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Five takeaways from Virginia football’s 42-14 loss at Maryland

Virginia’s 14-0 lead doesn’t last as the Cavaliers remain winless in 2023

NCAA Football: Virginia at Maryland Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

With 4:16 remaining in the first quarter, the Virginia Cavaliers scored on a beautifully lofted Anthony Colandrea 19-yard TD pass to Kobe Pace and took a 14-0 lead over Maryland. For a moment, the needle on the Virginia football program pointed directly upward; the Cavaliers were clicking on offense and defense, the playcalling was creative, the QB was dialed in, and the team was winning.

It didn’t last.

The Terrapins ran back the following kickoff for a TD. The promising freshman QB tossed three interceptions on three consecutive passes. The defense was picked apart on the ground and through the air. And Maryland scored 42 consecutive points en route to a blowout victory.

The game was closer than the 42-14 scoreline showed, but the Terrapins were definitively the better team. Here are our five takeaways from a frustrating performance where the Hoos hung close for three quarters before collapsing late.

For three quarters, Anthony Colandrea looked like a budding star...

After stagnating after the rain delay against JMU, Virginia needed to get off to a good start offensively. True freshman Anthony Colandrea proved up to the task: he went 6-7 for 108 yards and 2 TDs on the first two Cavalier drives.

Sure, some of it was Des Kitchings’s offensive scheme. On the very first play of the game, he drew up a flea-flicker which Colandrea converted for 49 yards to Malik Washington — and a pass which, had Colandrea not underthrown it, should have resulted in a touchdown after Maryland’s corner got suckered. Though it required a well-lofted Colandrea throw, the second TD also came from a creatively designed wheel route. But Colandrea still had to convert, and he absolutely came to play.

Colandrea wasn’t perfect through the first three quarters — he made some poor throws and poor decisions in the pocket, most notably a boneheaded 16-yard sack which killed a promising UVA drive early in the second half. But the needle seemed to be pointing up as the Cavaliers went back and forth with the Terrapins.

... then, things fell apart in the fourth

Then, Colandrea proceeded to throw three consecutive interceptions in the fourth quarter as Maryland’s lead ballooned. When he threw the first, the Cavaliers were just a few yards from tying the game; by the time he completed another pass, Virginia trailed 42-14.

The first came on a corner route in the red zone where Colandrea forced the ball into tight coverage, the second came on a nice juggling grab by a Maryland defensive end dropping into coverage to take away the short game, and the third came when Colandrea targeted Malachi Fields and tried to fit a pass into a nonexistent window.

The first pick wasn’t awful, and can be chalked up to a freshman trying to force a play. The second was an impressive play by Maryland. But the third... ouch.

Colandrea made a lot of plays, and he wasn’t the reason the Cavaliers lost. But the wheels came off the bus in the fourth quarter, and no matter how you slice it four turnovers isn’t good enough — especially when they come on back-to-back-to-back-to-back drives.

Secondary allows too many big plays

For a decent portion of the game, Virginia’s secondary looked competent. They were keeping Maryland in front of them, forcing Taulia Tagovailoa to make tight-window throws and generally slowing down a talented Maryland offense.

Then, Malcolm Greene got absolutely toasted on a double move by Jeshaun Jones for a 64-yard touchdown. OK, that wasn’t great, but one mistake on the back end is tolerable.

After that, though, the Cavalier secondary began to implode. Greene didn’t return to the game following Jones’s TD. They barely put up any resistance on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive following Colandrea’s first interception. They started making mental mistakes, like an unnecessary PI in the end zone when there was pretty good coverage, or failing to recognize a Maryland flea flicker late in the game.

At the end of the day, Tagovailoa finished with 342 yards and 1 TD on 19-30 passing — and he did the Cavalier defense some favors by missing easy throws early in the game. The Terps averaged 11 yards per play on Tagovailoa dropbacks. Maryland has a talented offense, but those numbers just aren’t good enough.

Confusingly conservative game management persists

Virginia won the coin toss and deferred, guaranteeing that they would receive the ball to start the second half. One of the best parts about this choice is that it leaves the door open for teams to “sandwich” two scores around halftime: the Cavaliers could’ve scored at the end of the second quarter, received the ball to start the third, and scored again. That’s one of the main reasons you elect to defer in the first place.

Things worked out just about perfectly for this setup: Virginia got the ball back with 1:18 to go in the second quarter and three timeouts. What did they do with this golden opportunity? Ran the ball into the line (with the exception of one short pass to Malachi Fields), used zero of their three timeouts, and were content to head into the locker room with a 14-14 tie.

When you’re an underdog, you have to take every opportunity you have to rack up points. Even if you’re not an underdog, waving the white flag with 1:18 remaining, three timeouts and a QB who’s shown the ability to create big plays out of nothing isn’t a smart way to play.

Missed opportunities once again plague Cavaliers

This iteration of Virginia just seems to have a penchant for stumbling in big moments. Last week, the Cavaliers nearly pulled off a miracle comeback, but Colandrea’s pass deep dowfield on 4th down fell inches beyond his receiver’s outstretched arms. And that play came after Virginia dropped a potential pick-two which would’ve put them up 37-36 on a JMU two-point conversion.

This game, Malachi Fields dropped a wide open pass on what would’ve been a massive third down gain for the Cavaliers. The Hoos turned a 15-play drive into a red zone interception when they trailed by a touchdown. Then, they missed a potential pick-six opportunity, and Maryland punched in a touchdown to go up by 14 points.

At some point, big plays need to be made. There are too many sliding-doors moments for this UVA team — it’s been a theme throughout the entirety of Tony Elliott’s tenure. Progress needs to be made sometime soon: there were flashes again today, but at the end of the day the Cavaliers are 0-3 and there are only so many positives you can scrape for in a 28-point loss.