Virginia returned home to take on Georgia Tech in a Saturday afternoon contest. The Cavaliers (2-7, 1-4 ACC) were hoping to rebound after a devastating overtime loss to Miami, while the Yellow Jackets (5-4, 4-2 ACC) were attempting to continue their momentum after they pulled off an impressive upset against North Carolina. Unfortunately for Virginia, an early injury set the tone for an overall disappointing game and the Cavaliers lost the game 45-17.
On Virginia’s first drive of the game, they looked to take advantage of a weak Georgia Tech defensive line. The first four plays of the game included three rushes along with a pitch to graduate student wide receiver Malik Washington to gain 32 yards and set up the Cavaliers near midfield. However, on senior quarterback Tony Muskett’s first drop back of the game, he sailed the ball downfield, attempting to connect with sophomore wide receiver Malachi Fields, but the ball was snatched out of Fields’ hands by senior defensive back Myles Sims for his first interception of the year. Unfortunately for Virginia, Muskett immediately entered the injury tent following the play.
The Cavaliers’ defense started the game strong, forcing a three-and-out, which did not allow for enough time for the Virginia medical team to fully assess Muskett’s injury. This forced coach Tony Elliott to put sophomore quarterback Grady Brosterhous in the game for his first career drive. Brosterhous made the most of his short outing as he connected with Washington for a gain of 21 yards on his first and last pass attempt.
An injury timeout allowed the Cavaliers to learn more about the extent of Muskett’s injury and ultimately they made the decision to bring in freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea, officially burning his redshirt. However, the decision certainly paid off for Virginia as Colandrea almost immediately connected with senior tight end Joshua Rawlings for a 9-yard touchdown. Rawlings’ first career touchdown gave the Cavaliers the early 7-0 lead.
The Yellow Jackets found more success on their second drive, which was kicked off by a huge gain on the ground by sophomore running back Jamal Haynes for 18 yards. However, the Virginia defense got lucky when freshman wide receiver Eric Singleton Jr. dropped a wide-open pass on third down, forcing Georgia Tech to settle for a field goal.
On the next drive, Colandrea had some ups and downs. On a third-down play, deep in his own territory, Colandrea dropped back, and after scrambling, lobbed the ball in the air instead of taking the sack or throwing the ball away. The ball landed right in the hands of junior defensive back LaMiles Brooks — a defensive facemask call prevented a disastrous turnover.
Colandrea took advantage and pushed the ball down the field, largely on the ground, picking up crucial first downs while taking on defenders head on, rather than giving himself up. The Yellow Jackets forced a fourth down and 48-yard field goal attempt from sophomore kicker Will Bettridge, who missed just his second field goal of the season.
Once again, Georgia Tech found success on their next drive, largely through their success on short third downs. On four separate occasions, they were able to extend their drive by picking up first downs on small gains. Throughout the entire drive, the Yellow Jackets did not have a play longer than 11 yards. Ultimately, sophomore quarterback Haynes King rushed for two yards for a touchdown to give Georgia Tech the lead.
After the Cavaliers gave the Yellow Jackets great field position following a quick three-and-out from within their own 10 yard line, King continued to do damage on the ground. Following a 10-yard rush, he took it all the way to the endzone for a 34-yard touchdown. Virginia was now down 17-7.
Yet another three-and-out by the Cavaliers gave Georgia Tech one last opportunity before halftime, and once again they took advantage. This time, it took just over a minute for them to score a touchdown. King picked up another massive gain on the ground. Four plays later, senior running back Dontae Smith rushed up the middle and found a sea of green grass, bringing it all the way in for a 33-yard touchdown.
In an effort to try and regain momentum entering the locker room, Virginia pushed the ball down the field with just six seconds remaining in the half, giving Bettridge an opportunity for redemption in the form of a 39-yard field goal attempt, which he made to cut the deficit to 24-10.
The Yellow Jackets started the second half with a bang and they were able to score another touchdown in just five plays. King dropped back and sailed the ball downfield, looking for Singleton Jr., whom he connected with for an easy 58-yard touchdown. The Cavaliers were now down three scores.
Georgia Tech looked poised to score another touchdown on their next possession, but an incredible play by freshman cornerback Dre Walker stopped that from happening. After King threw the ball to the left corner of the end zone, Walker dove and swatted the ball away from Singleton to force the Yellow Jackets to punt.
Despite the large deficit, Colandrea refused to give up and at the end of the third quarter, started a drive by picking up three quick first downs, which included an 11-yard pass to Washington. The pass put him over 1,000 receiving yards on the season, making him the fastest Cavalier to reach that mark ever.
The Virginia offense continued to push, despite the game being out of reach, and was able to put together a successful drive. While on their 48-yard line, Colandrea looked deep and found one of his favorite targets in Fields for a huge pickup of 28 yards. Three plays later, on a no-huddle call, Colandrea connected with senior running back Kobe Pace for the touchdown. However, this score was essentially negated, as on the Yellow Jackets’ second play of the next drive, Haynes rushed for a 43-yard touchdown.
The score would stick at 45-17 and the Cavaliers would lose by 28 points or more for the third time this season. Elliott explained in his post-game press conference that much of the blame should fall on the shoulders of himself.
“It’s on me,” Elliott said. “I did not do a good job of having this football team prepared and ready to play at a high level.”
Unfortunately for Virginia, there were very few positives to take away from this game. Giving up over 300 yards on the ground is a recipe for disaster, and the offense was hard-pressed to get anything going. The Cavaliers are officially eliminated from bowl contention, but if they hope to have a chance against Virginia Tech later in the season, they will need to make major adjustments.
Virginia will hit the road once again to take on Louisville Thursday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.