Virginia Shell Shocks Maryland and the ACC: Will it Last?
On a cool night in Charlottesville, Va., fans piled in Scott Stadium with their signs and a noticeable frustration. They were expecting a blowout and the 31-0 final score may have well been their prediction.
As for the actual victor, that was quite a different story.
The Maryland Terrapins entered this ACC rivalry with an incredible amount of momentum. The Terps had knocked out the ACC favorite Clemson 20-17, they had embarrassed the Cal Bears at home and were coming to a place where they had overcome a 20-0 deficit in 2006 to pull out an improbable victory.
Oh yeah, they had also lost in the final seconds at home last year to the Cavaliers and were nearly a two-touchdown favorite against a team that had not scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game this season!
Well boys and girls, that's why they play the game: Virginia did not just stun Maryland for the victory, they beat them in every single phase of the game.
The heroes for Virginia were many, but credit should first be given to Cedric Peerman. The senior running back has been plagued by injury his entire career, but when he is even somewhat healthy, opponents can see just how valuable he is to his team.
Peerman was listed as questionable before the game, but he left little doubt to just how good he is as he ran right through the Terp defense.
Peerman's physicality ignited a much maligned offensive line that finally began to look like a unit worthy of FCS competition. When Peerman went out with his 110 yards, junior Mikell Simpson picked up where he left off with his incredible speed.
Maryland may not have let Simpson go off for over 300 all-purpose yards like last year, but that is only because the other Virginia playmakers had already taken care of business.
Quarterback Marc Verica, in just his third start of his career, had a night to remember. Last week against Duke he fell apart with four interceptions and led Virginia to a humiliating loss.
This night he was unstoppable, finding Kevin Ogletree twice in the air (the first time a 51-yard dart to get the crowd going) and even scampering in for a touchdown.
He was efficient, he was accurate and he did not turn the ball over. Verica did exactly what his team needed him to do, and it could not have come at a better time.
Now that the Pete Lalich fallout has passed, maybe Virginia is better off with a good and talented youngster like Verica behind center. Verica knows the role of being a back-up well; he never got his shot at high school until injuries thrust him in the spotlight.
Verica did not shy away from it, and his stellar play earned him a spot at Virginia. Now his stellar play at Maryland might just earn Virginia a chance to save their season.
The offense was impressive, but the defense also played inspired football. Virginia's young players like Corey Mosley and Cam Johnson proved that they will be future stars for the Orange Crush Defense. However, the biggest names on the Virginia defense were Clint Sintim and Ras-I Dowling.
Both of these leaders held Duke in check last week until they both went out with cramps in the third quarter. By the time they re-entered, that game had been decided. On Saturday, they were not to be denied. Maryland claims two of the top offensive threats in the conference, and Virginia absolutely stuffed them.
Da'Rel Scott only mustered 36 yards on 11 carries, and Darrius Heyward-Bay did not even pick up one reception.
The Terps tried two quarterbacks, and yet their first play over 20 was not until the third quarter, and the ball was immediately coughed up for a turnover.
Maryland can only be left scratching their heads but, amazingly, so is Virginia.
Cavalier fans could only watch and wonder who these people were in the blue jerseys. This was a team that was finishing tackles, making key blocks, and making key plays. Virginia had been one of the worst teams on third down in the country and last night they were 10-of-17. Maryland was just 4-of-13.
Virginia had not thrown for a touchdown all year long. Last night, Verica got two to go along with his 226 yards.
Virginia even went for it on fourth-and-one to try and put the final nail in the coffin.
What? Mr. Conservative, Al Groh, rolling the dice?
Groh has been under unbelievable pressure from everyone, and yet his team was ready to make him look good. Groh said that he and his staff made a concentrated effort on that fourth down conversion to not "overcoach" it. Well maybe that philosophy has extended to the entire game.
Virginia looked like a team having fun. They were playing loose, they were playing together, and they were playing to win. I wonder if maybe the Grohs did finally learn to let the players take ownership and give them some freedom.
Teams can't win if the coaching staff does not believe in them, and for so long it looked like that is exactly what was going on. Mike Groh has led the Virginia offense to be ranked dead last in the country but no one would have known that last night.
I have no idea what this win means for Virginia. Have they turned a corner? Is Maryland just really that inconsistent? Will this win be forgotten the rest of the year?
Virginia has often had trouble standing its own prosperity. However, the schedule does set up well for them. The Cavaliers now stay at home to face an ECU team that has lost two straight. I really do not know what will happen the rest of 2008, but I do know one thing.
For this week, Virginia fans can proudly eat their bowl of Turtle Soup.
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