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Who should Virginia football start at quarterback?

Should the ‘Hoos go with the young buck Colandrea or the more experienced Muskett?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Virginia vs Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fairly early in fall camp, Virginia Cavaliers football head coach Tony Elliott announced that they planned to start veteran transfer Tony Muskett at quarterback during the 2023 season. This came as no surprise, especially after Jay Woolfolk decided to remove himself from the program and focus solely on baseball. True freshman Anthony Colandrea opened some eyes in the spring game and in fall practice, but he was supposed to be stashed for the future.

During Week 1 against Tennessee, Muskett left the game with a non-throwing arm injury. Colandrea replaced him in the blowout, and ended up getting the start in Week 2 versus James Madison. His 377 yards on 20-of-26 passing were exceptional enough to earn him ACC Rookie of the Week.

However, Elliott announced that in Week 3’s game at Maryland, the plan is to go back to Muskett, assuming he is healthy. This is a questionable decision in the eyes of many, and for valid reasons.

Distinct styles

First off, we should establish that it is optimal to have one leader of the team. I do not believe in the saying “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none” but it is best to choose your guy at some point early on. This is especially true in Virginia’s case where the two signal callers require completely different game plans.

Muskett is the beneficiary of the fact that he was brought in specifically by offensive coordinator Des Kitchings to run the offense. The Virginia staff was able to observe multiple years of his game film at the Division 1 level and decided he was the perfect fit. Of course, we have not seen Kitchings’ philosophy enough in action, but this logic gives us a decent idea of what he wants to do.

Muskett does not have any traits that make him stand out among power conference talent. That being said, he throws an accurate deep ball, works through his progressions well, and knows how to get the ball out quickly.

Colandrea plays the “backyard football” style we are more accustomed to seeing with Brennan Armstrong. (Albeit, Colandre executed it significantly better than we saw at any point last season.) Colandrea thrives most when he is able to extend plays and buy time to improvise. He is clearly more talented than Muskett, but also less polished.

Did Muskett get a fair chance?

The short answer is no. Muskett made his FBS debut where everyone around him was severely overmatched, most specifically the offensive line. He was pressured on nearly half of his drop backs, and this was much more due to the little time he had, rather than him holding onto the ball too long. There were even a few instances where Muskett showcased his ball placement skills and moved the sticks. But he rarely had time to even progress to his second or third read.

With that being said, this is an ACC football program; the goal is to win games, not necessarily to be “fair.” Elliott stated that a quarterback should not lose their job due to an injury. In addition to this being short-sighted, Colandrea has proved he is capable of working a productive offense with this team, while Muskett has not. Muskett was always a high floor quarterback in my eyes anyways. Colandrea’s upside is definitely greater.

Putting it in the context of this season and beyond

The other underlying question is what the plan moving forward is. Virginia fans may consider this fall already a failure, and hope for greater things in the long-term. In that case, it makes sense to roll with what is clearly the future in Colandrea.

But if you are a head football coach, you cannot possibly have that mentality. The goal is to optimize the chances of winning a game one week at a time. As bad as the start of the season has been, there are still 10 of 12 games remaining.

Nonetheless, the way I see it, the quarterbacks have become at least close enough that competition should be up in the air. Maybe Muskett gives you the greatest chance of avoiding a complete disaster. But, with Colandrea, there is a better chance to salvage something significant in the short term and the long term.

The verdict

As I prefaced, it is important that Elliott establishes his guy and gives him some slack. While there is some logic to that being Muskett, I do not think Elliott is using the right reasoning, nor is it the best decision. Colandrea is not just a long-term solution but potentially a short-term spark as well. The UVA program is close to rock bottom right now and Colandrea could very well be the one to turn the tide. Bottom line, it’s worth riding that wave.