Colandrea impressed Maryland’s coach; UVA braces for Wolfpack

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

After an 0-3 start and back-to-back, fourth-quarter collapses, where does Virginia’s football team go from here with ACC opponent NC State coming to town for a Friday night contest?

The Cavaliers are coming off a disastrous fourth quarter at Maryland, where they were still in the game until the first of four-consecutive turnovers sent any chance of pulling an upset off the rails.

Freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea, somewhat of a surprise starter after regular Tony Muskett couldn’t go, had kept UVA in the game through three quarters. In fact, Colandrea had led the Cavaliers from their own 14-yard line to the Maryland 12 when disaster struck.

On third down, with a chance to tie the game at 21-all, Colandrea had to scramble, looking for wide receiver Malik Washington in the end zone. The rookie panicked, tried to force the pass, and was intercepted.

Had he thrown the ball away, UVA could have settled for a field goal and possibly remained in the game. Instead, Mayland drove 80 yards for a 28-14 lead. Colandrea’s next two passes, on two separate series, were also intercepted — also leading to Terp touchdowns — as Maryland locked up a 42-14 win to remain unbeaten.

Combined with the fourth-quarter implosion against JMU the week before, Virginia has now been outscored 47-3 in its last two fourth quarters.

Don’t blame Colandrea for the outcomes. He’s a freshman making freshman mistakes during his on-the-job training. Without his fierce, competitive nature, Virginia might not have even been in either game.

During those two games, Colandrea has thrown for 640 yards and three touchdowns. He has completed 43 of 65 pass attempts over that stretch and been picked off four times (sacked seven times).

In fact, he was so impressive that Maryland coach Mike Locksley was extremely complimentary of Colandrea.

“He reminds me of a young Taulia Tagovailoa [the redshirt-senior Maryland quarterback],” Locksley said after the game. “The thing about [Colandrea], and frustrating for me, kind of going crazy on the headsets, is that [Virginia] wanted to get him out of the pocket for a reason.

“He’s maybe vertically challenged (5-foot-11) a little bit for a quarterback, so they get the ball on the edge. He’s dangerous. He’s a good, young football player who’s going to give people trouble because he can extend plays.”

Tagovailoa, by the way, was the Big 10 preseason quarterback selection.

Colandrea, though, will likely go back to the bench for this week’s NC State game. Muskett was still experiencing soreness in his shoulder from an injury he received during a sack in the second half of the opening game against Tennessee, or else he would have started against the Terps. Elliott indicated that if Muskett is fully recovered this week, he will start against the Wolfpack.

On the interception that turned the game around, Elliott realized that’s part of a young quarterback’s maturation.

“Not sure, I’ve got to watch the film, but possibly could have pulled it down, got something positive,” Elliott said. “He’s just trying to make a play. He’s a fierce competitor.

“He’s going to grow up. He’s going to have moments where he’s got to learn on the field, and in that situation, you instruct him. Hey, if it’s not there, throw it away. We’re in the position to kick the field goal. It looks like he had a little bit of pressure and he stepped up and that should have been his first indication right there not to force it, that the timing is off at that point.”

Up until that moment, Colandrea was solid. Virginia came into the game as a 14-point underdog, but stunned the Terps by taking a 14-0 lead with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

From that point onward, Maryland scored 42 unanswered points, as the Cavaliers moved the football, but couldn’t sustain the drives.

Virginia has been non-competitive in the fourth quarter where depth could be a problem, but lack of execution has definitely been a factor on both sides of the ball.

“I’m not going to make any excuse from a depth standpoint … depth is what it is,” Elliott said. “If you’re out there on the field, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fifth-year senior or a freshman. You’ve got to go play. The standard doesn’t change.

“The big thing that you’ve seen in the last two weeks is, man, we’ve got to go make the plays. We can’t wait for somebody else to make the play. We have to go make the play, and so I’ve got to do a better job of reaching them and teaching them, help them understand the importance of every single play, especially in the fourth quarter.”

Elliott said it’s a mindset about precision and execution, that the longer they play, the stronger they should get, that the bottom line is they’ve got to make the plays.

Now, UVA is bracing for another Friday night game with visiting NC State, which features former Cavalier quarterback Brennan Armstrong returning under the direction of former Virginia offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who has that same position with the Wolfpack. State is 2-1, coming off an easy win over VMI.

“As I told the guys in the locker room, we’ve got our first ACC opponent at home and so we’re going to pull ourselves up off the mat, just like we did last week,” Elliott said. “We’re going to go to work, we’re going to have a great week of practice and we’re going to try to get our first victory in Scott Stadium next week.”

Elliott said that even though his team lost at Maryland, he was proud of how they bounced back after losing a heartbreaker at home to James Madison (36-35).

“That’s going to be our DNA as a program. If we get knocked down, we’re going to get back up. And if we get knocked down again, we’re going to get up again.”