Ahead of Saturday’s matchup against Boston College, Coach Tony Elliott has reinstated senior quarterback Tony Muskett as Virginia’s starter. But while Muskett was out with an injury he sustained in the opening game against Tennessee, Elliott and Cavalier fans have seen potential in his replacement, freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea. The decision to stick with Muskett this weekend indicates a desire to stick to their initial preseason plans for at least another game to see if any changes can result in wins. Because Colandrea is widely seen as the future of the position for the Cavaliers, even if Muskett gives Virginia a better chance to win this season, bad play Saturday could spell the end for the senior’s time as the starting quarterback.
If Muskett does manage to secure a win against the Golden Eagles (1-3, 0-2 ACC), there is no question that he should be the one for Virginia moving forward. It is unfortunate that it has come down to one game for a senior who had high hopes for his first season of ACC football, but any result other than a victory should spell the end for Muskett and allow for Colandrea to cement his spot in the Cavaliers’ future.
Breathtakingly close losses against James Madison and North Carolina State have brought Colandrea’s play, both good and bad, into the forefront of everyone’s mind, and the sheer joy his electrifying style has brought fans has resulted in a strong push for him to remain the starting quarterback. However, the decision between him and the seemingly-deposed Muskett is much more than meets the eye.
When it comes to the advanced stats, the argument is overwhelmingly in favor of Colandrea. He ranks atop all ACC quarterbacks with at least 100 snaps in Predicted Points Added (PPA) per play with the fourth-smallest usage percentage. When the minimum snap count caveat is taken away to allow Muskett to be measured in the statistic, the senior is the worst in the conference.
If you are looking for the conventional markers of performance, Colandrea has Muskett beat there as well. Colandrea ranks forty-first amongst FBS quarterbacks with a QBR of 69.8. He also leads ACC quarterbacks in yards per game, and it is this attention-grabbing, no-holds-barred playstyle that has captivated the minds of fans.
His relentless aggressiveness has also put the Cavaliers in dangerous positions, and it brings the matter of seniority and experience into the question of who should lead in the huddle come Saturday. Despite the exhilarating scrambles and deep connections with junior wide receiver Malachi Fields and graduate wide receiver Malik Washington, the fact that he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns tends to fly under the radar.
If it was merely in-game decision-making that was causing problems, you could argue that that is something you simply have to deal with when developing a new quarterback, especially in a season that is likely not bound for a bowl game. It is crucial to give a young player as many chances to acclimate to the finer components of ACC football.
However, Colandrea’s actions towards the end of play against NC State proved unsettling. Carelessly throwing around symbols and posing after crucial plays simply isn’t in the winning formula for this Cavalier squad, whether you like the vigorously competitive attitude or not.
Although it should be relatively easy for Colandrea to curb these habits, trust in your players not to give up crucial yards late in games is incredibly important. With his experience, Muskett will likely keep a cooler head when things get close, and this seems to be a leading cause for the Monmouth transfer to get back on the field tomorrow against Boston College.
“The mental is always there, but each week’s getting better with his physical abilities,” Offensive Coordinator Des Kitchings said in a Wednesday press conference.
Even with a clear separation of raw on-field talent, Muskett may be able to win games that Colandrea cannot precisely because he has the experience of multiple seasons as a starting college quarterback. Muskett also should not be punished for a brief injury that allowed Colandrea to step into the spotlight, and it is clear that Elliott believes as much.
“I want to do what’s best for Tony,” Elliott said. “My philosophy is [that] you don’t lose your starting job because of injury,”
Despite an early 0-4 start that has been plagued with defeats both massive and marginal, the Cavalier faithful seem to have fixed their eyes on a new star in Colandrea. Since he came in for an injured Muskett late in a blowout week one loss to Tennessee, Colandrea has enthralled fans, players, and coaches with extraordinary plays comparable only to some of the game’s brightest quarterback talents. Because of the ceiling of the true freshman — even despite his mistakes — Virginia should choose to start him for the rest of the season if Muskett does not show he can perform against the Eagles.