7:00 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Maryland -14.5, Over/Under: 49.0
Former ACC rivals meet for the first time as opponents from different conferences, as the Virginia Cavaliers look to get their first victory of the campaign against an old foe, the Maryland Terrapins, who look to remain unbeaten in this Friday night battle under the bright lights of SECU Stadium in College Park. In hindsight, there was perhaps no Head Coach in the country that endured a more difficult season than Tony Eliott in his first at Virginia (0-2, 0-0 in ACC), which was ravaged by an exodus of transfers, a rash of injuries, and unfortunately, a grave tragedy. Make no mistake, the 43-year-old had no illusions as to how difficult his job would be in year one in Charlottesville, though nobody could have foreseen what he, his coaching staff, his players, and the whole community went through. The Cavaliers struggled MIGHTILY on offense due in large part to a completely remade Offensive Line featuring ZERO returning starters, resulting in a toothless attack that managed a meager 17.0 points per game on 344 total yards and a turnover differential of -9, which was down from 34.6 points, 514 total yards, and a -4 differential in 2021. However, experience wasn’t the only issue, for much of the offensive personnel simply didn’t gel within Elliott’s (pictured below) system, leaving the Cavs stranded at 3-7 without a landline in sight to participate in a bowl game. And then, tragedy struck with the deaths of three players (Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry, and Lavel Davis Jr) in a horrific campus shooting at the hands of a former Tailback from the 2018 team (Christopher Darnell Jones Jr), who was unable to continue his collegiate career due to injury. In the wake of their deaths, the school opted to cancel the remaining two games of the season. Nearly a year later, Elliott is simply trying to pick up the pieces and get his team headed in the right direction; he’s added a more competitive QB room that should fit his designs better, while continuing to build upon a sneaky good defense that allowed a respectable 24.0 points 358.0 total yards, all the while returning six starters from the previous team. So, what do we make of Virginia thus far, you ask? Well, the Cavaliers opened the campaign against (No. 11) Tennessee, which ended as you would expect; Elliott’s troops couldn’t keep up with the high-powered Vols, who hammered them in a 49-13 affair in which they outclassed in a variety of categories, including total yards (201-499), first downs (12-29), passing yards (106-212), and rushing yards (95-287) despite winning the turnover battle (+1). (Monmouth transfer) Tony Muskett made his debut for the school, with the Junior completing just 9-of-17 passes for ninety-four yards before a shoulder injury forced him to leave the field of play. With Muskett unable to participate in the home opener against James Madison in the following week, it was up to (True Freshman) Anthony Colandrea to lead the Wahoos, who led 35-24 midway through the fourth quarter in what had been an emotional afternoon in their first home game since last November’s tragedy. Unfortunately, the hosts were caught with their pants down around their ankles, as the visiting Dukes scored fourteen unanswered points to steal a 36-35 victory in front of a stunned Scott Stadium crowd. Both schools amassed 395 total yards, though all but eighteen of UVA’s yardage came courtesy of Colandrea’s arm, with the frosh completing 20-of-26 passes for 377 yards and a pair of touchdowns, though was picked off once as well. (Senior Tailback) Mike Hollins, one of the survivors from that shooting, accounted for two of the home side’s three rushing scores.
From a betting perspective, Virginia have been marginally better against the spread under Elliott than they have been straight-up, posting a 5-7 record dating back to last season, in which they are 2-2 in that regard as a road underdog, while logging a dismal CV of 1-4 against non-conference opposition. This season they are 1-1 against the spread, having covered last weekend’s stunning loss to James Madison. The Cavaliers are a middling 5-5 in their last ten contests dating back to last season, while matching that record over their last ten trips away from Charlottesville and covering six of their last ten outings as when receiving points from the oddsmakers. Furthermore, this a team that have covered the line in only one of their last seven non-conference affairs. With that being said, there is one trend that is pointing in the direction of the Cavs, who are a positive 4-1 in their last five games as an underdog of at least 10.5 points, which is the case tonight. Looking at this particular matchup, the favorite has both won and covered four of the last five encounters between these schools, while the eventual winner of the contest has also covered in seven straight meetings. The last time that Virginia traveled to College Park (2013), they led 26-20 in the fourth quarter only to miss a potential game-winning field goal with ten seconds remaining, resulting in a 26-27 defeat. On the injury front, the aforementioned Muskett missed last weekend’s loss to the Dukes and is listed as probable to return to action with that shoulder injury. If he can’t go, then look for Colandrea to make his second career start for the Cavaliers. As for the rest of the roster, (Sophomore Tight End) Sackett Wood is probable to participate tonight after missing the last game with an unspecified ailment, while (Senior Defensive Tackle) Olasunkonmi Agunloye will miss the entire season after rupturing the patellar tendon in both knees. Looking ahead, this is final game before the Cavs begin their trek through the ACC, beginning with North Carolina State next Friday, before traveling to Boston College the following weekend.
