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How Malik Washington has thrived in Virginia football’s struggling offense

Breaking down the veteran receiver’s stellar production so far this season

Virginia v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

While the Virginia Cavaliers fell to 0-3 on Friday night in the form of a 42-14 loss at the Maryland Terrapins, graduate wide receiver Malik Washington continued what has been a stellar start to his 2023 campaign.

Washington, who transferred from Northwestern this past offseason to help bolster a largely unproven UVA receiving corps, hauled in nine receptions for 141 yards (both career-highs) Friday against the Terps. His performance in College Park marked his second consecutive 100-yard game after tallying five receptions, 119 yards, and a touchdown last Saturday against James Madison.

Through just three games, Washington singlehandedly has more 100-yard receiving performances than the Cavaliers had combined last season (Keytaon Thompson was the only player to reach the mark with a 118-yard output against Old Dominion).

Head Coach Tony Elliott isn’t surprised by the level of production he’s getting from his veteran WR. “I did [expect him to be a big contributor] after watching him since he came in,” Elliott said. “He was very productive at Northwestern… so, [I] definitely expected him to come in and do the things that he’s doing.”

At 5-foot-8, 194-pounds, Washington profiled as a slot receiver coming into the program, but his skillset is diverse enough to be effective playing from both the slot and lined up out wide. This flexibility was on display Friday night as Washington made plays all over the field. On Virginia’s first offensive play, the ‘Hoos ran a flea flicker and quarterback Anthony Colandrea found Washington down the sideline for a 49-yard completion (although it could’ve been a walk-in TD if not for the ball being well underthrown).

After the big play to start the game, Washington served as Colandrea’s go-to option and oftentimes his security blanket, as the speedy receiver generated yards after the catch to turn five of his receptions into first downs.

With UVA down just 21-14, Washington kept a crucial drive alive by helping the ‘Hoos convert on a third-and-twenty-three with a nifty catch and run for 25 yards. Washington was also consistently able to get open in key situations and made several very difficult catches including a diving 22-yard grab in traffic early in the third quarter.

Offensive coordinator Des Kitchings commended Washington’s production after the game saying he’s a “tough kid, [a] smart kid. He’s a playmaker for us… and he’s got to keep giving us that production.”

Washington, who originally attended Parkview High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., had 120 receptions, 1,348 receiving yds, and 3 touchdowns in his four-year career at Northwestern. Last season, he was sixth in the Big Ten in receptions (65), and this year, Washington is already second among ACC receivers in receptions with 18 (trailing only teammate Malachi Fields’ 19).

His impact, however, extends beyond just statistics. The Cavaliers are a very young bunch, and the freshmen on the roster are “going to have to grow up fast,” Elliott said after the game. But Washington’s wealth of experience makes him a key veteran presence in the locker room, and, especially, among the wide receivers. “He’s a great leader,” Elliott commented after the game. “He practices hard, he works hard, [and] he’s a student of the game.”

Aside from Washington, the Virginia offense was inconsistent against the Terps. Colandrea, making his second-straight start in place of senior Tony Muskett, started off scorching hot. On the Cavaliers’ first two drives the freshman QB completed six-of-seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns as the ‘Hoos took an early 14-0 lead.

As the Terps later went on to take the lead, however, some of Colandrea’s inexperience began to show. He caught a case of the turnover bug, throwing interceptions on three-consecutive pass attempts in the fourth quarter. The offensive line, a unit that has struggled so far this season, played better at times on Friday. The decision to switch Brian Stevens to center and Ty Furnish to guard helped reduce the bad snaps that had plagued the ‘Hoos in their first two games, but the o-line still allowed two sacks and five tackles-for-loss.

Virginia looks to bounce back on Friday night when NC State and former Cavalier quarterback Brennan Armstrong come to town. “We got our first ACC opponent [coming up] at home,” Elliott said. “We’re going to pull ourselves up off the mat just like we did last week, we’re going to go to work, we’re going to have a great week of practice, and we’re going to go try and get our first victory in Scott Stadium next week.”