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College Football: Cavaliers can’t catch up to Terrapins
BY TAFT COGHILL JR.
CHARLOTTESVILLE—All last week University of Virginia football coach Mike London spoke about how the Cavaliers needed to make improvements on offense, defense and special teams to snap a four-game losing streak.
It took a little more than four minutes for London’s charges to make major miscues in all three areas in their 27–20 Atlantic Coast Conference loss to Maryland Saturday in front of 45,556 in Scott Stadium.
Virginia allowed Maryland freshman Stefon Diggs to return the game-opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Cavaliers’ quarterback Phillip Sims threw an interception on Virginia’s first possession, and the defense subsequently allowed Maryland running back Justus Pickett to weave his way to a 20-yard touchdown reception.
Before the Cavaliers (2–5, 0–3 ACC) could blink, they were trailing 14–0 with 10:26 left in the first quarter en route to their fifth-straight defeat.
“I think it really hurt us big time,” Sims said of the slow start. “You never want to come into a game and spot a team 14 points, and that’s pretty much what we did. Coming back from 14 down, you’ve got to get going fast. I didn’t do a good job of getting going fast enough.”
The Cavaliers’ coaching staff apparently agreed with Sims’ assessment. They benched him in favor of junior Michael Rocco with 6:01 remaining in the game and the Cavaliers trailing 27–13.
Sims said he simply didn’t do his job. The Cavaliers’ goal was to run the ball and create high-percentage passing opportunities. But Sims completed just 13 of 28 passes for 139 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Virginia offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said for the second-straight week the running game delivered (168 yards against the nation’s No. 7 run defense), but the passing game did not.
“[Sims] just didn’t get it done with the completions,” London said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Rocco, who started the first five games of the season before he was replaced by Sims, capped his first drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake McGee.
After the defense stopped the Terrapins (4–2, 2–0), the Cavaliers took possession at Maryland’s 49-yard line with 1:51 remaining.
However, Rocco threw four straight incompletions. On his first attempt, Virginia sophomore running back Khalek Shepherd was open in the middle of the field and possibly could’ve raced to a game-tying score. Rocco said the pass went high because he was trying to see over the Cavaliers’ tall offensive linemen.
“It’s kind of indicative of our season with these plays at the most opportune time not being made,” London said. “It’s one of those things where, with outstretched fingertips, he’d still be running if we made that play.”
The Terrapins made the plays when they needed to. And now they’re two wins shy of bowl eligibility after a two-win 2011 season.
True freshman quarterback Perry Hills passed for 237 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a 6-yard score. The Cavaliers held Maryland to minus-2 rushing yards. But that didn’t matter as Terrapins second-year head coach Randy Edsall left thrilled with a victory in a rival’s stadium.
“When it’s your crossover game and you take a look at how many times each of us has played against each other, it’s significant,” Edsall said of the win. “What’s even more significant is when you are able to come in their house and beat them.”
The Terrapins went ahead 17–0 before the Cavaliers got on the board with Ian Frye’s 20-yard field goal with 6:05 left in the game. Virginia pulled within 17–10 on Sims’ 20-yard pass to wide receiver E.J. Scott.
Virginia defensive lineman Will Hill recovered a Hills fumble on Maryland’s next possession. The Cavaliers took over at the Terrapins’ 31-yard line and eventually made their way to the Terrapins’ 5. But Sims’ pass to McGee on third down fell incomplete and the Cavaliers had to settle for Frye’s 22-yard field goal.
Virginia was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the extra point. The 15 yards proved critical.
Maryland took over at the Cavaliers’ 47-yard line and Hills capped the six-play drive with his touchdown run to give his team a 24–13 advantage with 13:16 left in the game.
It all set the stage for a Virginia comeback attempt that ultimately fell short.
“As you would expect with any team on a streak like this, it’s a pretty down group right now,” Sims said.
“You wouldn’t expect to lose three or four games in a row and be jumping around all happy go-lucky. It’s going to take some time and some corrections to get this turned around.”
The Cavaliers will host Wake Forest next Saturday. Maryland hosts N.C. State the same day.
Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526