Muskett shines in Virginia spring game

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photos: UVA Athletics

If you’re one of the many Virginia fans who have already anointed Anthony Colandrea the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback for this fall, put those thoughts on hold.

Tony Muskett, who started every game in which he was healthy last season, isn’t exactly chopped liver, something he reminded everyone about in Saturday’s annual UVA Spring Game. Muskett was solid, throwing for 200 yards and the contest’s only two offensive touchdowns as he led the White team past the Blue, 17-10.

The transfer from Monmouth gained a year of experience in 2023 and earned the respect of teammates and coaches for playing hurt. While he probably should have undergone shoulder surgery during the season, Muskett toughed it out, sacrificing his body to help his team win and delayed the operation until after the season.

Initially, most everyone expected the quarterback to sit out the spring to rehab, but Muskett surprised even himself by making it back for the entire spring and gutted out the process. All the while, he’s had to listen to fans gush over his younger counterpart — rising sophomore Colandrea — even though the two are friends.

While Colandrea, the people’s choice, had a good spring and played well Saturday, completing 15 of 16 passes for 102 yards (no interceptions), he couldn’t get the Blue team in the end zone. Granted, his protection wasn’t the best, as many offensive linemen missed the game rehabbing their own offseason surgeries or were injured during spring drills.

Muskett hooked up with junior wide receiver JR Wilson in the first quarter for a 56-yard touchdown, then passed 73 yards to 5-foot-11, walk-on Claiborne Richards late in the first quarter to build a 14-0 lead.

Muskett and Colandrea each played the first half by design before giving way to their backups and a running clock, resulting in the 17-10 finale.

The Blue team’s only touchdown came on a 90-yard punt return by Suderian Harrison, a 5-9 sophomore wide receiver, on the last play of the third quarter.

“So proud of him,” Virginia coach Tony Elliott said of Muskett. “He’s going to battle. He’s got a very young and talented quarterback in the room (Colandrea), and you know what? He has stayed true to who he was and didn’t let the outside noise get to him and focused on what he could control.”

Elliott was surprised that Muskett participated in the spring, but never underestimated his quarterback.

“He just attacked his rehab and was ahead of schedule, and so we were able to get some good quality work out of him, then he comes out here today and showed you what we saw.” Elliott said.

The coach was also impressed with Colandrea’s game, describing the QB as more comfortable and consistent. Elliott believes the competition between the two is healthy and makes both quarterbacks better.

Offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said the best indicator of how Muskett can play when he’s healthy was last season’s North Carolina game. Muskett was 20 for 30 passing for 208 yards and a touchdown in leading the Cavaliers to a stunning, 31-27 upset win over the unbeaten and 10th-ranked Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

Muskett, a confident, collected, modest guy, deflected any praise toward his game Saturday and attributed his success to his teammates and his faith.

“I came into the spring just extremely blessed to be out there,” Muskett said. “God worked a miracle in my recovery. I’m just really thankful for just being out there in the spring. A lot of people take it for granted. I just did my job.”

Muskett was happy for Wilson, who dropped a likely touchdown on the first pass of the game, but went back to him on the next series for the score. The QB said he thought that was Wilson’s first dropped pass of the entire spring.

The 6-foot-4 Wilson was appreciative that he got a second chance to show coaches he could be another weapon in a deep UVA receivers room.

“When you first mess up, it kind of haunts you and you keep thinking about it,” Wilson said. “But I’ve got that next-play mentality and I just had to really fight forward to the next play and make some production.”

Elliott was delighted to see Wilson bounce back after the early drop.

“Great to see him respond,” Elliott said. “He’s had a great spring. He’s a guy that we saw flashes as soon as we got here (in 2022) and it has taken time for him to figure things out. But he’s really comfortable in the system. He sees an opportunity to have a big role and I’m really, really pleased and proud of the spring he’s had.”

Wilson was second in receiving yards in Saturday’s game with 3 catches for 79 yards, following his ‘23 campaign in which he had a mere 98 yards off 10 receptions. Richards actually led all receivers Saturday with 6 catches for 118 yards.

Andre Greene led the Blue team with 5 receptions for 65 yards, including a 40-yard catch from backup transfer quarterback Gavin Frakes from New Mexico State. Frakes was 4 of 9 for 55 yards.

Blue starting running back Noah Vaughn, who has had a good spring, led all rushers with 50 yards on 11 rushes, while Kobe Pace, expected to be the team’s starter in the fall, led the White squad with 16 yards on only 4 carries. Because of his workload in the spring, coaches kept his activity limited on Saturday.

A total of 26 players missed the game while recovering from offseason surgeries or spring-drill injuries, including Notre Dame transfer receiver Chris Tyree, who was nicked up late in the spring.