Maryland 45, Virginia 33
The Maryland offense hadn't been right for more than a year, and the identity crisis continued early yesterday afternoon. The Terps threw the ball three straight times on their first possession against No. 19 Virginia, failing to get a first down. They lost two turnovers in little more than a quarter. And they quite literally didn't look like themselves, taking the field in black jerseys that had never been used during Coach Ralph Friedgen's tenure.
By the fourth quarter, though, the Terps had popped the cork on an older vintage: 2003, perhaps, or maybe even 2001. Running backs glided through the Cavaliers' defense with ease, luxuriating in wide-open spaces. Third downs flowed naturally into first downs, and trips to the end zone lost their infuriating detours. Lights flashed on the scoreboard, the marching band played again and again, and when the 45-33 victory was completed, there were mobs of joyous fans standing between the Terps and their locker room.
"It felt," Friedgen said, "like old times."
In Friedgen's first three seasons, Maryland scored 30 or more points 24 times in 39 games; yesterday, the Terps did it for the first time in 12 games. With its second straight win, and with struggling Temple on deck, Maryland (3-2, 2-1 ACC) suddenly moved into position to contend for a postseason bowl and possibly more.
Virginia (3-1, 1-1), meantime, must travel to No. 21 Boston College next week and faces No. 6 Florida State a week later. The Cavaliers were without injured starting offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brian Barthelmes, but for the first time this year they had the services of all-ACC linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who left the game after spraining his ankle in the third quarter. But even with Brooks on the field, Virginia had no answer.
After quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw his second interception early in the second quarter -- which Virginia's Chris Cook returned 30 yards for a touchdown -- the Terps' offense turned invincible. Of their next seven meaningful possessions, five resulted in touchdowns, and a sixth yielded a field goal.
The Terps' 45 points -- which included 21 in the fourth quarter alone -- were their most since a romp at Duke last September. Ditto for their 250 rushing yards. And their 33 first downs. And their 570 yards of offense, the most Virginia had given up since 2000.
"You just get this feeling, you don't know what it is," Maryland guard Donnie Woods said. "Every time you touch the ball, you know you can drive down the field."
Which is why the Terps took the field for the game's most important drive looking not to play it safe, but to continue their onslaught. Lance Ball's first career touchdown had given Maryland a 31-26 lead early in the fourth quarter and the defense held; a 48-yard punt then trapped the Terps at their own 6-yard line. And the ensuing 94-yard trek erased virtually every offensive problem that had plagued Maryland in its first three games.
Penalty flags had previously been signals of a Maryland miscue, but here was receiver Jo Jo Walker speeding down the sideline underneath a floating pass, Virginia's Marcus Hamilton diving at his feet with the ball still in flight, a yellow hanky delivering the Terps from the shadow of their end zone.
Third downs had previously been an occasion for Maryland fans to abandon all hope, and the Terps' offense soon faced another: third and 10 from the 50-yard line. But here was Hollenbach sending a short pass to Danny Melendez, who broke a tackle and scurried 15 yards to keep the drive alive. The Terps entered the game with a 23 percent third-down conversion rate, 112th in the nation; yesterday, they converted 7 of 11 chances.
The handoff had previously been a hit-or-miss endeavor. But here was Ball on the very next play, slicing through the middle of the defense as he had all day, and his 35-yard touchdown run -- Maryland's longest run of the year -- gave the Terps their first double-digit lead.
"We came out in the second half saying we could run it on these guys, throw it on these guys, they can't stop us," Ball said. "I believe that we wanted it more."
The final box score was thus littered with career highs. Ball had the best rushing performance of his career by halftime and finished with 163 yards, the most by a Maryland back since 2003. Melendez had nine caches for 125 yards, both career highs. Hollenbach threw for 320 yards -- another career high -- and completed 17 of his last 19 attempts.
Those, too, were numbers from a recent past, when Maryland annually contended for ACC titles. And they had Friedgen promising further flashbacks.
"We're going to win ACC championships, and we're going to win national championships before it's all over," he said. "We're going to be a success here. I promise you that."