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Virginia football looks to rebound in home opener against James Madison

With starting quarterback Tony Muskett injured, the Cavaliers may look to a freshman to lead an upset

<p>Muskett will likely be a game-time decision for the Cavaliers Saturday.</p>

Muskett will likely be a game-time decision for the Cavaliers Saturday.

Following a 36-point defeat against No. 12 Tennessee, Virginia will look to bounce back in a big way against an in-state opponent in James Madison. The Cavaliers (0-1, 0-0 ACC) are looking to pick up their seventh straight home-opener win but enter the game as six-point underdogs. The Dukes (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) dominated in their season opener against Bucknell, winning 38-3. James Madison is the first FBS transitioning team to be favored in a game against a Power Five program in at least the last 15 years. With Virginia catching the injury bug early in the season, they will need some added help to pull off the upset this Saturday. 

Key Storylines

The Tale of Two Backup Quarterbacks 

Everyone held their breath when senior quarterback Tony Muskett clutched his left arm and exited Saturday’s game with an apparent injury. It was a big blow for a team that made clear that Muskett was their unquestionable starter. Muskett had played well despite little help from his offensive line, completing nine attempts for 94 yards and ending with a 99.4 passer rating against one of the best teams in the country. 

The severity of the injury is largely unknown, and Coach Tony Elliott has not given a clear indication of how long Muskett will be out — if he is unable to suit up this weekend, that opens the door for freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea. The true freshman had the opportunity to lead the Cavalier offense for the majority of the fourth quarter Saturday, completing two passes for 12 yards. Colandrea — the 45th-ranked quarterback in his class — might have to start his first collegiate game much earlier than expected if Muskett’s injury is serious. 

For the Dukes, freshman quarterback Alonza Barnett III entered the season opener as the starter, but after completing just 27.3 percent of his passes and throwing an interception, senior quarterback Jordan McCloud entered the game and ignited a spark for James Madison. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. 

Elliott is no stranger to the McCloud family, as he coached Jordan’s brother Ray-Ray at Clemson. Ray-Ray McCloud was drafted in the sixth round in 2018 and currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers. This Saturday, Elliott will attempt to shut down his brother. 

Stopping the Rushing Attack 

Coming into the season, the Virginia defensive front was the bright spot. Senior defensive tackle Jahmeer Carter and graduate student defensive end Ben Smiley III lead the charge, and graduate student Kam Butler provides disruption off the edge as well. Against the Volunteers, the unit picked up one sack and one tackle for loss against a strong Tennessee offensive line. Unfortunately, senior defensive tackle Olasunkonmi Agunloye, who recovered a fumble, was injured, leaving the Cavaliers short-handed entering their matchup this week. 

They will have their hands full as they face a Dukes team that rushed for 261 yards in their season opener. Sophomore running back Kaelon Black is the player to watch, as he rushed for 125 yards in just 12 attempts against the Bison. To win this game, Virginia will need to find a way to slow down Black and the rest of the James Madison rushing attack. 

On the flip side, the Dukes’ front seven proved to be a strength in their first game. They held Bucknell to just 1.8 yards per carry and 62 yards overall. Sophomore defensive lineman Mikail Kamara led the way with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. 

The Cavalier rushing attack against the Volunteers was largely headlined by senior running back Kobe Pace and graduate student running back Perris Jones who managed 39 yards each. The two will look to break through against a tough matchup. 

U.Va. Strong 

Saturday’s game is an important one for Virginia as it is their first home game following last November’s tragedy. The Cavaliers will honor and celebrate the lives of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry in a pregame ceremony that will begin at 11:30 a.m. Fans are encouraged to wear orange and be in their seats early to watch the ceremony. 

Family members and friends of Chandler, Davis and Perry will also participate in the Wahoo Walk, which begins at 9:45 a.m. along Whitehead Road. 

Friday at 3 p.m. there will be a memorial tree planting and plaque dedication honoring Chandler, Davis and Perry between Ruffin Hall and the Drama Education building. President Jim Ryan, Athletics Director Carla Williams and Rector Robert Hardie will all speak at the memorial. The event will also be streamed live. 

Saturday’s matchup will be the 500th game in Scott Stadium as Virginia hopes to pull off the upset. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m., and the game will also be broadcast on ESPNU. 

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