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Five things to watch for the rest of Virginia football’s 2023 season

What we’re keeping an eye on for the ‘Hoos as they hope to turn the season around.

Virginia v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers had yet another discouraging performance last Friday night against Maryland, falling to 0-3. All three losses have been brutal for different reasons but the bottom line is Tony Elliott’s squad is the only Power Five football team without a victory.

At this point, there is no more room for blind optimism. However you cut it, Virginia has been a bad football team. It’s extremely difficult to see a way for them to go bowling and it’s very possible that the only game UVA is favored in the rest of the way is when they host FCS program William and Mary.

It is also clear that Tony Elliott will get another season on the job. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not (personally, I do), it is impossible to believe a coach at a program that is far from premier gets fired after just two years. This is especially evident considering how his first season was cut short due to a tragedy and how critical his leadership was during that period.

With all this being said, if you are reading this article, it is clear what kind of fan you are: you are still going to watch the rest of the games. So, now that I have gotten the doom and gloom out of the way, what can we possibly look for in these games to feel any element of hope?

The quarterbacks

It is likely that Tony Muskett will start on Friday night against North Carolina State, but I would be surprised if we did not see some more Anthony Colandrea this year as well.

Both of these quarterbacks have upside and potential, and are expected to be with the program next season. It is critical to see how they handle various in-game situations and ultimately develop.

For Muskett, it is about gaining experience at the ACC level, which features better athletes and is faster paced than what he was accustomed to at Monmouth. In Colandera’s case, we want to see his immense talent coincide with more polish and poise. He has shown numerous flashes in his first two starts, but also an inability to play a complete four quarters.

Malachi Fields

Fields and Malik Washington have been the clear leaders of the receiving room. The two have combined for nearly 70% of total Virginia receptions.

While Washington is currently in his final year of eligibility, Fields should be back and is budding into a star. Early in his college career, he showcased his speed and ability as a vertical threat. This season, Fields has turned into a more refined route runner, and is a reliable target to help move the chains on third down. At this point, it is about sustained volume, which could put him in line for a 1,000 yard season.

The defensive scheme

Virginia’s defense took a massive leap in John Rudzinski’s first year as the coordinator. After some key departures this offseason, most notably Fentrell Cypress (Florida State), Nick Jackson (Iowa), and Anthony Johnson (NFL) some of the struggles have returned.

Rudzinski’s defense requires his players to cover a lot of space and make open field tackles consistently. He does not have the athletes compared to last season, which has led to several big plays against and a lack of forced turnovers. It is critical to see how Rudzinski adapts to his personnel, and whether this unit can trend back in the right direction.

Special teams improvement

How a special teams unit performs can be a major indication of how well-coached the team is. It takes up a small percentage of plays throughout the game, yet requires intricacy and precision to be done right.

Virginia has been notably poor on special teams throughout Elliott’s tenure, particularly in kick coverage. It would be quite telling if the Cavaliers improve their ability to keep contain and prevent big returns during the rest of the season. Special teams penalties have also been a killer and are completely unnecessary.

The Commonwealth Cup

What is the lone piece of good news about the awful state of college football in the Commonwealth? The Hokies are just as bad as the ‘Hoos are!

For most people around the country, the Virginia vs Virginia Tech game at the end of the season will be mocked and considered irrelevant. But if the Cavaliers come out on top of this very winnable game, it makes the outlook of Elliott suddenly interesting.

While his first two years are set up to be among the worst in recent UVA history, he would have achieved something that has been extremely rare in this rivalry. It not outlandish to say that this individual game may have more weight than the rest of the season combined.