Monday, October 06, 2008

Virginia, really?

Just when you thought it was safe to start believing in this enigmatic group they come up with a debacle of historic proportions. It is true that Maryland has been shut out by Virginia recently (16-0 in 2004) and has lost by 30+ points in the not to distant past (48-13 in 2003) but those losses don't measure up to this catastrophe in sheer magnitude of embarrassment. The 2004 Virginia team was vastly superior and to keep the score that close was a testament to the valiant efforts the defense put forth week after week as the Joel Statham lead offense floundered. In 2003 wide receiver Scooter Monroe dropped a sure touchdown pass that turned the game from a probable Maryland victory into a Virginia rout. 

Don't be fooled into thinking this Virginia team is good. They are not. Every team, not matter how bad, usually has one heroic effort in it for a season (witness Maryland's win over UNC in basketball last year) and Saturday was Virginia's night. This is the same team that got embarrassed by Duke and Connecticut. The team that scored a season high 16 points against Richmond prior to the 31 point explosion against Chris Cosh and his defense. Virginia's offense was setting season high marks in almost every offensive category by halftime. It helped Virginia that Cedric Peerman and Kevin Ogletree both looked about as healthy as ever, as I suspected Groh was pulling some vintage Parcellsian deception with their health status before the game, but Virginia probably won't come close to matching the 26 first downs or 427 total yards they posted against the Terps for the rest of the year.

Maryland offense wasn't much better against the same defense that got lambasted by Connecticut and Duke. Chris Turner didn't look all that sharp and I have a suspicion that Darrius Heyward-Bey was benched in the 2nd half because his effort on a couple of plays was shockingly bad. The real concern though is the running game which has all but evaporated. Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett are not healthy right now but this offensive line hasn't been able to open any holes the last two weeks. As I have mentioned before I think this group, along with the linebackers, is as overrated as any Maryland has had in the Ralph Friedgen era. Scott Burley had a village idiot moment when he got a late hit personal foul call but that wasn't his only penalty of the night. The entire team let Virginia's players get under their skin as you could tell the taunting and trash talking between the teams was at a fever pitch. Unfortunately for Maryland they, and not the young Virginia squad, were the group that lost their poise.

The running game is the engine for this offense. It allows Chris Turner to go deep to Maryland's receivers and keeps the shaky defense on the sideline. Without it Maryland is a profoundly mediocre bunch. Fridgen has tried to shuffle in Bruce Campbell but the dynamic is fairly set for this offensive line group and they seem unable to pass and run block effectively in the same game. Getting Scott and Meggett healthy would be a help but I don't see this group improving much as the opponents can put out legitimate Division I-A players from here on out.

The linebackers don't get much help from the defensive line. There isn't much point in criticizing the linemen as this group is providing all you could expect from two walk-on players and a overachieving but physically limited veteran. The linebackers biting on almost every play action fake has become almost comical. The lack of recognition is one reason Clemson had success running cut back plays and Virginia's Mark Verica looked like Joe Freaking Montana in picking apart Maryland's pass defense. It doesn't help that Cosh wouldn't or couldn't pressure an inexperienced QB with blitzes or confuse him with some unusual coverages. You could see Verica gaining confidence on each completion till it got to the point that Cosh missed his chance to rattle the young QB and force some mistakes. Cosh's defenses are reactive and it will always be that way until someone wakes up and realizes he is a recruiter and position coach and nothing more.

I for one am getting tired of hearing about injuries from Ralph Friedgen. Every year when Maryland struggles Friedgen will lament that his team is banged up or hobbled by assorted injuries. Every team in the ACC has injuries. North Carolina lost their starting quarterback and likely All-ACC candidate T.J. Yates and still beat Miami and Rutgers on the road. All the excuses are getting a little worn out. If you don't have depth it is because you didn't develop or recruit for it. It isn't the work of lady fortune or a cruel twists of fate that you can't recruit or develop offensive or defensive linemen so that when your starters go down or are ineffective you have a legitimate alternative.

At least now this group can realize the Clemson win was a fluke and they are not bound for the ACC title game. I still think a decent season is possible, they only need two wins to be bowl eligible, but this team is not a championship level squad. From players to coaching staff something is missing in both effort and ability. A solid well coached team like Wake Forest or Virginia Tech would have gone into Charlottesville and dominated Virginia as you would expect them to do. Going into this game it seems clear that Maryland felt it was a much better team than is really was and whether that is complacency or inconsistency probably makes little difference. Sometimes a fear of losing is a more powerful motivator but I don't get the sense that the group really cares as much about proving anything to anyone. If they did they would have prepared and been ready for Middle Tennessee State and Virginia. Maryland may have been ranked had they won against UVA but now the rest of the country can forget about Maryland for the rest of the season. This loss made the Terps irrelevant again.

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