Anthony Colandrea is Virginia’s football quarterback of the future

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Virginia quarterback Anthony Colandrea dropped back to pass Saturday as he scrambled to his right to avoid a swarming pass rush from James Madison’s defensive front. The dodge allowed the freshman to spot running back Kobe Pace sprinting down the seam behind the secondary.

Still in motion, Colandrea played a pass across his body and found his teammate in an instant. Pace completed the breathtaking sequence by running untouched into the end zone on the first snap of the second half for a 75-yard touchdown.

Virginia was unable to protect a late lead and suffered a disappointing 36-35 loss, but Colandrea was a revelation in his first career start in place of injured senior Tony Muskett, completing 20 of 26 passes for a program freshman Record 377 yards and two touchdowns, which went for 63 and 75 yards.

Whether Colandrea will start Friday night at Maryland remains unclear, according to coach Tony Elliott, who indicated that Muskett’s sore shoulder has improved enough that he could be ready to play. But Colandrea’s first appearance sparked optimism for his future.

“My approach is you don’t lose your job because of an injury,” Elliott said. “But it gives us enormous confidence in Colandrea. My approach was don’t lose it, but we’ll need both. I think healthy competition is good because it makes each other better and helps our football team.”

The fact that Colandrea managed to make a brilliant starting debut despite his lack of experience drew raves from coaches and teammates, especially considering his performance came amid the flood of emotions that accompanied Virginia’s first home game since three players joined were killed in a shooting on campus last year.

Colandrea enrolled at Virginia in January, less than two months after wide receivers Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler and linebacker D’Sean Perry were killed and running back Mike Hollins, who scored two touchdowns against James Madison, was one of two injured was students.

“A difficult situation, but he was prepared,” Elliott said of Colandrea. “He was ready. He did what he showed us throughout fall camp, which extended the competition between him and Tony into fall camp. We knew he was a guy who looked like he was going to rise when the lights came on and the stage got bigger.”

On a bleak football weekend, U-Va. finds a way forward

Even before Colandrea stepped onto the field this season, coaches praised his over-confidence, which was more that of an incumbent than a true freshman who had never made a mistake in a college game. The swagger comes in part from an innate ability to escape pressure and extend plays when pass protection wanes.

However, the pocket around Colandrea was clean when he threw the first scoring pass of his career in the first quarter on Saturday. On first-and-10 from the Virginia 37, Colandrea completed a throw to wide receiver Malik Washington near the left sideline. The Northwestern graduate transfer then missed several defenders en route to a 63-yard touchdown.

The decisive play with 6:06 remaining in the quarter put the Cavaliers’ offense on track and contributed to the most points since Elliott took over as coach last season after serving as a highly regarded offensive coordinator at Clemson.

Colandrea, meanwhile, was named ACC Rookie of the Week, the first such honor for a Virginia player since Davis in 2020.

“We’ve been joking all week, this kid is going to go out here and make some wild plays,” Virginia offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said. “I don’t have hair, but he ripped my hair out as I walked around because he knew he was going to make a wild move, and he did. I thought he did a really good job trying to control the ball.”

Although Elliott named Muskett the starter the week before Virginia opened the season with a lopsided 49-13 loss to Tennessee in Nashville, the decision was pushed back after Colandrea began to attract the attention of the coaching staff with his increased command of the offense to pull exponentially since spring training.

By all accounts, Muskett was well ahead of Colandrea in the spring competition for the starting job, thanks in large part to the senior transfer’s resume at Monmouth, where he was named the Big South’s 2021 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

But Colandrea has narrowed the gap significantly and, regardless of whether he starts this week, has staked his claim as the Cavaliers’ future quarterback following the departure of record-setter Brennan Armstrong, who transferred to North Carolina State last offseason.

“It was great,” Colandrea said of Saturday’s game after standing with his teammates in the end zone just before kickoff to take part in a ceremony honoring Davis, Chandler and Perry. “It’s something I dreamed of as a little kid, and to go out there from now on, especially after everything that happened, was just a huge blessing.” Anthony Colandrea is Virginia’s football quarterback of the future

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