-- Ahmad Brooks knew it. Dennis Haley knew it. Philip Brown knew it. This week in practice, every Virginia defender heard the same message from Coach Al Groh: We need to make more big plays.
Entering Saturday's 16-0 win against Maryland, the 12th-ranked Cavaliers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) had held opponents to 15.7 points per game, but to remain in contention for the conference championship and a BCS bowl bid, they felt they needed more interceptions, fumble recoveries, key stops and sacks -- anything to keep offenses from wearing them down with long drives.
"It wasn't like we were hoping to," Brown said. "It was like we had to."
Brown and his defensive mates got what they wanted against Maryland's foundering offense. Led by a stellar performance by Brooks, a precocious inside linebacker, the Cavaliers created three turnovers after getting only eight in the first seven games. They were 3 for 3 stopping the Terps on fourth down, including twice in the first half with the game still in the balance.
"We weren't forcing the issue, but we knew that was something that we needed to do to win big games," Haley said. "That was big for us. That was a deciding factor in the game."
Brooks grabbed the first two interceptions of his career and dove over the line of scrimmage to stop Joel Statham short on an early fourth-down quarterback sneak at the Virginia 14-yard line. He tied for the team lead with six tackles and even threw in, for good measure, a crowd-pleasing, welcome-to-ACC-football hit after backup quarterback Jordan Steffy scrambled for yardage in the final minutes.
On his first interception, Brooks pushed tight end Vernon Davis off his route and was standing in perfect position at the Virginia 22 when Statham threw into a pack of defenders.
"I was kind of surprised that he threw it into coverage," Brooks said.
His second interception -- the one Groh called "really a terrific play" -- came in the second quarter when Statham looked for Rich Parson deep over the middle. Back in zone coverage, Brooks leaped and snagged the ball over his head, showing the skills that led the Cavaliers to play him at kick returner in the season opener.
Minutes later, Virginia produced its ninth fourth-down stop in 17 attempts this season when reserves Vince Redd and Keenan Carter dropped Josh Allen for a three-yard loss on a screen pass. In the fourth, Tony Franklin created a fumble that Marquis Weeks recovered. Darryl Blackstock led the pass rush with two sacks.
"There were a number of players who took the initiative to be playmakers," Groh said. "There's no guarantee that that's a constant . . . but that will certainly be necessary here as we go down the last three weeks, so hopefully that's a positive sign."
Cavaliers Notes: Senior inside linebacker Rich Bedesem was not at the game after a death in the family this week. Kai Parham moved back into the starting lineup alongside Brooks, leaving Mark Miller, known more for his special teams play, as the backup at both spots.