Tony Elliot has gone through more than any head coach I can think of in his first two years on the job. Not only did he have to rebuild a program that saw a lot of portal defections before he took the job but three of his players were murdered in a mass shooting during the season last year. Elliot has handled all of this with grace and he has earned a lot of respect over the last year. The issue for Elliot is that he has to win games and that just hasn’t happened yet.
Virginia didn’t have high expectations this year and a big reason for that was their lack of proven talent at quarterback. Brennan Armstrong decided to head to NC State and Elliot was only able to replace him with Tony Muskett who had starred at the FCS level. Muskett was solid in the first game of the season but missed time after an injury and has struggled since. Muskett was also injured again this past weekend and will likely miss the Louisville game.
Enter Anthony Colandrea who is one of the more fun true freshmen that I’ve seen play quarterback in a while. Colandrea is a high-energy and high-risk player with a solid arm and very twitchy athleticism. He has shown some real ability like when he lit up an impressive James Madison defense but he also makes silly mistakes like taking his helmet off in celebration which negated a 2-point conversion to tie the game against NC State. While he is definitely a player to watch for, he can lose the game as quickly as he an win it for the Hoos.
Running back is an area where Elliot has improved things for UVA. He has mixed the talent he inherited with some portal additions and the group as a whole has played pretty well this year. Mike Hollins, who was the lone surviving football player from the shooting last year, leads the team with 7 touchdowns. Kobe Pace, who transferred from Clemson, has been an option in the passing game while leading the team in carries. Then you have Perris Jones who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the year. This is far from a potent rushing attack, but they do have some skill.
The best receiver UofL will see this year in the regular season is on Virginia’s roster. Malik Washington is top-5 in the country in catches and yards and he is dynamic in space. Virginia uses Washington in a number of ways but he is a possession guy for them who gets first downs and moves the chains. He can also run away from people if he gets space to run. Washington isn’t Zay Flowers but he is a similar type of talent when you look at what he means to this offense. He isn’t likely to take over a game like Flowers with big plays but he can put up big numbers and help the offense keep drives alive.
The Hoos only throw the ball to two people Washington and Malachi Fields who is their big outside threat at 6-4/220. Fields is a solid player but he is only catching a little more than half of his targets. I think this is mostly due to inconsistent quarterback play but he is also the threat down the field which leads to more misses. Teams have not had much success throwing the ball against UofL’s corners this year. Pitt hit a big play early on and Notre Dame hit one as well but most throws down the field have been incompletions. Fields has size, but I haven’t seen anything from him to think the trend will change.
The true issue with UVA’s offense is their offensive line. It is arguably the worst line UofL will see this season and they really struggle in pass protection. UVA has given up 86 pressures per PFF and their quarterbacks have been sacked 32 times already. Run blocking has been a bit better but not good enough for the offense to be run-heavy. I said this before the Pitt game, so we know it doesn’t always play out this way but this is a clear advantage for Louisville that should play out well for the Cards.