COLLEGE PARK, Md - It's hard to believe, but the Maryland football team fell to 2-7 with a 31-13 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers over the weekend. They fell out of bowl contention and the season went from a mere disappointment to unmitigated disaster. Before the game on Saturday, the team could talk themselves into playing for a bowl game even though it would require them to win four straight. Now, that is out of the picture.
As with the team's other losses this year, there are plenty of things that we could have talked about in this one. Eight games into the season and we still don't know who the starting quarterback is or should be. The defense can't seem to stop the run, the pass or anything. Special teams have continually put the squad in a hole to start each possession. The offense can't seem to find their identity and seems to change quarter to quarter. FInally, for the 3,456th time, where is D.J. Adams?
But despite all of those shortcomings, Maryland nearly outplayed Virginia in the first half and could have taken a lead into the break if only they had been able to convert on perhaps their best opportunity of the day.
More than halfway through the second quarter, the Terps led the Cavaliers 10-7 and had moved the ball inside the Virginia two-yard line and were facing first and goal. This was an opportunity to go up by 10 points, keep their momentum going and ensure a halftime lead.
On first down they ran the ball with fullback Tyler Cierski, and he was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The next two plays, both runs by Davin Meggett, had the same result. The Terps were forced to kick a field goal to take a 13-7 lead. It would be the final points they scored that afternoon.
Virginia exploited a missed coverage on the next possession and scored a fairly easy touchdown to take a 14-13 lead into halftime. Before the Terps' drive stalled out, they had scored on their last two possessions and shut down the Virginia offense after a shaky first possession. They had all the momentum. But failing to score a touchdown from the goal line gave all the momentum back to Virginia, and they ran away from the Terps until the final whistle.
"Goal line stands are a big momentum swing," Danny O'Brien said. "But we had our swings too, recovering fumbles, getting the pick, you just have to maximize them. But that was definitely big, not coming up with seven there."
Players were asked after the game whether they would have liked to see Adams, by far the Terps' most accomplished and productive short-yardage back, in the game for those three plays. It certainly seems like the kind of series where you just give him the ball three times in a row and trust that he can get two yards on one of them. Coach Randy Edsall doesn't seem to want to use him, and he must have a reason for that. But if you aren't going to play the players that have the best chance to succeed in certain situations, then this is the type of performance you can expect.
When asked about that series of plays and the effect they might have had on the rest of the game, Edsall refused to play up their importance. He claimed that the team came away with three points, and any time you can score that is a successful possession. Considering those were the final points the team would score that afternoon, maximizing that possession, like C.J. Brown said, was crucial.
"Any time you get stopped on fourth and one, fourth and inches at the goal line, momentum is going to shift," Brown said. "That was definitely a turning point in the game."
There were a lot of mistakes made on Saturday that enabled the Virginia Cavaliers to win the game, but the biggest turning point washave been a mistake or a missed play. Instead, it was the inability to rush the ball for two yards on three carries.
Whether it be the personnel that was in the game, the plays that were called or simply a lack of execution, the game turned around on these three plays.