All afternoon, Virginia gashed the Maryland football team’s linebacking corps. The Cavs finished with 505 yards, and tight end Jake McGee had a field day with eight catches, 114 yards, one touchdown and four third-down conversions after receptions in the second level. But Virginia owed part of its offensive success on Saturday afternoon to a Maryland linebacking unit that’s suddenly decimated by injury.
Outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, the edge-blitzing specialist, left early in the first quarter and spent the rest of the game with ice on his shoulder. Alex Twine, a special teams guru thrust into a starting role, twice hurt his wrist and also left the game.
“We expect the next man to come in and get pressure just as well,” defensive lineman Darius Kilgo said. “We have a couple young guys of people who were able to fill the shoes. We feel good about that.”
But the worst happened way before kickoff, when outside linebacker Matt Robinson, the player Twine replaced, suffered a rotator cuff injury that will sideline him for an estimated three to four weeks.
Without Robinson, a converted safety, in coverage, Virginia feasted off its tight ends. Little-used Zachary Swanson, not even listed on the two-deep depth chart, caught three passes for 36 yards, and McGee’s four-yard touchdown reception gave Virginia a 14-13 lead in the second quarter.
Robinson has a history of shoulder ailments, but this latest injury appears to be unrelated. His return date, barring any setbacks, could be somewhere around Maryland’s second bye week after it hosts Clemson on Oct. 26. The Terps could get both Robinson and starting cornerback Jeremiah Johnson back when Syracuse comes to College Park on Nov. 9.
>> Two crucial third-down penalties helped extend late Virginia drives. First, with Maryland up 20-16 early late in the third quarter and Virginia backed into a third and three from its 33-yard line, Whitfield jumped offsides. He was picked up by a blocker immediately and ultimately meant nothing to the play, which ended with David Watford’s incomplete pass to McGee. But the penalty breathed new life into the Cavs, who ended the drive with a touchdown that gave them the lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We just got to play good fundamentals and good techniques,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “The offsides, Marucs was trying to get a jump. I think it was probably pretty close. I can’t fault the kid for that kind of effort when he’s going hard like that .Yeah they get the first down out of it, it was going to be an incomplete pass I believe. You don’t like to see it, but he just has to be a little more careful.
Then, on third and 12 with the clock winding down and Virginia driving to set up a potentially game-winning field goal, defensive back A.J. Hendy was flagged for pass interference. Edsall was in no mood to comment on that penalty, which gave Virginia a first down and, had Alec Vozenilek’s 42-yard field goal sailed between the uprights instead of wide right, probably would have cost Maryland the game.
“And A.J.?” Edsall asked. “Next question.”
Then his postgame news conference was over.
>> Maryland made a small personnel change on defense, moving cornerback Will Likely inside on nickel packages and bringing Alvin Hill to the boundary. Hendy had served as Maryland’s nickel cornerback in past games, but Likely is a more dangerous third-down blitzer when he rushes from the slot.
>> Speaking of Likely, he muffed his first punt return of the afternoon, which gave Virginia possession deep in Terps territory and resulted in a field goal. Likely also booted a punt in the season opener against Florida International, but hadn’t lost one until Saturday. Edsall kept sending Likely back for punt returns, however, showing his faith in the true freshman, but Likely only fair-caught the rest or let them bounce.
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