Virginia’s coaching staff made a long-term investment in August by naming junior Kurt Benkert the starter at quarterback over seniors Matt Johns and Connor Brewer. For now, that investment will be put on hold.
Bronco Mendenhall told reporters on Monday that Johns will start on Saturday at Georgia Tech.
“I’m going to allow Matt Johns to start the upcoming game,” Mendenhall said. “I think he’s earned the chance through not only his career here, but the season in leading our scout team offense and how unselfish he’s been battling his way to back into contention at quarterback.”
The decision comes after the Cavaliers dropped their fifth straight contest over the weekend, falling 34-14 to Miami. Benkert finished 16-of-27 for 143 yards and a touchdown against the Hurricanes but was sacked five times. Johns stepped in later in the game, going 3-of-7 passing for 64 yards.
It won’t be Johns’ first time leading the offense. The Chalfont, Pa., product has 15 career starts to his name, with 12 coming last season.
The short-term effects will likely include UVA going another season without a 3,000-yard passer — a milestone no UVA quarterback has ever reached. Benkert accumulated 2,430 yards over the first 10 games.
The switch could also help the Wahoos end another ugly streak. Should Mendenhall stick with Johns for the season finale at Virginia Tech, it could boost Virginia’s chances of defeating the Hokies for the first time since 2003. While Virginia Tech has seen Johns before (he played in the rivalry showdown each of the last two seasons), there will be limited film to work with of the senior signal-caller in coordinator Robert Anae’s offense.
The long-term impact will involve Benkert picking up less experience before his senior campaign. He’ll be one of three returning scholarship quarterbacks after 2016 and may compete with redshirt freshmen Sonny Abramson and De’Vante Cross for the No. 1 job in the offseason.