Jo Jo Walker sat in front of a television last November with a chance to watch his Maryland teammates play in prime time, before a national audience, against a ranked opponent. The wide receiver was sidelined because of a concussion, so he had traveled to teammate Drew Weatherly's Delaware home, eager to see the Terps face Virginia Tech on a Thursday night.
And then the game started.
"They just ran through us," Walker said. "It was like I didn't know the people that were playing."
Indeed, what eventually turned into a 55-6 rout in Blacksburg was a performance unlike any Maryland had delivered in Coach Ralph Friedgen's tenure. It was a game Maryland needed to win to sustain its hopes of going to a fourth straight postseason bowl; instead it turned into by far the worst loss of the Friedgen era.
Which is why, with Maryland preparing to face the No. 3 Hokies before a national audience again this Thursday night, players from both teams have been thinking about last year's result.
"Obviously, there's a little bit of a special place in the back of our minds for these guys," Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach said.
"You look at what we did to them in Blacksburg last year, and I'm sure they'll come out with a chip on their shoulders," Virginia Tech running back Mike Imoh said. "If it was me on the other side of the sticks, I know I couldn't wait to get back at that team."
The Terps' deficit after the opening quarter a year ago, 18 points, was greater than the final margin of any of their other losses. Their halftime deficit, 38 points, was greater than the final margin of any other loss in the Friedgen era.
"That's your pride, that's your ego," Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said yesterday. "If that doesn't get the hair on the back of your neck up, then you've got Kool-Aid floating in your veins."
Virtually everything imaginable went wrong for the Terps in that contest. They made four turnovers and committed eight penalties -- before halftime. Quarterback Joel Statham was benched. Another quarterback, Jordan Steffy, was knocked unconscious. Statham returned, and was benched again. Friedgen cursed during a televised halftime interview, and then immediately apologized during an emotional postgame news conference. And the players traveled home in near-silence.
"That kind of game, you don't say anything," said Hollenbach, who received the first extensive playing time of his career once the game had gotten out of hand. "There's nothing you can say after that."
Of course, in a way, that loss may have contributed to Maryland's early successes this year. Hollenbach showed enough poise against the Hokies' reserves in the fourth quarter that he was named the starter for Maryland's finale the following week. Since then, the Terps have won five of seven games, and Hollenbach is now the ACC's third-rated passer.
And despite last year's disappointment, Friedgen remains enamored with the idea of playing Thursday nights, saying it can appeal to recruits and raise the university's profile. Maryland has scheduled at least one Thursday night game in each of his five seasons.
"It's important that you play well, though," he said.
"No one likes to have a poor performance with the nation watching."
One more reason that the mention of last year's loss still elicits grimaces from his players.
"Bad memories, that's all I've got," linebacker David Holloway said. "The best way to get rid of bad memories is winning."
Terrapins Note: After missing last week's Temple game with a leg injury, senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has returned to limited practice and left no doubt that he would play against Virginia Tech.
"I may not be 100 [percent], I may be 99, but that's a big game for us," he said.
"It's just a big game that I've got to be a part of."
Nose tackle Dre Moore, who missed the Temple game with a sprained ankle, is practicing and fully healed, according to Friedgen.
Staff writer Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.