How would you like to be Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett a few fretful days away from facing Tennessee in the football opener?
The Volunteer defense is supposedly improved. It has roughed up the more famous offense in two scrimmages. That defense will be told to lay it on the line, that it has a lot to prove in the September 2 opener in Nashville.
The gambling line says Tennessee is favored by 28. It will try for 40. Emphasis will be “get after the quarterback” to take some heat off the still suspect Vol secondary.
Muskett is a senior, imported by the Cavaliers from Monmouth University. That is an unlikely place to go fishing for a big-time quarterback but he is one, first-team all-Big South Conference in times past, fourth in team history with 51 passing touchdowns, fifth in career passing yards with 5,687.
What, you never heard of Muskett? You aren’t familiar with Monmouth? It is prominent at West Long Branch, NJ. The current football schedule includes Towson, Campbell and Lafayette. That’s a full notch up from Tusculum and Maryville.
Muskett is accomplished. Last season, he threw for three touchdowns each against Villanova, Lehigh, Maine and Rhode Island.
OK, you are correct. None of those powers are in the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee projects as an emotional experience for Virginia. The Cavaliers are said to be still healing from the senseless murder of three players last November 13. Lavel Davis Jr, D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were gunned down by a classmate and former player, Christopher Darnell Jones.
Mike Hollins was hit but survived. He’ll probably play against the Vols. Instead of “Win one for the Gipper,” the battle cry will be “Remember the Trio.”
There is no explanation for why this sad thing happened. Be sure the eventual trial will be high drama. I can already hear the defense attorney expounding on probable hazing and bullying and how the school did not investigate.
This will be the first game since the tragedy. Virginia cancelled its last two of last season.
Coach Tony Elliott has not said how the Cavaliers will honor the fallen teammates. There has been talk of a uniform patch featuring jersey numbers 1, 15 and 41 and maybe a helmet sticker saying “Virginia strong.”
It may be strong enough to handle the hurt but it probably won’t be a strong football team. It is picked for last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. There are questions about the offense. The defense has a solid group of returnees.
We do know Virginia will receive $1.5 million for venturing into this “neutral” site. Some doubt Nashville attendance will be neutral. What do you think?
Brigham Young will get $2 million for letting Tennessee out of a contract for September 2.
“Pivoting to play a marquee non-conference opponent in Nashville made sense for multiple reasons,” said Dr. Danny White, Tennessee vice chancellor and director of athletics.
“This is a more accessible game for our fan base. I expect that we will have a much larger contingent of fans in Nashville than would have been able to travel to Utah … playing Virginia at Nissan Stadium is an opportunity for a net-positive revenue game.”
Virginia was scheduled to open at home against William & Mary. The substitution is called moving on up.
It’s too early to say for sure how strong Tennessee will be. Media types are not permitted to watch scrimmages and if they were, questions would remain. Coaches can generally control practice combat to deliver desired results.
We believe the running attack will be outstanding – if the offensive line presents a unified, knockdown front. We believe wide receivers will shine – if Joe Milton consistently throws the football in reach.
We believe Joe will do the job. That probably won’t cause us to forget Hendon Hooker.
Chances are depth at linebacker and starters Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili will be the strength of the defense. Based on how demanding is coach Rodney Garner and the return of Omari Thomas, the defensive front should be OK. The secondary has two coaches for four positions. That may or may not be enough.
Just guessing special teams will be good – or good enough. Speed shows.
Coach Josh Heupel flavors his remarks with optimism. That is not sales talk. Tennessee sold more than 70,000 season tickets, a record. Thousands of those customers will be in Nashville.
Count on Tennessee being respectful of the emotional load Virginia will be carrying. That will last until kickoff. After that, count on the Vols knocking down the Cavaliers – if they can – and rolling them in the grass.
(Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com).