Virginia Steals the ACC Coastal Lead; Trick or Treat?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Nate Collins #98 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates a safety during the Gator Bowl against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on January 1, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Steal (verb): To take without right or permission.

Now I usually do not condone stealing, but it is a reality in our day and age.  In sports, stealing happens more often than we would like to admit.

For example, look no further than the swampy conditions of College Park as the Virginia Cavaliers took on the Maryland Terrapins.

Virginia was thoroughly dominated most of the game by their rivals in the red and black. 

For nearly two quarters, the Cavaliers could not muster a single first down.  In the first half, Virginia had three rushing yards to their credit.  Their starting quarterback, running back, and defensive tackle were all sidelined by injuries by the conclusion of this contest.

In the entire game, the Cavaliers amassed just over 200 yards of total offense.

Nevertheless, Virginia came away with the victory. 

How did they steal this win from the Terrapins?

The Cavaliers were trailing 9-3 in the middle of the third quarter and had an offense that was completely stymied by the brutal conditions. 

Quarterback Jameel Sewell threw an ill-advised pass on third down into double coverage that bounced off the Terrapin defender and fell into the lap of receiver Kris Burd for Virginia's first first down since five seconds to go in the first quarter.

All of the sudden, a stolen reception completely changed the momentum of the game.  Virginia settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to three and the Cavalier defense took care of the rest.

On Maryland's next possession, the big man, nose tackle Nate Collins, picked off a pass from Chris Turner and ran it in for the game-winning touchdown.

When a big man can get the ball into the end zone, that's grand theft larceny. 

The Cavaliers, who had scored three points in nearly 43 minutes, had scored 10 points in less than 20 seconds.

After that, Virginia's defense continued to hold the Terrapins.  Maryland was able to push the ball down the field, and yet two missed field goals by Terrapin Nick Ferrara kept the Cavaliers in front.

On Maryland's last offensive stand, Nate Collins stepped up again with a big sack near the end zone that was reminiscent of the shot former Cavalier great Chris Long delivered two years ago in College Park.  He had robbed the Terrapins of a chance to win the game.

An incomplete pass later and Virginia was able to walk in for an extra touchdown and the Cavaliers left Maryland victorious for the second time in a row.

Indeed, Virginia fans can only scratch their heads on this one.  The Cavaliers had a porous offensive line, a broken quarterback, a fullback carrying the load, and wide receivers who had trouble holding on the football all day long.

However, they still found a way to win.  The mental resilience for a team left for dead after an 0-3 start is simply miraculous.

Perhaps even more shocking, Virginia is the lone undefeated team in conference play.

That's right, the Cavaliers have a better ACC record than any other team.  Both of these victories came on the road, and in both contests the Virginia defense refused to give up a single touchdown.

Wait, is this really the team that lost 26-14 to William & Mary?

Virginia coach Al Groh has once again made October his month to shine.  The Cavaliers have won an astonishing seven straight games in October, including 12 out of the last 13. 

Now that's what I call stealing time for a man who is trying to escape the pink slip for yet another season.

Despite my reasoning otherwise , Virginia has put themselves in the exact same situation they were in last year by the end of October: in control of their own destiny.

Is it all smoke and mirrors, or have the Cavaliers finally lived up to their potential?

Granted, Virginia still has many stern tests in front of them.  The Cavaliers have a brutal schedule down the stretch, including a big test next week against a red-hot Georgia Tech team that has ACC championship aspirations.

Also, the health of Virginia must be a big concern for fans, as Sewell's back-up Marc Verica looked completely out of sync in the second half when the senior signal-caller went down with what looked like a reaggravated ankle injury.

Maybe crime really doesn't pay.

The Cavaliers have always embraced the Groh philosophy of "next man up."

Injuries are a part of the game, and Groh has consistently said that all you can do is accept it and move on.  Well, that mantra will certainly be put to the test the rest of this season.  

If Sewell and speedy running back Mikell Simpson are going to miss extended time this season, other players are going to have to step up and keep this offense moving.  

Today's hero was Rashawn Jackson.  The fullback ran for 95 yards and a touchdown, certainly the top performance of his career.  What Jackson lacks in pure speed, he makes up for in strength and determination.

With Virginia's defense playing at such a high level, the offense does not need to be perfect.  However, the Cavaliers know they can ill afford to be complacent.  Their team must continue to improve, particularly the offensive line. 

Virginia's joy may be short-lived if they cannot correct some glaring problems, but that is a problem for another day.  Tonight, the Cavaliers can bask in victory and leave worrying for tomorrow. 

Who would have imagined this team would have been in this position just a month ago when Groh appeared out the door before the bye week?

No, Virginia should simply sit back and enjoy this moment for as long as it lasts.

After all, stealing a win may not always be pretty, but it certainly beats the alternative. 


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