Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Maryland has its closest thing to a rivalry game Saturday when it travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Will the Terps win their second conference game in a row?
After defeating Wake Forest and thus winning their fifth straight conference opener, Maryland football now plays what some consider the most important game every year for the Terps - against Virginia.
Unlike in basketball, there is no rivalry with Duke or North Carolina, and without a consistent in-state opponent, the Cavaliers are the closest thing Maryland has to a true football rival. It does help that the two have been on relatively similar footing over the past few years, and it is the Terps who have the (slightly) better record heading into this game.
Virginia stands at 2-4, with four straight losses heading into this game (including three blowouts). After a comfortable win over Richmond in the first week, the Cavaliers snuck by Penn State before getting handled easily by Georgia Tech, TCU, and Duke (!). It's worth noting all three of those were on the road, but there is also a home loss to Louisiana Tech in there. It's also worth noting that Duke and Louisiana Tech have each won five games this season, so those two losses aren't as bad as usual.
Virginia has been operating with a mostly pass-led attempt, but that includes a recent switch at quarterback. Michael Rocco was the starter at the beginning of the year, but after eight interceptions against six touchdowns, Alabama transfer Phillip Sims took over last week for the game against Duke, with not much success - he finished 21/42 with 268 yards and two interceptions.
Despite that upheaval, the Hoos are actually 25th in the nation in passing offense, with 294.5 yards per game in the air. That total is helped out by former Maryland target Darius Jennings, who had six receptions for 136 yards against Louisiana Tech and has two other games with five catches. Perry Jones has proven to be an effective receiving option out of the backfield, but we'll talk about that in a second, and E.J. Scott (15 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns) and tight end Jake McGee (17 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns) have also been good.
Virginia has two options at running back, but have only managed around 135 yards per game on the ground. Sophomore Kevin Parks has 76 rushes for 346 yards and three touchdowns, with 15 receptions for 124 yards, while Jones has 76 carries for 295 yards and two scores, with 22 receptions for 221 yards.
With the inconsistencies at quarterback, running back is the position Maryland really has to look out for. Parks and Jones haven't been effective on the ground, but they're both talented options who get involved in both facets of the offense.
On defense, Virginia's main weapon is senior linebacker Steve Greer, who has 55 tackles (six for a loss), and two sacks, all-team highs. Defensive back Anthony Harris has also been productive, with 49 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Other than that, though, they haven't been able to stop much, ranking 100th in the country with 34 points allowed per game.
That's good news for Maryland, who will be without leading rusher Wes Brown as well as wide receiver Kerry Boykins. That means Justus Pickett will likely get the bulk of the carries, and the Terps will have to rely on the playmaking abilities of Stefon Diggs again.
Virginia does have a special teams answer of their own to Diggs - sophomore running back Khalek Shepherd, who has two total touchdowns and has 20 kick returns for 470 yards. With their quarterbacks and ground game both struggling, the Cavaliers might need Shepherd to make a big play in order to get some points on the board.
Prediction: Maryland 31, Virginia 20. Maryland has been fortunate to start out with two relatively poor ACC teams (though it's getting harder to find teams that don't fit that description), and Virginia just doesn't have the offensive firepower to deal with their defensive inadequacies. Stefon Diggs continues to improve and should score two touchdowns, while Justus Pickett and the defense each add one of their own.