Matt Johns to start at QB for Virginia against Georgia Tech
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Matt Johns will be Virginia's starting quarterback on Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall made the announcement Monday, saying that Johns, who started every Cavaliers' game last season, will replace struggling transfer Kurt Benkert.
The Cavaliers (2-8, 1-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) lost their fifth straight on Saturday, 34-14 against Miami. Benkert fumbled the ball away twice after halftime, and Johns replaced him with about five minutes to play.
Mendenhall was effusive in his praise of Johns for his leadership all season, even after losing the starting job.
''I'm genuine, authentic when I say this,'' Mendenhall said. ''He is an amazing human being and a really good player and a good leader. I think our team recognizes that and no one wants success for him more than his teammates.''
The coach says Benkert, who has started the first 10 games this year, has reached the point of needing to take a ''step back'' after his recent struggles. He has thrown for 20 touchdowns, but also 11 interceptions, and has struggled under pressure, which has been plentiful. Virginia has allowed 31 sacks.
''I think it's the best thing for our team. I also think it's the best thing to do for Kurt,'' Mendenhall said. ''I think he'll grow and develop more by playing this role for a little bit, and I have to let Matt have his chance. He's done way too much for the program.''
Linebacker Zach Bradshaw, like Johns a senior, believes the team will get a boost from the switch.
''Obviously we love both Kurt and Matt, and Matt's been around forever ... he started last year,'' Bradshaw said. ''I'm really happy for him that he has this opportunity. If there's anyone on the team that deserves it, it's him, especially being put in the situation that he was put in, he hasn't complained once.''
Johns threw for 20 touchdowns with 17 interceptions last season as Virginia finished 4-8. His interception total led the nation, and when the stronger-armed Benkert arrived as a transfer from East Carolina, he was a better fit with the up-tempo offense preferred by Mendenhall and his staff. Benkert was eligible to play immediately because he'd earned his degree and he won the starting job.
Johns had only been in games as the holder on field goals before Saturday, and threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal against North Carolina. He was 3 for 7 and had three passes dropped against the Hurricanes.
Johns was not made available to the media on Monday, but after the loss to Miami, said he remains on board with what Mendenhall is trying to build at Virginia. The Cavaliers have not been to a bowl game since 2011.
''The culture is changing, and that's something you see on the inside of the walls, not something you see from the outside looking in,'' he said after the game. ''Moving forward, the culture will be established and coach Mendenhall has done a great job of that.''
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr