October 9, 2013

Terps refocus and gear up for Cavs -- one more time

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The result was absolutely horrible but the reaction since has been good.

Maryland's 63-0 loss at Florida State wasn't any fun for the Terrapins but lessons have been learned, video has been watched and it's back to business on the next game - always the most important topic for the Terrapins.

"I've been on really good teams and really bad teams, and whenever guys take losses hard that's a really good sign," said defensive end Zeke Riser. "If no one cares about losing, especially the way we did, that's when you have a problem. (The Florida State) game meant a lot to a lot of guys so we're definitely looking forward to Virginia."

And Virginia (2-3 overall, 0-1 ACC), after losing two in a row and three of the last four games, is certainly looking forward to a Maryland team that again, no one knows what to make of heading into the Terrapins' second ACC game Saturday at 3:30 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.

And that uncertainty isn't just because of the Terrapins toppling from the Top 25 with their worst loss in 20 years but because Maryland (4-1, 0-1) may be without quarterback C.J. Brown, the catalyst of so much good so far this season.

Coach Randy Edsall, per his policy on such matters, wouldn't comment on Brown's concussion and his status prior to release of the ACC-mandated injury report, "On Thursday I will put out an injury report just like I do every Thursday for an ACC game that we will have," he did say. "We don't talk about injuries during the week. All of the decisions that we make are after practice on Thursday. We get through the week and see how everybody practices."

Brown left the FSU game after a big hit in the second quarter Saturday, and was replaced by sophomore Caleb Rowe, who had seen only mop-up duty this year prior to Brown's injury. Rowe did get in last year and almost pulled out a win over NC State, and then acquitted himself well in a start at Boston College before he became the fourth Maryland quarterback to succumb to a season-ending injury.

"He's got confidence," said junior center Sal Conaboy of Rowe. "He threw that first pass out there and you could tell he had confidence and swagger. He came up to us on the sideline and said, 'Don't worry about me, I got this."

Rowe completed nine of 17 for 119 yards, and held his own as the ship continued to sink. If Brown can't go, Rowe's confidence and his strong arm will serve him well against Virginia. He's not a read-option threat in the Brown mold and the Terrapin running game, ground to a halt last week (33 yards on 25 carries) has to regain its stride somehow.

"We're really looking forward to getting after it this week," said Conaboy. "And being physical. This is going to be a really physical game."

This has been a historically smash-mouth series, as you'd expect from often-heated, border rivals. Perhaps the best indication is a stat that the Cavaliers have tracked over the years - they are 23-9 against Maryland when rushing for 150-or-more yards.

That stat didn't hold up last year. Virginia ran for 168 yards and lost, a lot because Stefon Diggs took the opening kickoff back for a score to jumpstart the Terps, and then Perry Hills made enough plays in the passing game for Maryland to win with negative rushing yardage.

Don't count on that happening again. Virginia's best chance to knock off the Terps this time is to control the ball on the ground because their passing attack with first-year fulltime starter David Watford under center has been the ACC's worst. And despite Maryland's woeful defensive performance last week, the Terps have been able to pressure passers and produce turnovers - a worst-case scenario for the conservative Cavs, who are already minus-8 in turnover margin on the season.

For Maryland's defense, it all starts with taking away that Virginia running game. "They're really big up front and they've got a really strong running game like they've had in the past," said Riser, who saw his first action last week. "We really have to stop the run like we have to do every week. That's what we're basing everything on this week."

"They ran the ball really well against Ball State (last week), had over 240 yards," said Edsall. "(Tailback) Kevin Parks is very quick, does a really good job in terms of finding the hole. (Backup) Khalek Shepherd is also a really good back. Watford is a good quarterback. They run things out of the pistol and they'll run some of the zone-read things, as well."

The Cavs go 6-6, 325 (LT Morgan Moses), 6-6, 300 (LG Luke Bowanko), 6-4, 290 (C Ross Burbank), 6-6, 300 (RG Jay Whitmire) and 6-5, 280 (RT Eric Smith, who they must call "Tiny") up front. It should be a physical war in the trenches. On the Maryland offensive side, too, where Conaboy says the Terrapin line is still a little miffed over what happened to their quarterback last week.

That hit, the ACC ruled Tuesday was not in violation of targeting rules but should been whistled as a roughing the passer penalty.

Historically, these two combatants have rarely needed much extra incentive. Virginia is Maryland's oldest rival, the two teams heading for their 78th meeting in a series that began in 1919 two days after the conclusion of the "Black Sox" World Series. The two teams have tangled for 57 consecutive years but with Maryland moving to the Big Ten next year, this is likely the final meeting for a long time. The series stands at 43-32-2, Terps.

