Five things learned about UVA Football at Maryland

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

With each passing game, we learn a little bit more about Virginia’s football team — the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s five things learned from Friday’s 42-14 loss at Maryland:

1. Offensive line progress: The Cavaliers had a little more running success against the Terps, who were the No. 84 team in the nation against the rush coming into the game. One lineup change appeared to solidify the line: Virginia moved starting right guard Brian Stevens (6-foot-2, 196-pound grad), a transfer from Dayton, to center and switched starting center Ty Furnish (6-3, 282 junior) to right guard. UVA had been experiencing problems with center snaps to quarterbacks in the shotgun formation prior to the switch, but the move seemed to have solved the issue.

“With Brian, obviously we did not have any snap issues,” said offensive coordinator Des Kitchings after the game. “So, that’s a win, right? To be able to operate. Brian did a great job because Maryland played us in some odd three-down fronts, so just identifying in the run game, and then in [pass] protection, where he’s very calming in that matter. Ty did a great job at guard, so I like how that unfolded for us.”

Virginia still gave up four sacks against the Terps, giving opponents 12 sacks in three games.

2. Building for the future with freshmen: With Virginia collapsing in the fourth quarter in the last two games, the question of playable depth arose after Maryland scored 42 unanswered points against the Cavaliers. In Friday night’s game against the Terps, UVA played at least nine freshmen in an effort to add some depth to the squad.

Among the nine, including starting quarterback Anthony Colandrea, were linebacker Kam Robinson (two tackles), defensive end Mekhi Buchanan (four tackles), defensive tackle Anthony Britton, defensive tackle Jason Hammond, cornerback Keandre Walker, safety Caleb Hardy, wide receiver Suderian Harrison and wide receiver Jason Gibson.

Asked after the game if UVA can win playing that many freshmen, Coach Tony Elliott said he believed he could.

“I think we can,” Elliott said. “I mean, if you look at the situation tonight, we’re in this ballgame until the fourth quarter with a chance to win.

“We’re going to have to grow up fast. They’re going to get on-the-job training. We’re not going to make any excuses. Our job as coaches is to coach whoever we put out there. We have got to have them ready to go.”

3. Defense is under too much pressure: Looking back on the Maryland game, the defense gave up a lot of points, but was put in some bad situations. Maryland scored seven of its points off a kickoff return, and 21 more points after the UVA offense turned the ball over with interceptions on three-consecutive possessions, one at the Cavaliers’ 30-yard line and another at the Maryland 44.

With that said, though, the defense hasn’t been nearly as stout as expected, considering that eight starters returned from a defense that was fourth in the ACC last season in points allowed. UVA is No. 126 in the nation out of 132 teams in scoring defense, giving up 42.3 points per game.

Virginia has to find a way to keep opponents out of the end zone or it’s going to be a long season.

The Cavaliers are dead last in the nation in turnovers gained with only one, a fumble recovery against Tennessee in the opener, and no interceptions.

4. Special teams aren’t very special: What if Virginia hadn’t fallen asleep on special teams at College Park last Friday night after the Cavaliers had stunned Maryland, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter?

Instead, the Terps returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and got right back into the game. Big mistake. No excuse for giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We’ve got to take more pride in special teams,” Elliott said. “It was a situation where the ball was not placed where we wanted it to be placed. Our contain guy was a little bit too wide and created a large crease, and they were able to get up on our safety fitter with a lot of space and they got a blocker, and then it’s a foot race. So we’ll get that corrected. We’ve got to improve our placement of our kicks, the depth of our kicks, and then our guys have to be able to adjust when the ball may not be in the exact spot. That’s two weeks in a row where we have given up points, and you can’t spot a team seven points on special teams, especially against the competition that we have to go against.

“So, it’s on me. I’ll get it fixed.”

Virginia is No. 127 in the nation in kickoff-return defense (32 yards per return average), and No. 128 in punt-return defense (25 yards per return average).

5. Colandrea has been spectacular, but he’s still a freshman: Anthony Colandrea continued to impress in his second start of the season, even though he clearly tried to do too much in the fourth quarter, forced some throws, made freshman mistakes and paid the price. He has thrown for 652 yards and three touchdowns (four interceptions) in two games. Note: he’s only about 25 yards behind NC State’s Brennan Armstrong (three games) in yards passing.

Maryland coach Mike Locksley had this to say about Colandrea after Friday’s game:

“He reminds me of a young Taulia Tagovailoa. 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.”