The Cavaliers looked the part of a winless football team in their 27-24 defeat at the hands of Boston College in Chestnut Hill. Tony Muskett returned from a shoulder injury to toss three touchdowns and the Cavalier defense forced four turnovers, but self-inflicted mistakes doomed the Hoos to yet another close loss. For the first time since 1982, Virginia fell to 0-5.
Here are our five takeaways from the disappointing defeat:
Tony Muskett is the player Virginia expected, for better and for worse
In his first game since suffering an AC joint injury against Tennessee, Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett had a chance to showcase why the Cavaliers targeted him in the transfer portal to replace Brennan Armstrong.
The positives: Muskett finished the game with a very solid QB statline. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns. His throws were on time and generally on target, and especially early in the game the offense looked well-coordinated with Muskett at the helm.
The negatives: Muskett didn’t look great out of structure — he’s actually a pretty good scrambler, but struggled to make accurate off-platform throws. Most of Virginia’s sack issues should be blamed on the offensive line, which certainly didn’t play up to par, but Muskett wasn’t adding any value by escaping or eluding rushers either. And he didn’t get anything done on the final drive of the game for the Cavaliers.
Muskett may be the stylistic opposite of true freshman Anthony Colandrea — more consistent when the offense is working as planned, but not as capable of making big plays out of structure or create something from nothing.
There’ll still be people clamoring for Colandrea to get a shot at the starting job (those people included me this week). The true freshman flashed enough that it’s reasonable to have faith in his talent down the road, but in college football you play to win every week. Muskett gives the Cavaliers the best chance to win right now.
However, I don’t blame anyone for watching the Cavaliers go 3-13 on third and fourth downs and yearning for a QB capable of creating on his own — especially in a season that’s looking like a wash in terms of bowl chances anyways.
Defensive performance a tale of two halves
In the first half, Virginia’s defense pretty much stonewalled Boston College. With the exception of one late TD drive, the Eagles couldn’t get much of anything going. The Cavaliers held them to just 120 total yards, including just 41 rushing yards on 14 carries.
That didn’t last. Boston College racked up 20 points and 266 total yards in the second half including 162 rushing yards on 33 carries. Defensive resistance was practically nonexistent, and the Cavaliers handed Boston College big plays on a platter with penalties and simple mistakes like a bad angle on a WR screen leading to a 33-yard Lewis Bond touchdown.
Lewis Bond.— Boston College Football (@BCFootball) September 30, 2023
Go-ahead touchdown. pic.twitter.com/AGu9FuaLqB
Some credit is deserved for the defense’s ability to force big plays — their two forced fumbles in the fourth quarter kept the Cavaliers hanging around while the rest of the team absolutely melted down around them. Defense certainly wasn’t the top reason Virginia lost this game. But a slightly better effort would have resulted in a win.
Penalties remain a major issue
The Cavaliers struggled all game to play clean football. They finished the game with 11 penalties for 90 yards, and almost every single one of them either came in a high-leverage situation or was just incredibly undisciplined.
In the “high-leverage” category: Virginia led 14-0 and was on an absolute tear offensively midway through the second quarter. The Cavaliers created three straight first downs to work their way to the Boston College 40-yard line. Then, Ugonna Nnanna was whistled for holding and Ty Furnish jumped early on the next play to put Virginia in a 1st-and-25 hole.
In the “dumb” category: somehow, Virginia’s punt coverage team ran into the Boston College punt returner not once but TWICE. One of the penalties was actually declined because Virginia not only ran into the return man, but also allowed him to run the kick back 25 yards well into Virginia territory.
And that doesn’t even get into the various pass interference penalties the Cavaliers committed — sometimes because defensive backs were beat and needed to prevent Boston College’s wideouts from breaking away for a big play, and sometimes because they were actually in decent coverage but failed to turn their heads and look for the ball so they picked up a PI penalty anyways.
Unnecessary penalties have been a prevailing theme of Virginia’s poor start to the year, and for the second straight week they arguably cost the Cavaliers the game.
Cavaliers finally catch a break, but can’t make their own luck
At the end of the first half, Virginia appeared to squander a golden opportunity to score when Tony Muskett was called for intentional grounding with 3 seconds left at the Virginia 39. Initially, the referees announced that a 10-second runoff would be enforced due to the penalty, which would’ve sent the game to halftime.
However, after conferring they decided that the 10-second runoff didn’t apply and Virginia would get a chance to run another play from the BC 39. Tony Muskett tossed a Hail Mary to Malachi Fields, who elevated and somehow hauled in a TD pass which doubled Virginia’s lead.
The completion resulted in +6.2 expected points for the Cavaliers, the single most influential play of the game. And the ‘Hoos almost didn’t even have a chance to run it. After some crucial plays went against the Cavaliers in close losses to JMU and NC State, it was nice to see Virginia catch a break.
However, sometimes you have to create your own luck in addition to stumbling backwards into good fortune. For the second straight game, Virginia lost by a field goal. And for the second straight game, Virginia made some questionable fourth-down decisions in opposing territory — the worst of which was a punt on 4th and 4 from the BC 37 in the fourth quarter while down by three. Daniel Sparks booted the ball into the end zone for a 17-yard net punt.
Is it unfortunate to go 0-3 in one-score games? Yes. Could the Cavaliers do a much better job putting themselves in position to win games like this with better decision-making by the coaching staff? Also yes.
No more CW Sports games, please
Virginia-Boston College was the team’s debut on The CW, better known for Riverdale and a long and inconsistent list of DC superhero shows. Things went about as well as everyone could have expected.
At one point right before Virginia’s attempted Hail Mary at the end of the first half, a CW Sports employee came strolling through behind the play-by-play and color commentary guys:
You can’t beat a CW Sports— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) September 30, 2023
During that same conversation, the announcers were discussing whether Virginia should kick a field goal from the 39 or go for it. One pointed out that Virginia’s kicker had a big leg, but didn’t remember his name and didn’t have a roster available to look it up. (To be fair, most college football teams don’t have two kickers — Ganyard and Bettridge — get regular work).
On a more serious note, the CW Sports broadcast continued to cut to a fan in the stands who was obviously distraught after a terrifying helmet-to-helmet collision involving Virginia cornerback Malcolm Greene and Boston College wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe which resulted in O’Keefe being stretchered off and taken to the hospital. It was a very scary situation, and some of the directorial decisions were pretty disgusting. CW Sports isn’t ready for prime time. Or even 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday.