By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In this era of the transfer portal, it’s not uncommon for former teammates to find themselves on opposing sides during college games.

That was the case last season when the University of Virginia football team faced ACC rival North Carolina, whose roster included former UVA linebacker Noah Taylor, and Scott Stadium will be the scene of a similar reunion Friday night.

In the ACC opener for both teams, Virginia (0-3) hosts NC State (2-1) at 7:30. The Wolfpack’s No. 1 quarterback, Brennan Armstrong, was a three-year starter at that position for UVA, where he spent five seasons in all.

“It’s the day and age we live in in college football,” UVA head coach Tony Elliott said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference at John Paul Jones Arena.

Armstrong won’t be the only familiar face in red Friday night. Two NC State assistants—offensive coordinator Robert Anae and offensive line coach Garett Tujague—previously filled those roles at Virginia.

The 2022 season was Elliott’s first as the Wahoos’ head coach and Armstrong’s last in Charlottesville. Armstrong struggled to adjust to the changes implemented by new offensive coordinator Des Kitchings, a former NC State assistant, but Elliott said he’s “grateful for B.A. for two reasons. One, for everything that he did for the University of Virginia and this football program as a player here. I’m grateful for how he handled his departure. He handled it the right way with me, and when he was here, man, he made an effort. He made an effort to transition, to help myself and this coaching staff with this team.

“For me, there’s nothing personal about this game when it comes to B.A., other than he’s the opposing quarterback, and I would never use that as motivation with his teammates, because at the end of the day as we’re learning and I’m teaching this football team, emotion doesn’t win the football game. It’s a part of it. It’s essential. But emotion alone cannot win the football game. You’ve got to bring all the other components with it.

“For me, I want to win because it’s the first ACC game, it’s the goal on our goal board: to win our ACC opener. It’s a really, really good football team that’s coming into Scott Stadium.”

For the season, the left-handed Armstrong has completed 66 of 105 passes for 679 yards and three touchdowns, with three interceptions. A powerful runner, he leads the Wolfpack in rushing, with 161 yards (and three TDs) on 37 carries.

“When he takes off to run, he’s not running like a quarterback, he’s running like a running back,” Elliott said. “He’s trying to go get those extra yards. Mentality-wise, that brings a lot to your football team when your quarterback is a guy that can extend plays out of the pocket. He can throw the ball downfield, and when he runs it, he runs it with authority.”

Virginia hasn’t had the same stability as NC State at quarterback this season. Tony Muskett, a transfer from Monmouth, won the starting job in training camp last month, but he injured his non-throwing shoulder early in the fourth quarter of the Sept. 2 opener against Tennessee.

Muskett hasn’t played since then. In his absence, true freshman Anthony Colandrea has completed 45 of 72 passes for 652 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. UVA might have multiple options at quarterback Friday night. After being available for emergency duty in each of the past two games, Muskett has been able to handle a heavier workload in practice this week.

“I definitely think he’s progressed beyond emergency status,” Elliott said. “He’s still day-to-day and he’s improving all the time, and he wants to play, and he’s trying to prove that every day at practice.”

Colandrea, who enrolled at UVA in January, has rarely looked rattled when leading the Cavaliers’ offense. But he struggled with his decision-making in the fourth quarter against Maryland last weekend, particularly on the first of his three interceptions. On third-and-10 from the Terrapins’ 12-yard line, with Virginia trailing 21-14, Colandrea forced a pass that was picked off in the end zone.

He might have been able to run for a first down—or a touchdown—but if not, the Hoos “kick the field goal, we move on,” Elliott said.

Still, Colandrea has had more highs than lows since taking over for Muskett.

“I think the thing that everybody is getting to see about him is just how poised he can be,” Elliott said. “He’s got a ton of poise, a ton of confidence. Now where we have to help him develop and grow is to make sure that you manage that confidence and that you don’t take too many chances and unnecessary chances.”

Tony Muskett

Not everyone on the UVA roster played with Armstrong, but he still has plenty of friends in the program, including cornerback Coen King and defensive end Chico Bennett Jr., both graduate students.

“We couldn’t touch [Armstrong] during practice,” Bennett said, “and now we get the opportunity to be able to do that.”

King and Armstrong lived near each other off Grounds for three years and practiced against each other for longer than that.

“It’s gonna be awesome to actually play against him and get to hit him,” King said, smiling. “It’s gonna be cool. He likes to trash talk and stuff, so I was gonna tell some of the guys, ‘Don’t do too much trash talking, because that might fire him up a little bit.’ ”

Injuries have hammered defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s group this season, and opponents are averaging 451.7 yards per game against UVA. The Cavaliers have recorded only three sacks (and 12 tackles for loss), and missed tackles have been an issue.

“We’ve just got to get guys on the ground,” Elliott said. “We’ve had several first contacts in the backfield, and then we don’t get the guy down on first contact, and then they run through the first tackle, and next thing you know it’s a positive gain.”

Against Maryland, the Hoos pressured quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa at times, only to see him escape when they displayed poor pass-rushing technique.

“I think there’s plays that are there to be made,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to make them. But overall we do have to improve and increase our disruption and pressure on the quarterback and getting to the quarterback, and then if we have a guy in the backfield, we need to get him down on first contact. So I think that’s a function of why the numbers are not quite what they were last year. We’ve got to get guys on the ground, and then when we get a free shot, we’ve got to make sure that it sticks.”

Bennett, who led UVA with seven sacks in 2022, hasn’t been as disruptive this season, mainly because he’s recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of the Tennessee game.

He knows that playing with pain is part of football, “and so for me, it’s just continuing to work through it and not getting too frustrated,” Bennett said. “Of course you want to be back, and so you’ve got to make sure to keep reminding yourself that you can. Rome wasn’t built in one day.”

Bennett is one of the Cavaliers’ leaders, and he’s encouraging his younger teammates to keep pushing through the adversity the program is facing.

“I just remind them that it’s gonna suck, you’re gonna hurt a little bit, but you’ve got to just keep going,” Bennett said. “If it was easy, everybody would do it, and that’s the one thing that I embody for myself and I try to tell others. It’s certainly not easy. Of course, it’s easy to just lie down. But the fun is when you push and you look back at it and you’re like, ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish, especially when you’re tired.’ ”

Anthony Colandrea (10)

ROSTER UPDATES: Elliott said safety Antonio Clary, who suffered a severe ankle injury early in training camp and has yet to play this season, has opted to have surgery.

Clary, a starter last season, is expected to be sidelined about six weeks, Elliott said, so “we may be able to get him back late in the season and then evaluate how many games [are left].”

Another safety, Lex Long, who started the season opener, remains out with a foot injury and won’t play against NC State, Elliott said, and defensive end Paul Akere is “day to day” with a knee injury.

On the other side of the ball, wide receiver Demick Starling’s UVA career is likely over, Elliott said. The coaching staff and Starling agreed that it made sense for him to sit out the rest of the season and save this season of eligibility, Elliott said.

“He’s looking at the big picture,” Elliott said. “He feels like he can possibly have a better opportunity somewhere else, and the biggest thing for me is to make sure that he finishes, graduates, gets his degree from UVA, and that’s my focus right now. Then we’ll figure out long-term at the end of the season what’s best for him.”

Starling, who did not play against Maryland, returned one kickoff for 21 yards this season. He did not catch any passes.

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