Colandrea ready to step in if Muskett can’t play against JMU

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Right up until the time Tony Muskett got hurt in Saturday’s 49-13 loss to No. 12 Tennessee, Virginia coach Tony Elliott was pleased with what he saw in the Cavaliers’ new starting quarterback.

When Muskett left the game during the first UVA drive of the fourth quarter with an apparent injury to his left shoulder, the senior had completed 9 of 17 passes for 94 yards and no interceptions. No, those weren’t even close to Brennan Armstrong numbers, but still, Elliott liked what he saw, particularly with his QB playing under duress all afternoon from an aggressive Tennessee pass rush.

“I thought, first and foremost, being in that situation, because that’s the first time he’s played in front of that many people in that environment, I thought he handled the environment well,” Elliott said during his game-week press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “I thought his in-game demeanor was good throughout the course of the game.”

The coach said he would have liked to have seen a couple of better decisions by Muskett in the run game in terms of RPOs (run-pass options), which was part of UVA’s game plan, but attributed some of that indecision to Tennessee’s defensive athleticism, which was deceptive.

“I thought [Muskett’s] leadership was there, because you don’t know in that moment,” Elliott said. “He made some throws that let me know that if we can protect him, that he is going to be able to win some football games.”

Muskett suffered a shoulder injury and didn’t return to the game. He was X-rayed once he returned to Charlottesville on Saturday night.

Elliott did not divulge the degree or nature of Muskett’s injury, but did say that Muskett wants to play this week against JMU.

He is listed as day-to-day, and it will be a “gametime” decision. It could be a bit of gamesmanship by Elliott, who may very well already know if Muskett will play or not, but doesn’t want to tip his hand to JMU, rather forcing the Dukes to prepare for both quarterbacks.

If Muskett can’t play, Elliott will call on true freshman backup Anthony Colandrea from St. Petersburg, Fla. Colandrea saw his first college action against the Volunteers last weekend and completed 2 of 7 passes for 12 yards.

Elliott likes Colandrea’s moxy and arm strength, something the quarterback developed by playing high-caliber football in high school, where he threw for more than 7,000 career yards. The coach has seen growth in his backup.

“Just playing within the system more,” Elliott said. “Day one, he wanted to show what he can do because I think he’s been a guy that’s always had to prove himself, and he doesn’t mind that.

“If you look at his background and where he chose to go to high school and compete, and the guys he had to compete with, he had to prove himself, and now we’re trying to get him to understand the total responsibility as a quarterback.”

Part of that responsibility is distinguishing between the big play and the routine play, and that sometimes the routine play is to throw the ball away. That’s an area where coaches have seen some improvement in the true freshman, who hadn’t taken a college snap until the Tennessee game.

“Now he’s trusting that the routine play is the right play to make and not try to force the big play,” Elliott said.

Colandrea, who pushed Muskett for the starting job in training camp, is listed as 5-foot-11, 180 pounds.

If Muskett is sidelined for Saturday’s game and Colandrea starts, Virginia’s coaches have already dedicated some practice time to develop some backup for the freshman.

Elliott said the pecking order behind Colandrea would be Grady Brosterhous, a 6-2 sophomore from Weddington, N.C., followed by Jared Rayman, a 6-2 fifth-year from Atlanta, and then, possibly Delaney Crawford, a speedy, 6-2 sophomore from Corona, Calif., who moved to the receiver position during training camp.