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The ups, downs, and in between from Virginia football’s loss to JMU

Analyzing the individual performances for the Wahoos on Saturday.

James Madison v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Saturday afternoon’s loss to James Madison was a tough one to swallow for the Virginia Cavaliers. Squandering an 11-point fourth quarter lead will always leave a bad taste in the mouths of players, coaches, and fans.

But, along with the frustrating showings, there was still plenty of good that came from the on-field performances for the Wahoos. So we’ve analyzed the ups, the downs, and the in between from Virginia’s second game of the 2023 season.


Anthony Colandrea

This one’s pretty obvious, but Colandrea absolutely balled out against James Madison. He’s been named the ACC’s freshman of the week for his 20-for-26, 337 yard, two touchdown performance versus the Dukes. He showed off legit arm talent, and his pocket presence and ability to extend plays while keeping his eyes down field and feet behind the line of scrimmage proved that he’s capable of being a full time starter for the ‘Hoos moving forward.

If Colandrea gets another chance to start under center for UVA this year is still to be determined with Tony Muskett’s return from injury supposedly slated for this Friday against Maryland. But it would be foolish to leave Colandrea on the sideline for the next ten games.

Mike Hollins

Beyond how mind-blowingly, astonishingly impressive that Hollins is playing football again, his on-field performance on Saturday was of serious quality. His two touchdowns on the ground were hard-nosed runs that he earned by being willing and able to absorb contact and keep chugging.

Hollins and his fellow backs got little (if any) help from UVA’s offensive line, so his 28 yards on 12 carries (2.3 yards per carry) don’t stand out. But his effectiveness in a number of critical short yardage scenarios was notable, and he’s clearly Virginia’s preferred redzone rusher.

Kobe Pace and Perris Jones as receivers

Pace and Jones similarly struggled to get going as rushers behind Virginia’s offensive line. But both of them found a way to impact the game as receivers out of the backfield. Pace opened the second half with a bang as he got open deep and hauled in Colandrea’s bomb of a throw to score a momentum-snatching 75-yard score. That was his only reception of the game, yet it did plenty to establish how much of a threat he can be in the passing game.

Jones only had two catches against the Dukes, but he also made the limited volume count. Colandrea did well evading pressure and knowing when to check it down, and Jones made him look especially smart with those decisions. His first catch went for eight yards before he ripped off a 60-yard catch and run late in the third quarter. The former walk-on can straight up make dudes miss, and he did just that on Saturday.

Malik Washington

Washington put his full game on display versus JMU. His speed to be a deep ball threat, shiftiness to be a YAC guy, and reliability in the short and intermediate areas of the field make him a great option for whichever quarterback plays for Virginia. He caught five balls for 119 yards and a score against the Dukes and pulled the team and fanbase back into the game with his 63-yard touchdown after JMU went up 14-0.

I’ll get to Malachi Fields momentarily, but he and Washington are a really nice one-two punch for the ‘Hoos through the air.

Malachi Fields

Whereas Washington was the big play threat on Saturday, Fields was the chain mover for the Wahoos. He led the team in receptions with eight for 74 yards and was a consistent safe option for Colandrea. His big body and sure hands are a huge advantage across the middle and the threat he poses down the sideline had JMU’s receiver giving him too much space to operate.

Coen King

King continues to be a strength in an otherwise questionable secondary that is dealing with injuries. He only let up three catches on seven targets and had three deflected passes including a critical one in the endzone on JMU’s last drive that could’ve won Virginia the game if the defense had held the Dukes without a score on that possession.

King’s made the transition to outside corner look seamless. He’s been left on an island and targeted downfield, but he’s used his plus athleticism extremely well and has rarely been beaten through two weeks. He did give up a touchdown, but that’s the nature of the position and how much the ‘Hoos are relying on him to contain his matchup on the outside.


UVA’s run defense

JMU won this game on the ground with 167 yards on 34 carries (4.9 yards per carry). The Wahoo defensive line simply wasn’t disruptive enough to limit the Dukes’ effectiveness on the ground, and it made all the difference. The six rushes that JMU had on the offense’s drive immediately following the lightning delay went for 59 yards (9.8 ypc) as the Dukes gashed the ‘Hoos on the ground on their way to victory.

Tayvonn Kyle

Kyle was once again constantly targeted by the opposing offense. JMU targeted him eight times and he allowed seven receptions for 76 yards, a third of JMU’s 228 passing yards and seven of the 20 completions the Dukes had (per PFF). He did have one clutch PBU on a third down and made a few solid tackles, but he remains too exploitable against the run and the pass.

Ugonna Nnanna

Nnanna struggled at right tackle for the second consecutive game. He allowed two sacks — one which was a strip sack after he was flagged for holding. Jimmy Christ took 23 snaps at right tackle compared to Nnanna’s 40, but is clearly still getting back into game shape. Christ wasn’t loads better in pass protection, but he’s a bigger body who should be better as he gets back into the swing of things.

How quickly Christ does that will be important to keep an eye on since Nnanna has simply not played well at tackle.

Ty Furnish

Furnish continues to struggle with snapping the ball, especially in short yardage situations. He also allowed a sack against the Dukes and didn’t do well to get movement upfield in the running game. He’s been on par with the rest of Virginia’s line, but it is worth considering whether the bigger-bodied Jestus Johnson — who rotated with Furnish at center last season before transitioning to guard in the offseason — or the more experienced Brian Stevens might get some looks back at center if Furnish can’t at least clean up his snapping problems.

Virginia’s run scheme and execution

48 yards on 28 handoffs (1.7 ypc) isn’t good enough execution for an offense that desperately wants to establish the run isn’t close to good enough. The Wahoo offense relied on its backs to run out of shotgun with no momentum towards a line that couldn’t keep JMU defenders out of the backfield. From both a schematic perspective and an execution one, the offense needs to be better and find ways to create space for the dynamic backs it has.

In between

UVA’s special teams

Will Bettridge knocked down his five extra points, Daniel Sparks’ six punts averaged 46.8 yards, and the ‘Hoos didn’t suffer any major issues in the return game (beyond Ethan Davies’ muffed punt that he immediately jumped on).

But the blocked Sparks punt in the first quarter that resulted in a Dukes’ touchdown was a major gaffe on the special teams’ scheme. JMU lined up four players over one on the right side of the formation and overwhelmed UVA there to completely block the punt. Virginia went to a max protect punt formation afterwards, but that was a huge mistake that largely contributed to the final result.

Virginia’s defensive injury luck

UVA was without three of their most experienced 11 starters on defense for this game. Josh Ahern, Lex Long, and Antonio Clary are difference makers for this defense and their absences were a big part of Virginia’s issues versus the Dukes. Chico Bennett also still isn’t at full health and Su Agunloye was lost to the season versus Tennessee.

Fortunately, all those injuries except Agunloye’s appear to be relatively short term, so those players should be back to full health before too long. That suggests that the defense will be better when they return, but it also speaks to how little depth there is on this defense. That will likely continue to be a problem as players continue to get banged up as the season progresses.