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One step forward, two steps back for Virginia football in puzzling 42-14 loss at Maryland

Despite holding a 14-0 lead, the offense was unable to consistently recapture its first quarter dynamism as the defense

<p>Colandrea was then intercepted on his third straight passing attempt, and the Cavalier defense once again could not win on a third down while also allowing significant yardage via a Tagovailoa pass. In just six minutes of game time, Virginia allowed 21 points.&nbsp;</p>

Colandrea was then intercepted on his third straight passing attempt, and the Cavalier defense once again could not win on a third down while also allowing significant yardage via a Tagovailoa pass. In just six minutes of game time, Virginia allowed 21 points. 

In its first true road game of the season, Virginia football fell apart late in a 42-14 loss to Maryland Friday. The Cavaliers (0-3, 0-0 ACC) shot out to a 14-0 lead, but were not able to find their way into the end zone for the rest of the match. Meanwhile, the Terrapins (3-0, 0-0 Big 10) took advantage of three second-half interceptions to eventually blow the game open in a final score that made the game look less close than it actually was.

Virginia experienced some major deja vu from last week, as senior defensive end Kam Butler forced a stop on the first defensive play of the game. A quick Maryland three-and-out gave Virginia the football, but senior quarterback Tony Muskett did not start due to issues with his shoulder injury. Instead, it was true freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea who provided instant offense. Also somewhat similar to last week, his first pass of the game was an electric flea flicker pass to senior wide receiver Malik Washington. The two connected for a huge gain against James Madison last Saturday and have evidently established a strong rapport. A swift rushing touchdown by senior running back Perris Jones gave Virginia an early 7-0 lead. 

Against the Terrapins and senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — the younger brother of Miami Dolphins star Tua Tagovailoa — the Cavalier defense fought with high intensity in the first quarter. A promising four-minute drive by Maryland ended with a missed field goal to give Virginia’s offense the football in good field position at its own 37-yard line. Despite a false start penalty by junior center Ty Furnish, Colandrea was able to make big plays on key downs. 

Senior running back Kobe Pace caught a 19-yard Colandrea pass en route to the endzone — his second straight game with a receiving touchdown — to give the Cavaliers a 14-0 lead. However, Virginia would not score for the remaining 55 minutes of the game. 

Immediately after taking a commanding two-touchdown lead, the Cavalier kickoff coverage unit allowed a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown to cut the lead in half. When Virginia’s offense got the ball back, Furnish was flagged for holding to push the Cavaliers back to 1st and 20, finishing the drive with a brief three-and-out. 

Strong tackles by senior linebacker Josh Ahern and graduate student cornerback Coen King helped put the Cavalier offense back on the field, where Colandrea scrambled for a first down to end the opening quarter. 

A series of receptions by Washington and junior wide receiver Malachi Fields brought Virginia into Maryland territory, but a holding penalty by sophomore wide receiver Eli Wood pushed the Cavaliers all the way back to the 48-yard line. Virginia was unable to overcome the suddenly difficult field position and was forced to punt on a promising drive. 

Senior punter Daniel Sparks — who has certainly garnered national attention as one of the best collegiate punters — then drilled a punt to the Terrapin four-yard line. Despite a massively advantageous field position, the Cavalier defense struggled mightily on third and fourth down. Maryland converted three third downs and a fourth down, going nearly the full length of the field to score a rushing touchdown while also draining over six minutes off the clock and tying the game at 14. 

With almost a minute and a half remaining in the first half along with all three timeouts, Virginia only ran five plays and did not seriously threaten to score. The Cavaliers did receive the ball to begin the second half, and Washington added 22 yards to his receiving total on a quick pass by Colandrea. On the next play, Colandrea took a costly 16-yard sack instead of throwing the ball out of bounds. The sack was likely the largest turning point in a close contest, as the Terrapin defense began to consistently pressure Colandrea. 

Sparks again pinned Maryland inside its 15-yard line, where Virginia’s defense faced a third down with seven yards to protect. Tagovailoa scrambled for roughly eight yards, and officials discussed the spot of the ball for several minutes — ultimately giving a first down to the Terrapins. Three plays later, Maryland graduate student receiver Jeshaun Jones caught a pass near the line of scrimmage and sprinted for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Cavaliers in a 14-21 deficit. 

Solid runs from Pace pushed Virginia closer to Terrapin territory, but four consecutive incompletions by Colandrea ended another drive. The Cavalier defense then held strong, as Butler sacked Tagovailoa for a punishing 16 yards and nearly moved Maryland out of Virginia territory to force a punt. 

In the waning minutes of the third quarter, the Cavaliers were able to overcome two more false start penalties and an intentional grounding call against Colandrea to earn a first down at the Terrapin 12-yard line to start the final quarter courtesy of another 20-plus yard catch for Washington. With the chance to tie the game, Colandrea threw an interception in the Maryland endzone, ending the best chance the Cavaliers would have to score for the rest of the game.

On a critical defensive drive, Virginia again struggled to take advantage of negative yardage against the Terrapins and get off the field on third down. A 33-yard pass by Tagovailoa pushed the Cavaliers back inside their 20-yard line, where a pass interference penalty by junior linebacker James Jackson gave Maryland a first down at Virginia’s two-yard line. Another rushing touchdown increased the Cavalier deficit to 14-28. 

Colandrea threw a second straight interception that ended at Virginia's 30-yard line. Then, on the next play the Terrapins got it to the Cavalier two-yard line. Thus, another rushing touchdown gave the Terrapins an insurmountable 35-14 lead. 

Colandrea was then intercepted on his third straight passing attempt, and the Cavalier defense once again could not win on a third down while also allowing significant yardage via a Tagovailoa pass. In just six minutes of game time, Virginia allowed 21 points. 

Despite moving down the field to the Maryland 39-yard line, Colandrea was stripped of the ball on a brutal sack. The Cavaliers and Terrapins exchanged clock-draining drives to then end the game with a final score of 14-42. 

Four consecutive Virginia turnovers destroyed what could have been a huge first win of the season for the Cavaliers. However, Virginia showed promise with a few significant highlights. Washington, Fields and Pace have established themselves as meaningful contributors. Butler, Jones and Sparks have also built upon previous strong campaigns. 

Coach Tony Elliott’s squad will need to overcome costly turnover and penalty issues, but his team is definitely showing productive progress. Up next, the Cavaliers return home to Scott Stadium for a Friday night matchup against NC State at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.


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