The Virginia football team began Friday’s renewed rivalry game against Maryland with a bang. Unfortunately for the Hoos, that loud start faded to a whimper by the end of the night as the Terrapins surged late to a convincing 42-14 win in College Park.
The loss dropped UVA to 0-3 on the season, which has included a blowout to Tennessee in the opener, a tough 1-point loss at home to JMU, and a close game that suddenly imploded into a rout Friday. Maryland outscored UVA 28-0 in the second half with 21 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.
“Playing hard is one component of it – you’ve got to play hard, but you’ve got to play smart, you’ve got to be precise, and you’ve got to go make the play. Bottom line, you’ve got to go make the plays,” UVA coach Tony Elliott said. “It’s a hurting football team in that locker room. Proud of them. They got up off the mat from last week. They came to battle today. They fought their tails off. They believed that they were going to win that football game. Now, we’ve just got to make sure that late in games our precision is there and that we don’t leave anything to chance, that we go and take it. That’s where I’ve got to do a better job as a coach just program-wide getting everybody to understand what it takes to be able to do that in the fourth quarter.”
Virginia created the early noise with a 14-0 lead 11 minutes into the game. The Hoos got off to that fast start thanks to some misdirection plays.
On the first play for the offense, the Hoos dialed up a flea-flicker and Anthony Colandrea connected with Malik Washington for 49 yards to push the ball quickly into the red zone. Colandrea got the start after Tony Muskett had been expected to start based on comments during the week, but did not play after warming up before the game. Elliott said Muskett was available on an emergency basis, but still sore so he made the decision to hold him for another week as the coach. Two plays later, Perris Jones carried the ball in from 13 yards out on a play that appeared to be going right, but had Jones cutting back left where he had an easy path to the touchdown.
After Maryland missed a field goal on its next drive, UVA took over with good field position at its own 37-yard line and drove 63 yards in 7 plays for the score. This drive finished with three straight 15+ yard completions, including a 19-yard pass for the touchdown. On the scoring play, misdirection again played a role as UVA slid Colandrea to his left but the throw went back to the right where Pace got behind a defender to end up wide open for the TD.
Washington led Virginia with 9 receptions for 141 yards. Malachi Fields added 7 catches for 70 yards, but had a crucial drop that could have either scored or set up another close chance. Pace had 4 catches for 28 yards and 4 carries for 14 more. After his early touchdown, Jones ended up with 9 carries for 37 yards.
Alas, a special teams miscue squandered the early momentum. On the ensuing kickoff after taking the 14-0 lead, Maryland’s Braeden Wisloski popped free and sprinted 98 yards for a touchdown. It marked the second straight week that special teams gave up a touchdown as JMU blocked a punt for a score in the previous game. The Terps’ big return sparked a run of 42 unanswered points by the home team as UVA saw numerous drives with potential short-circuit for varying reasons and Maryland took full advantage.
“With them going up 14-0, that return couldn’t have come at a better time for us,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “It was a tremendous effort on Braeden’s part getting to the point of attack and then finishing it. At one point, it looked like the guy had a chance to tackle him and he outran the angle. … It was much needed and I think it jumpstarted us as a team.”
The Terrapins eventually tied the score in the second quarter with a 15-play, 97-yard march that resulted in a 3-yard touchdown from running back Roman Hemby. They took the lead early in the third quarter on an explosive passing play. Jeshaun Jones got behind Malcolm Greene with a double move and scored the 64-yard touchdown as a result. In the fourth quarter, another long drive flipped the margin to a two-score lead as the hosts went 80 yards on 9 plays with Hemby finishing it again with a 3-yard touchdown run. Later in the quarter, Antwain Littleton II posted a 2-yard rushing touchdown and Colby McDonald added a 1-yard scoring carry for the 42-14 final score.
McDonald led the Maryland offense with 10 carries for 75 yards, while Littleton had 9 carries for 28 and Hemby had 9 carries for 23. Jones led the receiving category with 5 catches for 96 yards. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa finished 19-30 passing for 342 yards and a touchdown. For Virginia, Jonas Sanker topped the defense with 9 tackles. James Jackson and Coen King recorded 7 tackles each, while Josh Ahern chipped in 6. Kam Butler had 2 tackles for loss including a sack.
Long story short, the tailspin finally spun completely out of control for the Wahoos after a chance to tie the game ended with an interception in the end zone. That pick became the first of four straight turnovers as a 21-14 score suddenly ballooned to a 28-point margin in a matter of minutes.
Colandrea, the true freshman quarterback making his second career start and first away from home, came out hot with a completion percentage similar to his outing against James Madison. He completed 20 of 26 passes against the Dukes for 377 yards on the way to ACC Rookie of the Week honors. At the start against Maryland, he had it going again as he completed 6 of 7 passes in the first quarter for 108 yards and that aforementioned touchdown toss to Pace.
With the Terps leading 21-14, Colandrea still had his team in the game entering the fourth quarter. The Hoos at that moment were in the midst of a 15-play drive that eventually moved the ball all the way to the Maryland 12-yard line. Colandrea had converted a 3rd-and-12 play with a 13-yard scramble and a 3rd-and-23 with a 25-yard completion to Washington to keep the drive alive. He couldn’t come up with another clutch play on the first third down of the fourth quarter, though. Colandrea tried to squeeze in a late throw to the end zone on 3rd-and-10 and Terp corner Tarheeb Still turned it into interception.
“He made a lot of plays in the football game first and foremost. The last two games, he’s made a lot of really good football plays for us and that’s just a situation where trusting too much in his ability to make a play and that’s where he’s going to grow up,” Elliott said. “He’s going to have moments where he’s going to have to learn on the field and in that situation, you instruct him in the huddle ‘hey if it’s not there, throw it away, we got points, we’re in position to kick the field goal.’ Looked like he had a little bit of pressure and he stepped up, that should have been his first indication right there not to force it, timing’s off at that point. Not sure, got to watch the film, possibly could have pulled it down and got something positive. Just trying to make a play. That’s a young man that wants to win a football game. He’s a fierce competitor and he’s just trying to make a play and our job as coaches is to help him learn from situations like that to get better in the future.”
That turnover became the catalyst for the late-game meltdown when the defense couldn’t get a stop to keep the margin at one score. After Maryland made it 28-14, the next three drives for Virginia ended with 2 interceptions and a lost fumble. One pick was a bit of bad luck as a deflected pass was nearly intercepted, nearly tumbled to the ground, and then was actually intercepted by Donnell Brown. The other was a complete misread by the freshman as he threw the ball directly at a defender and Still made sure it became his second INT of the night. With 3 interceptions in 5 pass attempts, the game already had spiraled at that point so a sack fumble in the final minutes only poured salt on it.
Colandrea finished the game 23-39 passing for 263 yards with 1 touchdown and the 3 interceptions. He also had 19 rushing yards with 53 gained negated by yards lost on 3 sacks. After the rough conclusion, some concerns about confidence could pop up for the youngster.
“I don’t anticipate that his confidence is going to be shaken by the turnovers,” Elliott said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “What we have to do is we have to do a good job of teaching him why he can’t make some of those plays and then show him these are the situations where you can make a play. Unfortunate for him, rough night on the stat sheet, but man he played his tail off, gave us a chance, made some big-time plays, and he’s done that for the last two weeks. Our job as coaches is to make sure that we teach him and help him learn from some of the mistakes.”
The freshman quarterback and the Hoos will get a home game to try to right the ship. NC State and former UVA quarterback Brennan Armstrong, however, will try to send Virginia to 0-4 in 2023. The Cavaliers have lost 6 straight games dating back to last season.