Even if Virginia weren’t entering Saturday’s homecoming game against Maryland riding a four-game losing streak, the Cavaliers would be taking the Terrapins seriously. After all, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said this week, former Coach Al Groh instilled in them early and often that Maryland is Virginia’s chief rival aside from Virginia Tech.
As Reynolds tells it, some Maryland players called the Cavaliers “preppy boys wearing ties” back when he was a freshman in 2009. In terms of bulletin-board material, Reynolds said current defensive coordinator Jim Reid always brings up Coach Randy Edsall’s declaration during halftime of a Maryland-Virginia basketball game in March 2011 that “we don’t lose to Virginia.”
Rivalry aside, the Cavaliers seem acutely aware that their current 2-4 record makes this home game paramount if they’re to turn this season around.
“There’s no question this is, right now, the biggest game of our year,” center Luke Bowanko said. “This is our bowl game. We gotta make our move.”
Though things haven’t gone as planned for the Cavaliers in the first half of the regular season, the emphasis this week has been on what’s still in front of them. Coach Mike London has talked about finishing with a 2-1 record in October and moving on from there.
“At this point last year we were 4-2, but now we’re 2-4. But we can’t hang our heads on that,” running back Perry Jones said. “We have to just keep going forward. The season’s not over.”
But Bowanko indicated there is a level of frustration setting in now that things haven’t come together as easily as last season, when the Cavaliers finished 8-4. The atmosphere has changed since Virginia’s last losing season, but Bowanko believes something is off.
“It’s been interesting because last year when we needed a play, we make a play,” he said. “It wasn’t something that you really pushed for and you’re stressed about. You didn’t talk about it. The play just got made. It’s difficult this year. You’re standing there watching and things just aren’t going your way four games in a row. It’s tough, especially after the Penn State game when everything went our way. Maybe we used it all up.”
Coach Mike London doesn’t see it that way. He’s hopeful that Virginia’s offense will rebound from a poor second half at Duke and the defense can create some turnovers in the coming weeks. The Cavaliers have forced just three all year, a big reason why Virginia currently has the worst turnover margin in the country (minus-12).
The challenge facing an improved Maryland team involves slowing down dynamic freshman wide receiver Stefon Diggs and figuring out the Terrapins’ new 3-4 defensive scheme. In Year Two under Edsall, Maryland ranks seventh in the country in total defense.
For Virginia, though, it has become clear that Saturday’s game, combined with a matchup against Wake Forest the following week, will go a long way toward determining just how many wins these Cavaliers end up with.
So on Monday, after the roof of Virginia’s new indoor practice facility caught fire while under construction, London used it as an analogy for his own program. The Cavaliers may be wounded following four straight losses, but “on the inside, the spirit and resolve of our team is in good shape,” London said.
“We’re still optimistic,” Reynolds added. “We’ve still got a lot of faith in our season. I don’t think anyone has given up on anything. We lost four games last year, and unfortunately we lost four games early this year.”