Five things we learned about Virginia from NC State game

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Michael Bruder

Five things we learned in Virginia’s last-second loss to NC State:

1. Keep Colandrea as starter: Maybe it’s time to make Anthony Colandrea the permanent starter at quarterback. We understand the coaching philosophy that a starter shouldn’t lose his job due to an injury, but it has been more than three weeks that Tony Muskett couldn’t answer the bell because of an injured shoulder.

Meanwhile, Colandrea, the freshman, has proven that he can move the chains and put points on the board. Colandrea has gained the confidence of his teammates, he has established chemistry with his receivers and has shown that he has the potential to win games. While he has made freshman mistakes, he has dealt with adversity and moves on. Consider that he is only 419 yards away from breaking the Virginia record for most passing yards in a season by a freshman. He has already broken the UVA freshman single-game passing record three times in as many games.

2. Virginia is developing some playmakers: Watch out for Malik Washington, the talented transfer from Northwestern. Washington, who is only 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, is a dynamo in UVA’s offense as the slot receiver. Against NC State, he was targeted 14 times and hauled in 10 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, and was named ACC Receiver of the Week.

Washington is a big-play receiver who more resembles a running back when he gets the ball in his hands (he had 107 yards after the catch against the Wolfpack). He’s already had more plays of 40 or more yards in four games than the entire Virginia offense had all of last season.

Complimenting Washington is a bigger target in 6-4 Malachi Fields, who caught three passes for 60 yards, and is enjoying his best year as a Cavalier. What needs to happen is for offensive coordinator Des Kitchings to find at least one more reliable receiver to take some of the pressure off Washington and Fields. Maybe one or both of UVA’s tight ends, maybe J.R. Wilson, maybe a running back?

3. Defense stepped up for the first time this season: Wahoo fans had been waiting to see this all season long — for an experienced defense to make things happen. The “D” had been surrendering 42 points per game, but held Brennan Armstrong’s NC State offense to 24 points and 319 total yards.

Virginia also ended its takeaway drought by making its first interception of the season, and also recorded two sacks and pressured the seasoned Armstrong into some hurried throws and some throwaways.

Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s group more resembled last year’s defense when it was more of a “bend-not-break” unit.

They still gave up too much on the ground (State averaged 3.9 yards per rush), but held the Wolfpack to 139 yards in that department and didn’t give up a run of more than 16 yards.

UVA also allowed Armstrong to complete only 50 percent of his 30 pass attempts, a number Coach Rud would probably take any day of the week.

If the Cavaliers can perform at this level the next two games against Boston College and William & Mary, they should be able to snap their losing streak.

4. Freshman Kam Robinson is a player: Colandrea isn’t the only true freshman making a strong impression on Virginia’s coaching staff. Watch out for freshman linebacker Kam Robinson (6-2, 227) out of Tappahannock. Considered the prize recruit out of the freshman class, Robinson was rated a 4-star out of Essex High School and was in the center of an intense recruiting war between Virginia and Florida State.

Could it be that Robinson will help influence other blue-chip recruits from the state to give UVA stronger consideration the way Chris Slade and Terry Kirby did back in the day?

Against the Wolfpack, Robinson led Virginia’s defense with 11 total tackles, including 8 solos, both team highs for the game. He also had a half-tackle-for-loss.

Look for Robinson to continue to be an impact player for Coach Rud the rest of the way.

5. Special teams continue to blow it: We could go on and on about the snafus, the dumb penalties on Virginia’s last offensive and defensive series, but if you’re a Wahoo, you’re already disgusted with how the Cavaliers handed NC State the game at the end.

The Wolfpack kickoff return man, Julian Gray, already had an advantage by UVA kicking off from its own 20. Gray returned Matt Ganyard’s 63-yard kickoff from his own 17 to UVA’s 48 (35 yards), which put State almost within a winning field-goal range without running a play, and led to the Wolfpack’s walk-off field goal. Virginia continues to struggle on kickoff returns, losing containment, and isn’t so hot in punt coverage either.

In terms of returning punts, the Cavaliers have made their fans nervous, dropping punts, not great decisions on when to either field a punt or let it go. Maybe Virginia should further examine a change in that spot to a player with better hands and better decision-making so the offense won’t be put in so many holes.