Virginia is set to hit the road once again, facing off against a familiar adversary in Maryland Friday evening. The Cavaliers (0-2, 0-0 ACC) are coming off a game where they blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead against James Madison. On the flip side, the Terrapins (2-0, 0-0 Big 10) have begun their season with impressive victories over Towson and Charlotte. With a mere 13.9 percent chance of victory according to ESPN, Virginia is yet again aiming for a monumental upset if they are hoping to secure their first win of the season.
The loss last Saturday was heartbreaking for the Cavaliers, who completely lost momentum after a long rain delay. Coach Tony Elliott has concentrated his efforts in practice this week on instilling a renewed commitment to finishing games strong and avoiding any lapses in intensity.
“I was after them today pretty good about the intensity that we have to have as we go into the fourth quarter,” Eliott said. “Because that’s when games are won and lost. And when I look back at [the JMU game], I didn’t do a good job of having them ready to come out after the delay to finish the fourth quarter.”
The Terrapin team that the Cavaliers will face is one that is headlined by their offensive prowess. Despite having a new offensive coordinator, Maryland has managed to pick up the 19th most offensive yards this season in the country while only turning the ball over twice. Their offense is headlined by senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has 547 yards and four interceptions through two games. Tagovailoa has an incredibly strong arm, but can also hurt you with his legs, so the Virginia defense will need to stay agile in their preparation this week.
On top of holding focus throughout all four quarters, Virginia certainly has other areas of improvement as well as strengths that they hope to capitalize on against Maryland.
The Return of Tony Muskett
Despite his injury, offensive coordinator Des Kitchings has confirmed that senior quarterback Tony Muskett is the expected starter heading into Friday night’s game. Muskett, who entered the season as the starter, was recently sidelined against the Dukes because of a shoulder- injury sustained against Tenneesse. Muskett had played well against Tennessee in his Virginia debut, leaving many deeply concerned about the potential for him to miss significant playing time.
In his absence, freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea assumed the starter role and undoubtedly made the most out of his opportunity. Colandrea completed 20 of 26 pass attempts for 377 yards and two touchdowns, all of which were single-game Cavalier freshman records. His performance even garnered him ACC Rookie of the Week honors.
This incredible performance presented Virginia with a welcoming conundrum. Both of their quarterbacks have played well, raising the question as to who would assume the starting role moving forward.
The return of Muskett does not mean Colandrea will not have an offensive role this season. His incredible performance on Saturday afternoon will surely put added pressure on Muskett to perform well and leaves the possibility that they could even split time under center this season.
Offensive Line Struggles
One of the most glaring problems for the Cavaliers through the first two games has been the play from the offensive line. Virginia returned only one starter on the offensive line from a year ago, and they are led by a new position coach. This transition has been evident as the Cavaliers have given up, on average, four sacks per game, tied for the 11th most in all of college football. On top of this, Virginia has the eighth fewest rushing yards in FBS this season.
Elliott, however, has noted signs of improvement from the season opener and is optimistic that this group can turn it around quickly.
“I’m hopeful that the guys that we have can put it together,” Elliott said. “Jimmy [Christ] coming back off of injury gives us a little bit of depth. I thought Saturday was better than the previous Saturday, but there’s still not the consistency that we need, so we’ve got to make progress there.”
Old Rivals Meet Again
Back when the Terrapins were a part of the ACC, they would match up with the Cavaliers every year. However, since their move to the Big 10 in 2014, Maryland has yet to cross paths with Virginia on the football field.
Elliott is no stranger to old rivalries having coached in the ACC for over a decade and is pumped for the opportunity to put a dent into the Terrapins season.
“I'm about the pageantry and rivalries in college football,” Elliott said. “I'm all about playing those games."
Senior defensive tackle Jahmeer Carter is from Baltimore and thus has an added sense of motivation for this week’s matchup.
“I always try to keep the same approach week in and week out, keep a level head,” Carter said. “But it will be exciting to go back home to Maryland.”
Carter may be instrumental in stopping the Terrapins offensive, however, because the key could be limiting the damage done on the ground. Sophomore running back Roman Hemby has 220 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. For defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, stopping the rushing attack is of the utmost importance.
“They’ve been efficient in the run game,” Rudzinski said. “They have really, really good backs that run downhill behind their pads, so it’ll start with us playing good run defense to get them into some manageable third-down situations.”
For the Cavaliers to pull off the upset, they will need to improve their late-game focus and offensive play while putting a stop to the Terrapins' strong offensive attack.
“We have not tasted victory this season,” Elliott said, “so there’s a lot of motivation for us as a football team.”
The Cavaliers will take on the Terrapins in a primetime Friday night showdown at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on FS1.