Breaking down the battle to replace Brennan Armstrong at QB at Virginia
Brennan Armstrong is headed out the door, almost certainly to greener pastures, after a disastrous Year 1 of the Tony Elliott era at Virginia.
Des Kitchings, who couldn’t figure out how to use the skill guys from the record-breaking offense that the staff inherited from Bronco Mendenhall and Robert Anae to any degree of effectiveness, is back as offensive coordinator.
Last year should have been easy. Next year will be anything but, since Elliott and Kitchings are starting over pretty much across the board.
Armstrong is gone, the top wideouts from 2022 are gone, four starting offensive linemen are gone.
The wideout room will be fine, with returning talents like Malachi Fields, Demick Starling, Sean Wilson and Dakota Twitty. The running back room, should also be fine. Elliott got a commitment from one of the better tailbacks on the transfer portal, former Clemson featured back Kobe Pace, to compete for carries with last year’s starter, Perris Jones, and we’re all rooting for Mike Hollins, who was critically injured in the Nov. 13 shooting that took the lives of wideouts Devin Chandler and Lavel Davis Jr. and linebacker D’Sean Perry, to make a return to the field in the fall.
O line and QB are the big question marks heading into the spring.
Elliott doesn’t even have an O line coach, with the incumbent, Garett Tujague, leaving to reunite with Anae at NC State, so the first order of business there would seem to be to get somebody on the job to lead the effort to find some warm bodies on the portal to flesh out that room.
The QB room doesn’t suffer for a lack of warm bodies, but rather, an obvious talent drain, with the guy who holds the school record for passing yards in a season moving on.
The best options: Jay Woolfolk and Tony Muskett
The battle for the QB spot likely comes down to two guys, the 2022 backup, Jay Woolfolk, and Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett.
Woolfolk, who Elliott said in the fall is “a quarterback of the future” – note, he didn’t say “the” quarterback of the future, but he used the qualifier “a” – carries with him a caveat.
Woolfolk, a sophomore, is expected to battle for a spot in Brian O’Connor’s weekend rotation when the baseball team begins practice next month, and if he wins a spot as a starter, that obviously complicates things in terms of spring football practice.
“I don’t want to hinder that progress, but at the same time, too, if he wants to be a starting quarterback at the University of Virginia, he’s going to have to be present in practice,” Elliott said, noting that he plans to sit down with O’Connor after the holidays to try to work out a schedule for how Woolfolk can be around for spring practice, take care of his responsibilities with baseball, and then, left unsaid, Woolfolk is still also a college student.
Woolfolk was a projected top-five round MLB draft pick before he decided to matriculate at Virginia in 2021. What he showed last spring – a 97-mph fastball, 2.87 ERA, .211 opponent batting average, 55 Ks in 37.2 innings – makes you think that he has only improved his draft stock with an eye to the 2024 MLB Draft.
It’s entirely possible that Woolfolk decides that baseball is his future. It’s not nearly as likely that he decides to go to football full-time, given that he’s a surefire MLB prospect, and really hasn’t gotten started at the college level at QB.
It’s not likely that he can win the starting QB job by trying to do both.
Which gets us to Muskett, a three-year starter at the FCS level at Monmouth who committed to Virginia earlier this month.
Muskett, a Northern Virginia native, missed the final four games of the 2022 season with a knee injury, but before that was a first-team All-Big South selection in 2020 and 2021, and was the Big South Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2020.
Coming out of high school, the 6’2”, 210-pound Muskett, who led Monmouth to a 14-9 record as a starter, throwing for 5,687 yards, 51 TDs, 16 INTS and a 64 percent completion rate, had just one FBS offer, from Coastal Carolina, his other interest coming from FCS schools including New Hampshire, Penn, Sacred Heart and William & Mary.
After entering the transfer portal, Muskett had offers from a motley crew including Arkansas State, Ball State, Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Miami (Ohio), Mizzou and Troy.
“We were looking for a guy with some experience, and I think the first thing that jumps out is, you know, he’s played three years, you know, he was the freshman of the year in his conference, and then he was back-to-back first-team all-conference in his league,” Elliott said. “We were looking for a guy with experience, a guy that was competitive, you know, a guy that wanted to come in and compete, wasn’t going to be afraid of the competition that he was going to have to go through if he wanted to be the guy, just from the state of Virginia, and just, you know, has a chip on his shoulder.
“I think as a program, right now, we have a chip on our shoulder, we’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people, even prior to how the season ended,” Elliott said. “And so, I think it was just a natural fit. He was very technically sound, you know, when we watched him, you know, he’s very, very technically sound, you know, he’s had to throw the ball up in an area where it’s very windy, you know, and was very successful, you know, throwing the football, so he’s got good accuracy. Those were the things that attracted us to him.
“We were looking for a guy with experience, we’re looking for somebody that was going to want to come in and truly compete, and then go have an appreciation. You know, I think he’s done what he needed to do at that level. He feels like he can compete at this level, we believe he can compete at this level, and so we felt like it was a good fit,” Elliott said.
Elliott is said to be high on 2023 signee Anthony Colandrea, a three-star dual-threat QB who passed for 3,137 yards and 28 TDs and added 657 yards and six TDs on the ground at Lakewood (St. Petersburg, Fla.), but it’s probably a reach to expect Colandrea to compete for the starting job in Year 1.
An intriguing prospect for reps in the spring is Delaney Crawford, an athletic 6’3” three-star from the 2022 recruiting class who Elliott wanted to get on the field as a kick returner as a freshman just to be able to utilize his sprinter speed.
Another option at QB is Virginia native Davis Lane Jr., also a 2022 recruit and, like Crawford, an athlete with a background as a high school sprinter.
Elliott will want to see one of the guys from among Colandrea, Crawford and Lane emerge as a solid #3 guy, and depending on what happens with Woolfolk, he may need two of the young guys to step up.
“I’m excited about the competition,” Elliott said. “I think the competition is just going to going to make the cream rise to the top and give us not only competition, but it’ll give us some competitive depth there, too.”