Virginia faced a third-and-10 inside the Maryland red zone early in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers trailed by seven and searched for an equalizing touchdown on their 15th play of the drive.
Tarheeb Still, who split time in the slot and on the outside Friday, was lined up over Malik Washington, Virginia’s star receiver who torched the Terps for over 100 yards throughout the night.
Still knew exactly what was coming. He had seen it on film throughout the week.
He knew Washington would run a corner route, which he followed. He jumped in front of and intercepted freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea and kick-started a string of four-straight turnovers from his defense.
Maryland football trailed by a touchdown one quarter in as its defense allowed two quick scores. For the second straight week, its defense stymied the opposing offense over the final 45 minutes and held the Cavaliers scoreless.
“Coach [Michael Locksley] just sent a message to get back on track,” Still said. “We can’t really keep starting slow. We’ve gotta stop Terps beating Terps, that’s what it really is. Guys knew that, guys dialed into their job and then guys went out there to finish.”
The Terps fell victim to trickery on Virginia’s first offensive snap of the game. A flea-flicker between Colandrea and Perris Jones allowed Washington to race past Maryland’s secondary 45 yards downfield.
Charlotte started the exact same way in the Terps’ second game of the season. Jalon Jones connected with Jairus Mack to gash Maryland’s secondary for a 48-yard touchdown strike on the 49ers’ first pass last week.
Colandrea then completed four passes on the Cavaliers’ next drive, capped off with a 19-yard connection to a wide open Kobe Pace on a wheel route. Virginia’s signal caller led a fast-paced offense the Terps failed to match up with and was a perfect 5-5 for 109 yards through two possessions.
That’s all Brian Williams’ defense allowed.
“Really it was just tightening up on coverage, being more aggressive, knowing your job, and then communicating,” Still said on what the defense did differently in the second half. “… And showing [Colandrea] different looks.”
Colandrea completed fewer than 54 percent of his passes for just 155 yards the rest of the way. Still’s first interception began a streak of four straight Virginia possessions ending in turnovers — three picks and a fumble.
Still was the beneficiary of two of those mistakes. His second interception came when he mirrored a receiver down the left sideline to be in perfect position to secure a Colandrea attempt. And both times, Maryland struck for seven points on its ensuing drive.
Between Still’s takeaways was a Donnell Brown interception. The defensive lineman dropped late into coverage, leaped to deflect a Colandrea pass, batted the football up to himself and came down with his second pick of the season. Antwain Littleton II crossed the goal line three plays later. The Terps have scored five touchdowns off their six turnovers on the season and have outscored their opposition 47-6 in second halves.
“It’s complimentary football,” Jeshaun Jones said. “They give us the ball back, and it’s our job to go put it in the end zone.”
The Terps’ defense excelled following intermission for the second-straight contest. They failed to allow a Cavaliers score, a week after their lone second-half blemish against Charlotte occurred with the game already put away.
“One of the things they’ve shown … is they make the adjustments in the second half,” Locksley said.
Among the 11 drives Maryland’s defense have faced during the third and fourth quarters over the past two weeks — removing Virginia’s final possession that featured just two plays before the clock expired — the Terps have tallied six takeaways, forced four punts and allowed just one touchdown.
“I gotta give our defensive staff credit,” Locksley said. “They get it corrected, they get those things adjusted out, and they settle in and we start playing good sound team defense.”