Things didn't bode well for the ACC's last-ranked rushing defense (234.7 ypg) right from the get-go, as junior running back Perry Jones took the first play from scrimmage 46 yards into the end zone, putting the Terps in a quick 7-0 hole.
By halftime, Jones, who came into the day averaging 80.4 ypg, had already rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on ten carries. The Cavaliers, who came into Saturday's contest ranked third in the ACC in rushing offense (186.4 ypg), rushed for 220 yards in the win.
It was like here we go again, said Edsall in a post-game conference. From what I saw I think we missed tackles. And we work on tackling. So it is disappointing when you start off like that. It does get frustrating.
The Terps mixed things up under center Saturday, opting to start the game with the experienced Danny O'Brien at quarterback but utilizing the two-quarterback system throughout the game by bringing in the sure-footed C.J. Brown for the occasional drive. However, as the deficit grew, the quarterback seemed to change with each possession as the coaching staff desperately searched to find some consistency.
I don't think switching quarterbacks adversely affected us, said Edsall. It was our plan to put in C.J. (Brown) in the second quarter We had some things that happened, and as the game went along we decided to play the guys that we played.
After an unproductive first quarter in which the Terps offense only mustered a 24-yad Nick Ferrara field goal, failing to register a passing touchdown for the seventh straight game, Brown entered the game early in the second after junior defensive lineman Joe Vellano's forced fumble halted a Virginia drive at the Terps' 20-yard line.
On Brown's first play under center, senior running back Davin Meggett, one of the 15 seniors playing in their last game at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, broke a 42-yard run into Virginia territory. A 25-yard dash by Brown set up a quick 13-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Devonte Campbell to put the Terps up 10-7.
Another huge stop by Vellano on 4th&1 near midfield gave the Terps prime field position, with O'Brien coming back in. A few big completions to senior wide receiver Quintin McCree, who has been less than sure-handed this season, brought the offense to the Cavaliers' 2-yard line with a first and goal. Yet, three straight stops by the second-ranked red zone defense in the conference forced the Terps to settle for a 20-yard Ferrara field goal as boos rained down from the stands.
The field goal, which came at the 2:49 mark in the second quarter, would be the last time the floundering Terps' offense scored all afternoon.
The Cavaliers took advantage of their opponents' missed opportunity, driving 58 yards down the field and scoring on a 35-yard Michael Rocco pass to a wide-open Kevin Park with 1:28 remaining in the half.
Rocco went back to work in the second half, engineering a 95-yard drive, capped off by a Perry Jones 1-yard touchdown run on a 4th & Goal. After a Rodney McLeod interception on a questionable Danny O'Brien pass, Rocco again marched his team down the field, this time capping the drive off with a 17-yard touchdown toss to senior fullback Max Milien.
Although the Terps' defense was effective in largely limiting the explosive running attack of Jones in the second half (held to 45 second half yards), they had no answer for the sophomore quarterback. Rocco was stellar on the day, completing 23 of 35 passes for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns, ripping apart the Maryland secondary who came into the game Saturday allowing 202.5 ypg through the air.
The two-quarterback system was anything but potent on Saturday. C.J. Brown only managed 25 yards on two carries, passing for 28 yards and one interception. O'Brien was an uncharacteristic 16 of 36 on the day; passing for 241 yards and two interceptions.
When asked whether or not it was possible for a quarterback to succeed with the constant threat of being pulled looming, O'Brien tried his best to be honest with the media. It's tough but it's gotta be a possibility right, he questioned. I mean, you can't say it's not. When you're in there it's up to you to make plays When I'm not in there I just switch to the other role.
The inconsistency at personnel under center has been rough on other members of the offense as well. It's kind of a different rotation, speed and play calling, so it's difficult but in the end we still have to come out and win, said senior receiver Quintin McCree. McCree was the leading receiver for the Terps on Saturday, hauling in seven receptions for a total of 117 yards.
Both quarterbacks lacked poise in the pocket, often being flushed out by the Cavaliers defensive attack. When they did have time to sit back and scan the field, they were rewarded with countless dropped passes, a problem which has plagued the receiving core all season. Anything within the framework of their body, we expect them to catch it, said Edsall. I don't know what else to do. We do ball drills during practice.
Moving forward, the performances turned in by the two sophomore quarterbacks certainly don't warrant a clear-cut starter in next week's matchup against Notre Dame. Neither Brown nor O'Brien looked commanding under center, each turning in one respectable drive on the afternoon. I think we have two guys who can help us win, but they're two guys with two different skill sets, said Edsall when asked about quarterback decisions moving forward. I would love to just be able to play one guy. But I think the other thing is that the two that we have, there might be times were you might able to do some things with the other one to help you.
One aspect of the game where neither of the two would have been any help was in the 527 total yards allowed by the Terps' defense, a season high in production for the Cavaliers. The worst overall defense in the ACC struggled mightily against Virginia's ability to make big plays, something Edsall touched on after the game. That has been the story of out season, said the Maryland head coach. The big plays against us on defense has hurt us all year long.
Despite the amount of disappointment however, Edsall has remained consistently positive. We aren't going to slog through anything, he stated confidently. We are going to go out there, play hard and work to get better One of our goals is gone from this year (making a bowl game).
But with shades of the dismal 2-9, 2009 campaign becoming increasingly more vivid, it is easy to see the letdown of the season wearing on some of the players.
Here we are, said Danny O'Brien after the loss. I think the worst thing about it was losing this game for the seniors, being their last game in Byrd Stadium. It was really emotional, and on top of that, losing to Virginia. That's the last team you want to lose to, so it was really bad.
This is not a 2-7 team, said senior defensive lineman Maurice Hampton. This is not a 2-10 team. This is a team that's supposed to be winning.
Now sitting at 2-7, the Terps will finish out their final three games away from home, travelling to FedEx Field next Saturday night to take on Notre Dame, who was 5-3 heading into their Saturday night matchup with Wake Forest.