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3 players, 2 matchups, and 1 prediction for Virginia football at Maryland

Breaking down Friday night’s matchup with everything you should be watching for the ‘Hoos against the Terps.

Virginia v Tennessee Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images

The Virginia Cavaliers football team very nearly had a storybook day on Saturday. After emotional pregame ceremonies, the team immediately fell behind 14-0. Fighting back to take the lead was very impressive. Not hanging on and ultimately falling in a game they probably should’ve won was…not impressive.

The season continues, but does not get any easier. Not yet. The first “true” road game comes at Maryland. From 1957 through 2013, Virginia and Maryland played every year. It was a huge rivalry. Then Maryland jetted off for the Big Ten and the two schools haven’t played since. And the rivalry is forgotten.

This year’s Terrapin team is 2-0, with wins over Towson and Charlotte. There’s a decent chance Virginia would also be 2-0 had they faced Towson and Charlotte. Towson were a mediocre FCS team and Charlotte finished 3-9 (2-6 CUSA) last year. Maryland also hasn’t left home yet. The Terps actually trailed 14-0 in the first quarter against Charlotte and were down 14-9 at half before storming back.

They finished 8-5 last year, including a bowl win over NC State. They were well-balanced with the 54th ranked offense and the 42nd ranked defense. This is a team that gave Michigan a scare in Ann Arbor and yet also lost 30-0 to Penn State.

Game Time: Friday, Sept 15, 7PM Eastern
Streaming: Fox Sports

Three Players to Watch

QB Taulia Tagovailoa

Maybe you’re aware of Tagovailoa’s brother, the national championship winning Alabama QB who is currently the starter for the Dolphins. Taulia also began his career at Alabama, but transferred after playing a bit as a true freshman. He talked about not getting a fair chance. He has also claimed he was offered a $1.5M NIL deal to transfer back into the SEC prior to this season.

The younger Tagovailoa was second-team All-Big Ten last year, throwing for over 3000 yards and 18 TDs. He is athletic and can absolutely tuck it and run.

He rushed for just 64 yards last year, though that included 4 TDs. That 64 yards, of course, includes sacks. And Tagovailoa was sacked a lot. The Terps ranked 118th in sacks allowed last year. Through two games, they have allowed just 1 sack. Is that improved OL play, or is that due to quality of competition?

Virginia has struggled in pass rush, after finishing last season as one of the top pass rushing teams in the nation. The loss of Nick Jackson is part of the reason, but not the only reason. Teams being able to run the ball down Virginia’s throat all game long. Why drop back to pass when you can rush for five yards every time?

Frankly, if Virginia can’t get any pressure on Tagovailoa, they’re going to be in big trouble.

RB Roman Hemby

Through two games, the Terps are averaging almost six yards per carry. They averaged 3.9 last year. (Once again, remember this includes sacks.)

Despite that, Hemby was an All-Big Ten honorable mention, with 989 yards and 10 TDs on 5.3 ypc. This year, he has 220 yards with 2 TDs, but most of that yardage came against Charlotte. Check out this run, on the first play of the second half.

Hemby has wheels. He’s 6’2” 202, which is a little small for a RB (also tall). He has serious wheels though. Hemby also had a big gain on a screen pass against Charlotte. The Terps ran a number of screens actually, in both of their games. Definitely something to watch out for.

LB Jaishawn Barham

The Terps pass rush was poor last year, finishing with just 24 sacks in 13 games. That ranked 91st in the nation. They were also 101st in TFLs. Barham, an OLB in their 3-3-5 defense led the team with 6.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. And he was third in tackles. Oh. and he was a true freshman. He was the eighth ranked LB in the nation, per 247sports. He is fast, he is big and he is very very good.

This is just pure speed. Virginia’s RTs have not been good in pass blocking. Barham will take advantage out there and make life miserable for whichever of the two Virginia QBs is out there.

It seems like this Maryland defense might be pretty good, ranking 40th overall at this point. They have 5 sacks in two games, and Barham has two of those. He’s a force and probably the number one player Virginia needs to focus on.

Two Key Matchups

Virginia offensive line vs Maryland defensive line

No surprise here. Virginia’s OL has been bad. They are 125th in sacks allowed at four per game. They have averaged 1.5 yards per carry. (Again, of course, this includes sacks for some reason.) That’s insane. It is simply not possible to be successful averaging 1.5 yards per rush. Somehow that isn’t worse in the country. But it is second-worst.

Maryland finished 39th nationally in rush defense last year, but early on this year they are 84th. A lot of last year’s DL is gone, and a few transfers have come in, including Jordan Phillips, from Tennessee. Two of Maryland’s three starting DLs are over 300 pounds. We saw how much Virginia’s line struggled with Tennessee’s size on the line. This unit isn’t as good or as deep, but is similarly large.

The OL simply needs to improve if Virginia is going to have any success.

Virginia corners vs Maryland receivers

The Terps lost two of their top receivers to the NFL and a TE to transfer (Alabama). But they also brought in a couple transfer WRs of their own, including Kaden Prather from West Virginia. Prather has been the big play guy this season and has two TDs already.

If guys get that open, Tagovailoa will hit them. This Virginia secondary came into the season with a lot of hype. Injuries have played a role, but so far this unit has been underwhelming. They rank 104th in pass efficiency defense. They have 12 passes broken up, but no interceptions. Poor pass rush along with poor secondary play leads to bad defense. This unit currently ranked 116th in total defense.

How is he this open? It’s 2nd and 10, with under 3 minutes to go. Where did you think this was going?

One prediction

Despite being 0-2, this Virginia team has shown a higher ceiling that was anticipated by fans and media. Sure, they got shellacked by Tennessee. But they held their own for most of the first half, and we saw some high quality individual plays. Similarly, there were a lot of great plays against JMU.

Having that high ceiling is important. But consistency is more important. Those individual plays look good, but making the correct play over and over again is how you win football games. And Virginia doesn’t seem to be there. The defense has impressed at times, and there are playmakers there. But in the fourth quarter, with a lead, they couldn’t get a stop. In fact, those two final JMU drives seemed far too easy.

This Virginia team may get there. But they’re not there yet.

Prediction: Maryland 30, Virginia 14