October 5, 2008
One coach figured to be daring, the other gun-shy. Both went against type Saturday night, setting the stage for one of the most confounding college football results the commonwealth has ever witnessed.
Virginia 31, Maryland 0.
If you saw this coming, you probably expected Vanderbilt to be 5-0 and Tampa Bay to win the American League East.
Virginia lost at Duke last week, for heaven's sake. By 28!
The Cavaliers had been outscored 128-20 in three games against Division I-A opponents. They ranked last nationally in scoring.
In a word, they were awful.
"After we lost to Duke, everybody was down," tailback Mikell Simpson said. "But we came to practice Sunday and everybody put it behind them."
OK, score one for collective amnesia. But a stone-cold knockout of a squad that won at Clemson last week? Please.
Here's how the decisive punch transpired:
The Cavaliers (2-3, 1-1 ACC) led 14-0 late in the second quarter when linebacker Clint Sintim deflected Chris Turner's third-down pass to put the Terps (4-2, 1-1) in fourth-and-3 at the Virginia 40. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had every reason to be bold.
His Terps were riding a three-game winning streak, two over ranked teams. They needed a spark before intermission, and besides, if they turned the ball over on downs, surely the defense could stuff Virginia's lame offense.
But Friedgen opted to punt, and Vic Hall's fair catch gave the Cavaliers possession at their 12 with 4:12 remaining.
With 1:00 left, they faced fourth-and-inches at their 49.
Convention dictated a punt. Be happy with a two-score lead and head to the locker room.
But if ever a team needed to know its coach believed in them.
"The thought was, 'Don't overcoach this, just give the game to the players,' " Groh said.
In the huddle, left tackle Eugene Monroe jumped up-and-down and head-butted fullback Rashawn Jackson, whose subsequent 2-yard plunge sustained the drive.
"It was so emotional," Monroe said. "Any time you have fourth-and-short, as an offensive lineman you want to go for it and push the defenders out of the way."
Five plays later, all completed passes, Marc Verica — you sure that wasn't Matt Schaub? — lofted the ball to a silly open Kevin Ogletree in the left corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
About a half-hour later, in real time, Friedgen ordered an onside kick to begin the second half. Sorry, Ralph, too late to get cute.
Obi Egekeze darn near whiffed the kick, and Virginia took over at Maryland's 49. The Cavaliers converted with a 32-yard Yannick Reyering field goal.
Virginia led 24-nil. It was over.
Bolstered by the return of tailback Cedric Peerman from a knee injury, Virginia rushed for 201 yards, just 10 fewer than it totaled in the season's first four games combined. After turning the ball over 14 times in those four games, the Cavaliers committed none Saturday.
Reversals don't come any more complete.
"I don't think I've felt this good since (beating) Maryland last year," offensive tackle Will Barker said.
Revived as Virginia's offense was, the defense was just as good. Sintim and Antonio Appleby were stout against the run, and cornerback Ras-I Dowling showed the shut-down ability he flashed last season as a freshman.
Book it: Dowling's a future pro. He suffocated Maryland's best player, Darrius Heyward-Bey, who did not catch a pass, and late in the third quarter he separated Danny Oquendo from his senses with a hit that brought the crowd to its feet.
The announced attendance of 50,727 was nearly 11,000 shy of capacity and more than 14,000 less than the season opener against Southern California. So it goes when you've lost your last two games by a combined 76-13 and folks are wondering if the head coach will survive.
Now the conversation changes. Perhaps briefly. Perhaps permanently.
Given Saturday's result, why bother guessing which?
The nation's worst offense? Not anymore.
A five-game I-A losing streak that dated to November? Snapped.
The humiliation of Duke? Not forgotten but certainly soothed.
The needless dust-up over whether fans could bring signs into the game? Irrelevant on a night when no one could utter a disparaging word.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime