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Five takeaways from Virginia football’s back-breaking loss to NC State

A disappointing loss still brings some positives.

NC State v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

In the first night game at Scott Stadium in two years, the Virginia Cavaliers dropped yet another back-breaking loss, this time to NC State on a last-second field goal. The Wahoos fell to 0-4 with the 24-21 loss. With the defeat, we have five takeaways.

This is Anthony Colandrea’s program

Anthony Colandrea keeps proving that he is simply a different breed. A week after throwing three picks on three consecutive passes and proceeding to get blown out on the road, he responded with a 271-yard, two touchdown, 18-30 performance through the air and a 13 carry, 43-yard outing on the ground in his ACC debut. He’s so calm under pressure, rarely makes a bad decision, has the moxie to turn almost surefire negative plays into majorly positive ones, and has absurd resilience to come back from the mistakes he does make.

His gunslinger mentality has caught up to him a bit the last two weeks with five second half interceptions in two games. His first one against the Wolfpack was more a result of an absurd play from the NC State secondary, but his second one was a true freshman moment. Nevertheless, he bounced back in a major way with the final game-tying touchdown drive.

UVA is 0-4 and has been a bad football team this season, but it hasn’t been because of the quarterback play. There have been plenty of problems, but Anthony Colandrea has been a notable bright spot even with the late game woes. It’s a shame that Tony Muskett has been banged up, but it’s hard to see how him being fully healthy would’ve resulted in wins in any of the team’s last three games.

Bowl eligibility is a pipe dream at this point.Muskett being marginally better than Colandrea — which is far from a sure thing — is unlikely to produce a better record than allowing the freshman to continue to do his thing.

Malik Washington is a pro

With his 10-catch, 170-yard, two touchdown outing versus NC State, Malik Washington is the third receiver in Virginia football history to have three consecutive 100-plus yard performances. He’s UVA’s best offensive player right now and has flashed his versatility as a wideout.

The Northwestern transfer is a legit deep threat, can make plays over the middle in the intermediate areas of the field, and is so shifty with the ball in his hands. He also has a knack for finding space in the secondary when Colandrea scrambles and has the surest hands on the team.

While the Wahoos could’ve done markedly better in the transfer portal to improve weaknesses on either side of the ball — most notably the offensive line — Washington has been a huge piece for the ‘Hoos out of the portal. Positive takeaways have been hard to come by for Virginia through the first four weeks, but Washington’s play has undoubtedly been one.

Short yardage scenarios are still Virginia’s offensive nightmare

They doomed UVA’s offense in multiple losses in 2022, and short yardage scenarios are still Virginia’s achilles heel in 2023. Three separate times in Wolfpack territory the Wahoos were three or fewer yards from putting more points on the board than they did.

Most notably UVA struggled after a 59-yard catch and run from Malik Washington set up a first-and-four from the NCSU four yard line. The Cavaliers gained only one yard on the ensuing three plays and kicked a field goal from the State three yard line. A third-and-one from the Wolfpack 19-yard line had the same result with Virginia’s inability to move the chains costing them eight points on those two drives and essentially losing the game.

The offense was better on the final touchdown drive of the game with a nice fourth-and-one rollout and pass to Malik Washington getting a first down and then a clutch touchdown find to Washington four plays later on 3rd-and-three allowing the ‘Hoos to tie the game. But UVA simply needs to be more consistent on offense over 60 minutes in order to close games out late.

Late penalties doom the Wahoos

Virginia committed three unsportsmanlike penalties in the final minute of play Friday night. One was on Ty Furnish after the game-tying touchdown, one was on Anthony Colandrea for his helmet falling off after hitting Malachi Fields for the two-point conversion, and the final one came on James Jackson for jumping over the line and touching the snapper on NC State’s first game-winning field goal try.

Tony Elliott said after the game that “I don’t fault the officials at all,” for those calls. “That’s when we got to be at our sharpest and we didn’t have the discipline down the stretch to win the football game.”

The calls were a bit iffy, but Elliott’s point speaks to a larger problem for the ‘Hoos this season. They’re so painfully close and yet so dramatically far from winning football games, and that’s been the story for the past three losses. There have been too many mistakes.

Virginia defense gets to Brennan Armstrong despite injuries

It may be odd or maybe a bit too optimistic to have three fairly positive takeaways from a fourth consecutive loss, but UVA’s defense was solid against the Wolfpack despite a whole host of injuries. Lex Long, Josh Ahern, Antonio Clary, Paul Akere, and Ben Smiley all missed the game and Kam Butler went down in the first half.

Despite that, the ‘Hoos still managed to create pressure on Brennan Armstrong and force him to make mistakes. Defensive Coordinator John Rudzinski dialed up pressure with effective blitzes from his linebackers resulting in a pair of sacks, five quarterback hits, and one interception among a slew of pickable passes from the former Wahoo quarterback.

Maybe it’s grasping at straws, but that’s still a good sign for the team defense that they can be aggressive and get to the quarterback and somewhat limit the success of the running game even without a bunch of starters out.