Maryland had a similar experience here two years ago, when they lost by 35 and Terps Coach Ralph Friedgen blamed himself. He had practiced his players too hard all week.
That was not the case Saturday. The blame for Maryland's 16-0 loss to Virginia rested with players, many of whom, Friedgen said, were "flat" and had "blank stares." The Terps (4-5, 2-4 ACC) have lost games this season because of offensive futility, turnovers or a late-game controversial pass interference call, but never in a passionless fashion, as Friedgen categorized Saturday's game.
Interviews with players from both sides and Friedgen painted a picture of some Maryland players who were emotionally stale yet perhaps still bad-mouthing their opponent late into the game. At least one Maryland player suggested that others needed to play with the same intensity he had displayed.
"It was like the walk of the zombies," Friedgen said. "Nobody was home. We were talking to them, trying to motivate them. Nothing was registering."
The question that resonated afterward among players: How can the team be uninspired against its most bitter rival? "I have to evaluate myself," Friedgen said. "If they can't get up for this game, I don't know what the hell is wrong with me."
Added center Kyle Schmitt: "Yeah, it's tough to imagine, but this season has been a roller coaster. There's been a lot to deal with, not just physically but mentally. It wears on you. . . . There are a lot more tougher things going on in the world than getting up for a football game. But it's tough because we put everything we have into this for 12 months a year. Emotionally ready? I hope everyone was ready, but what can you say?"
On Oct. 30, Maryland scored the most important win of the Friedgen era, beating then-No. 5 Florida State, 20-17. Maryland players had carried over the celebration a little longer than the coaching staff would have liked last week, but Friedgen felt they were prepared. He reduced contact in practice to heal players and kept alive the "We Believe" campaign that proved a motivating factor against the Seminoles.
His message fell on deaf ears. "The next level isn't promised to me," senior defensive lineman Henry Scott said. "I'm trying to play every game like it's my last. I think we need to get a couple more guys on that page and we'll be all right."
Players from both teams exchanged barbs in the media throughout the week. Maryland players did not stop Saturday, even as they trailed late in the game, according to Virginia left guard Brian Barthelmes.
"Maryland tries to make this more of a rivalry than it really is," Barthelmes said. "In the fourth quarter, they were still talking junk. . . . As the other person, you've got to try and be mature and not let that get to you."
Terrapins Notes: Ten Maryland players missed the game because of injuries, including senior kick returner-wide receiver Steve Suter. . . . Quarterback Joel Statham underwent X-rays on his left collarbone at halftime, but no fracture was found, Friedgen said.