Meanwhile, Maryland (2-0, 0-0 in Big Ten) look to continue their linear progression under the leadership of (Head Coach) Mike Locksley, who now in his fifth season in College Park has his team poised to top their 8-win campaign of 2022, which marked their best record in a dozen years. Indeed, Terrapins move slowly, which is a notion that applies to Locksley’s troops, who have improved incrementally with each passing season. Last year, the Terps got off to an inspiring 6-2 start and would go on to outgain their Big Ten brethren by an average margin of +23 yards per game, while playing the powerhouses of the East Division far tougher than they had in recent years. Aart from a 0-30 shutout loss to (No. 14) Penn State, they came up short against (No. 4) Michigan and (No. 2) Ohio State by a combined THIRTEEN points, with that latter defeat due to a Buckeyes fumble return to the house with just six seconds left in the affair. During his tenure, Locksley is a dismal 3-22 versus those three schools, and it will take a breakthrough against them to vault this program to the next level. As such, the question remains: is Maryland finally ready to compete with the elite schools in the Big Ten? While there is a strong argument to be made that last year’s team was the best that Locksley has had during his tenure (16 returning starters), let us not sell this current incarnation of the Terrapins short in their bid to level up. (Senior Quarterback) Taulia Tagovailoa returns for one final season in College Park, having already established himself that school’s career passing leader (8,426 yards), while their top three leading rushers from a year ago also come back to ensure that they improve upon the 141.0 yards (3.9 y/a) they produced in 2022. That may be difficult behind an inexperienced Offensive Line that turned to the Transfer Portal to bolster a group that was hit hard by graduation, but the addition of (new Offensive Coordinator) Josh Gattis, who won the Broyles award (which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach) two years ago at Michigan. Defensively, turnover on the Defensive Line and in the Secondary are worrisome, particularly on the back end where they lost both starting Cornerbacks to the NFL Draft. With that being said, the Terps haven’t looked worse for wear yet, averaging 38.0 points per game on a balanced 489.5 total yards, including 285.0 yards through the air and another 204.5 on the ground, all the while relegating their opponents to a scant 13.0 points per contest on 295.0 total yards. After drubbing Towson (38-6) in the opener, Locksley & Co welcomed a game Charlotte side to SECU Stadium last weekend, finding themselves behind the proverbial 8-ball early as they trailed 0-14 after the conclusion of the first quarter. Undaunted, the hosts responded thirty-eight unanswered points en route to a comfortable 38-20 victory. UMD outgained the 49ers 530-314, rushing for 243 yards and three touchdowns on thirty-four carries, led by (Sophomore Tailback) Ramon Hemby, who racked up 162 yards and a score on nineteen carries, while adding another fifty-five receiving yards to boot. As for Tagovailoa (pictured below), all he did was complete 25-of-36 passes for 287 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions, though he eventually found his rhythm after a slow start that saw three consecutive drives int eh second quarter end in a field goal. Credit (Defensive Coordinator) Brian Williams, whose unit held Charlotte to just 189 passing yards on twenty attempts, with (Junior Edge) Donnell Brown getting an interception ad returning it nineteen yards to set up another Terps touchdown in the second half.
From a betting perspective, Maryland is 24-27 against the spread under Locksley dating back to 2019, including an 8-7 record as a home favorite a 10-3 mark in that regard against non-conference opponents. Dating back to last season, the Terrapins are just 3-7 against the spread over their last ten games and are 4-6 in their last ten contests at SECU Stadium, while matching that record over past ten when favored by the oddsmakers. Interestingly, the Terps have covered five of their last six confrontations with schools from their former conference, with this encounter with the Cavaliers being their first since leaving the ACC back in 2014. UMD has won three of the last four meetings, covering two of them along the way. All-time, Maryland 45-32-2 in a series that dates back to 1919. On the injury front, Locksley could see some depth issues in the Receiving Corps, with (Senior Wideout) Tyrese Chambers missing last weekend’s win over Charlotte with an unknown injury that has left him listed as questionable for tonight’s clash with the Cavs; a transfer from Florida International, Chambers logged fifty-one catches for 544 yards and four touchdowns in ten games last season, though wasn’t much more than afterthought in the season opener against Towson with two receptions for just nine yards. Looking ahead, this is the final ramp-up for the Big Ten schedule, with a trip to Michigan State on tap for next weekend, followed by a date with Indiana at College Park before traveling to Columbus for a clash with (No.6) Ohio State on October 7th.