"Virginia is a rivalry game and we don't like Virginia," said Maryland senior guard De'Onte Arnett. "That's not a team we befriend or anything like that. We're definitely looking to win this game. Being the last time is something special but we always look to beat Virginia."

Maryland's 27-20 win last year in Charlottesville avenged a 31-13 home loss the year before in Edsall's first season. Ralph Friedgen, who never missed a chance to needle his southern rivals, had beaten Virginia 42-23 the previous year to snap a painful three-game losing streak, and in fact, the Cavaliers bring a three-game winning streak in College Park to this game.

Friedgen fanned the flames in the rivalry he once played in and there was open animosity between his coaching staff and that of Al Groh's. It carried over to the players, too, many of whom played with and against each other in high school on both sides of the Potomac.

Virginia has 15 players from the state of Maryland, and Maryland has six players from Virginia - DBs Dexter McDougle of Falmouth and Rashid Conteh of Alexandria; linebackers Bradley Johnson of Dinwiddie and Avery Thompson of Chesapeake; defensive lineman Alex Walker of McLean, and offensive lineman Dylan O'Connor of Purcellville.

The rhetoric has been tamped down recently but make no mistake; these two teams don't like each other.

"It's always been said they think they're better than us," said Arnett. "They have the Lawn and all that hoopla, and they have Thomas Jefferson (building) their school and that's all fine and dandy but at the end of the day I mean we're here at Maryland and the school (here) overall has become one of the top institutions worldwide. You can just tell by talking to somebody from Virginia that they think they're a little bit better and that's not the case."

But what the Cavaliers are this season is growingly desperate to reverse some ill fortune so far. And that makes them dangerous. They have three straight home games after this trip to Maryland so there's a chance for Mike London's team to build some momentum down the stretch and quiet the increasingly vocal critics.

Maryland, meanwhile, hadn't had much criticism recently before the trip to Tallahassee and that may have contributed to their downfall, according to Arnett. "As Coach would say, guys were drinking the Kool-Aid a little bit, hearing about all the rankings and stuff like that. You kind of lose focus. I try my best to not pay attention to all that. It was definitely a wake-up experience."

But it seems more and more at this juncture in the week that the Terrapin have awoke without Brown to play quarterback. To a man, the Terrapins expressed faith in Rowe but Brown was laying out a pretty compelling argument as perhaps the ACC's most valuable player through the first four games.

"I have trust in Caleb Rowe that he can get the job done," said linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. "I've seen in practice that he can make the throws that C.J., makes. He can definitely come in and do the job."

And if Brown is down, this is not unfamiliar territory for the Terrapins who won four games last year early without their quarterback before the whole situation deteriorated to starting a freshman linebacker under center late in the year.

Cudjoe-Virgil, who like much of the Terrapin front seven this year has made a living out of getting up close and personal with quarterbacks, likes Rowe's game. "He definitely keeps his eyes downfield. He has an arm and he can definitely get the ball downfield."

That Terrapin front seven got a boost from a healthier Andre Monroe, who had three tackles for loss at FSU, and from the return of Riser from a foot injury. Coaches have moved Monroe inside and further strengthened the front.

"I thought Andre played a really good game last week," said Edsall. "It's good to see him healthy. That move kind of coincided with getting Zeke back into the fold. We played Andre inside there because he has good quickness, strength and plays with leverage. Having Zeke come back, we just felt that putting Zeke behind Keith (Bowers) and putting Andre inside puts our best guys on the field because of how many defensive linemen we play."

The Terrapins' depth on the defensive line is a key as Virginia hopes to wear down foes with the Cavaliers' size and power running game. Then they can let Watford pass off play-fakes and make things happen downfield.

Quite simply, it's all hands on deck this week as Maryland tries to bounce back from the tumult in Tallahassee. The players feel they already have. "Guys were saying Sunday, 'We have to move past this, it's a new week,'" said Conaboy. "That really carried onto the practice field. Guys got after other guys. It was a good session. Everybody knew they had to work. I don't know if everyone was getting their anger out or what but it was really good."

So, could the worst lost for Maryland in a generation end up having a positive affect? Too soon to tell this week but so far the reaction of a team that hasn't had many breaks in recent years looks pretty positive in the face of more adversity.

"Nobody likes being doubted but at the end of the day, being doubted gives you a motivation to prove people wrong.," said Arnett.

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