When offensive lineman Justin Gilbert first arrived at Maryland, all he heard was Virginia, Virginia, Virginia. They’re our rivals, he was told.
“It’s not really a long story, like 20 years ago they stole our turtle or something,” the senior said this week. Sans an illustrious history worthy of retelling, it remains a rivalry game, and a bitter one at that for both sides. Virginia and Maryland are ACC crossover opponents, so they’ll continue to square off for years. Saturday will mark the 77th meeting, the most against any one opponent in Terps history. Maryland leads the all-time series, but the Cavaliers have won four of five. The road team, on the other hand, has won five of six.
“You don’t need to get yourself hyped up for Virginia,” Gilbert said. “Up there with the West Virginia game, this is one of the biggest of the year for us. Going down there, making a statement, always want to beat your rivals. That’s probably the biggest focus for us.”
Last season, Virginia marched into Byrd Stadium and destroyed Maryland on its senior day, 31-13, behind 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns from running back Perry Jones. Quarterback Michael Rocco, who has since lost his job to Alabama transfer Philip Sims, threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns. In the brutally honest words of Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, “They beat the hell out of us.”
The Cavaliers outscored the Terps 14-0 in the third quarter and put up 527 total yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run by Jones on the first play from scrimmage. Of course, Maryland boasts a new-look defense, one that ranks seventh nationally in yards allowed per game. U-Va., on the other hand, is reeling from four straight losses but enters with an athletic defense that brings zone pressure and linebacker blitzes off the edge in man coverage.
“You have to be able to execute, and if you do that, you have a chance to stop them or put points on the board,” Coach Randy Edsall said.
Francis is 1-3 in his career against Virginia (including the Cavs’ 31-0 win in 2008, his redshirt season). “And I’m trying to get to 2-3,” he said. One of his career’s greatest wins came in 2010, when the Terps won 46-23 in Charlottesville. Maryland was down 23-21 at the end of three quarters before scoring 21 unanswered points in the final period. In that game, Virginia stayed close thanks to a 16-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal in the first quarter. Because of this, Francis said the Terps are readying themselves for trick plays.
Francis isn’t exactly playing peacemaker in this rivalry anyway. His Terrapins anthem, “Fear the Turtle,” contains the line, “And don’t think that we forgot about Virginia / Actually forget ‘em, not good enough to remember.”
“It was quick to write,” Francis said. “There’s not a lot of words that rhyme with Virginia. You kind of limited yourself at the end.”
Edsall, like he did throughout the week leading up to Maryland’s 31-21 loss at West Virginia, played down the rivalry storyline, especially the notion of avenging a defeat.
“Again, it’s a situation where we are bordering states, we compete for the same kids in the recruiting,” Edsall said. “A lot of the kids know each other. Probably a little bit more meaning to it.”
Of course, there’s one key difference between Maryland and Virginia that sticks out.
“Our students don’t wear ties to game,” Francis said. “We don’t wear ties to games. At Wake Forest they do it, too. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. Most of our students don’t even wear clothes to games. They paint their bodies.”