Column by Chris Graham
Duke 31, UVa. 3. UVa. 31, Maryland 0. Up is down, cats and dogs are playin’ together, John McCain and Barack Obama are … well, they’re slinging mud. But none of the rest of it makes any sense.
“We took a little step forward here tonight,” Virginia coach Al Groh said after his team’s whitewash over a Maryland team that had just beaten Clemson in Death Valley (!).
Somehow he resisted the urge to tell us all, “I told you so,” in the face of a week of rampant speculation that his tenure in Charlottesville was fast coming to an end – with things getting to the point where columnists including yours truly had moved on from discussing whether or not Groh would be fired to talking openly about who would be at the front of the line among potential successors.
It was a rout from the opening bell, with the Cavs scoring on five of their first seven possessions and the Terrapins never really getting close to putting points on the board on their end.
Which was quite a surprise, given the position that Ralph Friedgen’s team had put itself in with the 20-17 win at Clemson a week earlier. A win over a Virginia team that had entered the game with a 1-3 record and a I-A-worst nine points-per-game scoring average would have taken Maryland to 5-1 and more importantly to 2-0 in the ACC with division rivals Boston College, Clemson and Florida State all having suffered early-season conference losses.
“We’re playing four of the next six at home. It was reiterated daily. Last night I talked about it – that is was our chance,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said after the game. “It’s frustrating. It really is. You guys must think I’m out here trying to throw these games, but I’m trying my hardest to prepare them, to motivate them, but right now it’s frustrating to everyone, the players and the coaches. I don’t think they wanted to play poorly. I don’t think they wanted that at all.”
Friedgen figuratively took his hat off to Groh and the Virginia coaching staff. “I’m sure after losing to Duke that motivated them very much and the fact that we were coming out here really motivated them. I knew that was going to happen. I knew that. I try to think “What more could I have done …” It’s a question of whether they hear you or they want to hear you,” Friedgen said.
But as much as the Fridge knew that Groh was going to get his team back on the right track … it was still a Virginia team that had lost to its three I-A opponents by an average score of 42-7.
“I approached this game as an opportunity to bounce back,” said sophomore quarterback Marc Verica, a fourth-teamer last fall who made his first career home start a memorable one, completing 25 of his 34 pass attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns and scoring a third on the ground on an athletic five-yard third-down scramble in the end zone.
Just as quickly as he darted past the Terrapin defenders on his way to the goal line did Virginia’s season fortunes turn around. Suddenly a team that many diehards – myself included – assumed would have a hard time winning another game looks to have a shot at having some fun this fall. The ‘Hoos play three of their next four at home (East Carolina, North Carolina and Miami) in games that could be considered winnable, as long as it’s the team that beat Maryland 31-0 and not the team that lost to Duke 31-3 that shows up on those particular Saturdays.
But that’s putting the cart before the horse, of course, of course.”Our challenge is to keep moving forward next week and realize this is one phase in the overall development of our team. We have a ways to go with seven games ahead of us,” said Groh, sage that he is.