Not the ending fans were looking for in the game that featured many familiar faces returning to Charlottesville including ex-Virginia quarterback and current NC State quarterback, Brennan Armstrong. In truth there was some great football being played on both sides throughout a lot of the matchup. Both sides stayed neck and neck for the duration of the game. When the victory for NC State looked signed and sealed, Virginia made a quick and impressive free minute 66 yard drive downfield with a two point conversion to tie the game, hopefully sending it to overtime for a Virginia victory. Bad penalties and 33 yards later with time expired, NC State punches in a field goal that was gifted by UVA two seal the win.
First, the Bad Things
Defensively, not much can be said on a large scale about the lack of execution. NC State was able to drive downfield for a score three times (before the ending) on some explosive plays. However, the defense got themselves off the field with decent field position potential.
This is where the difficulties lie. On special teams, there was a few mismanaged plays that come to mind. Letting the ball roll by while standing around the 25 yard line instead of a fair catch set Virginia up for a difficult start to the following drive on a couple of occasions. With a young quarterback in Colandrea, or a less mobile Muskett, on top of a shaky offensive line, this is something that can easily turn into turnovers, safeties, and quick possessions. The good news is Virginia did not allow NC State to break out for a touchdown or large gain that hurt the team. While there wasn't anything major as a result last night, our offense clearly needed the help. I
t's frustrating to see a team with so much potential not deliver, and not entirely because of the personal either. There were a few key drops that could've extended drives. However, one of the biggest issues offensively was the play calling. Specifically, there were two instances that come to mind on 4th down where UVA does not capitalize. First, there is a 4th and 1 scenario where Virginia elects to go for the first down, and runs a run play up the middle out of the shotgun formation in an obvious sneak or under center situation. Later in the game, Virginia again finds themselves downfield in a 4th and 1 play and elects to settle for a field goal. Let's not forget the other times Virginia drove into the red zone to only back themselves out of it or settle for a field goal. In three drives to the red zone, Virginia gained 6 total points with one drive ending in consecutive penalties to take them out of it. It isn't clear where the blame for this truly falls, but whether its lack of faith in the team to execute, or lack of understanding the strengths of the team and what works and what doesn't, or it is just bad play calling by the coaching staff, this must change. Virginia has shown they're better than that, and in a season like this, you've got to just forget everyone else, trust your guys, and see what happens. Putting the team in better situations on plays or drives like that changes the entire game.
Lastly, discipline. I said before that discipline is one of the team's current downfalls. Needless to say, it showed again last night. An unsportsmanlike almost took away the potential of a two-point conversion to tie it, but Colandrea's ability to extend plays and the elite play from Virginia receiver Malachi Fields kept Virginia alive. On that conversion, Colandrea showed a little inexperience. His helmet was knocked almost all the way off on a hit, but a supposed pose he struck after that gave NC State a better field position. Albeit, the converage on the kick return for NC State wasn't great either which allowed NC State to ge Tinto field goal range after a few short plays. NC States first field goal attempt was blocked by Virginia, and the momentum seemed to still lay with the Cavaliers. The officials declared number 7 on Virginia, James Jackson, had illegally leaped over the snapper on the field goal block moving NC State forward for a second attempt where the game was won. Now, you can debate how much of this was Virginia's fault, but clearly some cleaner play and sharp attention to detail would have sent Virginia to overtime.
The Good Stuff
A lot of people have dogged Virginia as a horrible team- the worst in the FBS. This simply is not true to anyone who understands the intricacies of the game. Virginia is a few plays and decisions away from being 2-2 or even 3-1 right now. Leading that charge in the Quarterback room is senior Tony Muskett, and current starter, freshman Anthony Colandrea. Both present some upside and weaknesses. Muskett is a much more disciplined qb with experience in the FCS level allowing for more comfortability in high stake situations and the potential for less turnovers. Colandrea, a freshman, has broken out with his ability to make guys miss, take off when the pocket collapses and typically make great throws downfield, across field, or wherever his guys tend to be. The big downside with him is his lack of experience. Turnovers, bad decisions, and a less controlled demeanor can get in the way, but there is not doubt that he can develop into a star at Virginia should he stick with the program. He already shows greatness, and as he gets experience under his belt, he can become an elite level threat beyond his already great start.
The running back room with Kobe Pace, Perris Jones, and Mike Hollins is a great example of potential not fully displayed. We've seen the speed and ability to cut through traffic multiple times such as Kobe Pace's big plays versus JMU, Jones's touchdown run against Tennessee, and more. The run game, while not great, even found some success last night on smaller gains for first downs even which is an improvement from last season.
The wide receiver position consists of the obvious standouts in Malik Washington and Malachi Fields who combined for 230 of the teams 271 passing yards in the game. Their ability to get out in space, make guys miss, and go grab the ball will benefit Virginia significantly. Other guys are beginning to chip in as well such as Sackett Wood Jr, and JR Wilson who only had one reception last night, but almost had a massive gain on a dropped pass.
Defensively, Virginia has shows strong for the majority of game time. Standouts such as Kim Butler, Jonas Sanker, Chico Bennett Jr. Agunloye, and more have given Virginia an actually respectable defense most of the time. With great coaching on the defensive side of the ball, a strong front seven, and respectable secondary to this point, the defense has kept Virginia in games especially in their last two.
In another article, I'll break down the future of Virginia Football. For now, the main thing to realize is this is not all on Tony Elliot or any one player, it is a team issue. Elliot has a lot to work on, and came into a rough situation with no depth, bad facilities, and less support from the school than other programs. This team unlike last year shows potential and grit when it can. The big issue now is continuing to grab recruits to develop, keeping the current guys in the program, and building a consistent and disciplined team to end the year on a high not. Whether or not that occurs remains to be seen. But no, UVA is not the worst FBS team, just a team that gets bad breaks and lets games slip away.