate eligibility, although Virginia is appealing the NCAA’s initial ruling.
“If I’m Brennan, just try to go out there and not do too much,” said EJ Manuel, a former Florida State quarterback turned ACC Network analyst. “He didn’t get a full spring. Obviously with all that’s going on with covid-19, it’s just a weird year. Don’t try to be Bryce. Don’t try to take off and run if that’s not your game. Just do your thing.”