Maryland and Virginia may be a border war, but on the field lately there hasn’t been much of a battle, specifically last year. Maryland played host to the Cavaliers at College Park in the midst of a 4-game losing streak and took a 31-13 drubbing. Led by Perry Jones’ ground game (139 yards) and Michael Rocco’s air attack (307 yards and 2 touchdowns), the Cavaliers put Maryland away after going down 13-7 late in the second. I say late in the second, because seconds later the Cavs went on a two-minute drill down the field and into the end zone for 7 points and a 14-13 lead.
It didn’t help that Rodney McLeod was doing his best Champ Bailey impression by picking off Maryland quarterbacks three times that game. That, apparently, was all they needed to close the Terps out, who got inconsistent efforts from Danny O’Brien (0 touchdowns, 2 picks) and CJ Brown (1 TD, 1 pick) that led to this disaster.
Maryland and Virginia first met up in 1919 (a game the Terps won), and have played their annual game uninterrupted since 1957. The series lead goes to the Maryland Terrapins at 42-32-2, but make no mistake about it–it’s been all Virginia lately. The Cavaliers have gone 15-5 since 1992, though it has to be noted that they’re only 6-5 in the last 11 meetings, which would signify a pretty hotly-contested contests. Problem is, Maryland losses tend to be blowouts, as evidenced by last year…and the 30-to-zippy game in 2009. It’s a problem. Maryland also now has the distinction in this rivalry of sending the Cavaliers to their first bowl game since 2007 last year with that loss in College Park.
You know what, I’m just going to give it to you straight. Calling this a rivalry means not understanding the definition of the word, because there’s not much vitriol involved with this matchup. Do the Terps not like the Cavs? Yes! But then, Terrapin fans don’t like anyone who isn’t related to Maryland. Virginia is a team we play all the time, but it doesn’t mean we in any way shape or form get up more for this game. It has the history of a rivalry, but the campuses aren’t close enough for anything of substance to come about. Maryland students would have to get involved (hint hint).
Virginia 2011 Record: 8-5 (5-3 in the ACC)
Virginia 2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at #20 TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 17 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech
The Cavaliers are good because…
They have one of the more solid running games in the ACC, led by Perry Jones (not the former Baylor basketball star) and Kevin Parks. Combined, the two are like one Tiki Barber, as they rushed for a little over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Jones gets most of the touches for the Cavaliers and averages a very stout 5 yards per carry. Parks, on the other hand, is a bit bigger and gets into the endzone a lot (he had 9 rushing touchdowns last season). Though small in stature at 5’8 each, they are durable and consistently pound defenses.
In the passing game, Virginia has Michael Rocco heading into his junior season. Rocco had his ups and downs last year, throwing only one more touchdown (13) than interceptions (12), while completing 60% of his passes. He is passable at quarterback, but Rocco is hardly the reason that Virginia ends up winning games. In fact, his job may not even be safe if Virginia struggles in the least bit, because the Cavaliers have a secret weapon.
Alabama transfer quarterback Phillip Sims is eligible to play this season, and while he’s second on the depth chart now, that could easily change in the future. Sims was the second ranked (by Rivals) quarterback in the 2010 class coming out of high school. He chose Alabama over Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, and pretty much every major program in the country. When he lost the starting battle last season with AJ McCarron, Sims set his sights on greener pastures with the Cavaliers. Since then, he’s caused quite a stir during training camp and is widely expected to take over at some point. If Sims can fulfill that potential scouts saw in him since high school, then ACC teams should be on notice.
Defensively, they have two senior stud linebackers returning in Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds. Greer finished with 108 tackles on the season, which was good enough for Second-Team All-ACC. Meanwhile, Reynolds finished with 88 stops, making this tandem the top two tacklers on the Cavaliers last season. Reynolds is a converted safety who loves to get physical and is just now learning the intricacies of pass rushing off the edge. He is going to get a lot better and is expected to become a dominant force for them next year.
In the secondary, they have Demetrious Nicholson coming back, who earned Freshman All-American honors for his play at corner. Nicholson finished the year with 60 tackles and 2 interceptions, and his play is one of the few bright spots for Cavs fans to look forward to over the next two seasons.
The Cavaliers will lose to Maryland because…
Three good players does not a good defense make. Sure, they have two good linebackers and a corner returning from last year’s team, but that’s about it. Any time a team loses Cam Johnson and Matt Conrath up front, they are going to get worse. Johnson was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the 49ers (how he fell that far is beyond me), but his impact was tremendous and he leaves some gigantic shoes to fill. There are only four starters returning, anyway, and that is going to mean potential struggles on the defensive side of the ball.
They were 46th in the nation last year in points against at 23.8, which tells you just how impressive the defense really was. Six of their games last year were decided by 7 points or fewer, and that’s a credit to their defense holding up when they needed it most. When you consider that their offense only produced 23.2 points per game last year, I can’t imagine them repeating eight wins again next season.
Speaking of offense, they also lost their star reciever Kris Burd, who was good for 88 receptions and 913 yards last season. That means someone is going to have to step up a lot more, and while I think junior WR Tim Smith can probably do some of that (last year he had 33 receptions for 565 yards), he just is not as explosive. That means relying on their two little backs to catch more balls than last year, where he had 48 receptions for 506 yards. Those are good numbers, but you have to question how long a 5’8 guy can keep getting all of those touches while remaining just as durable.
And Michael Rocco stinks up the joint. I hope he beats out Sims in the quarterback battle if only because I truly don’t want to see what Sims is capable of against Maryland. He has a rocket arm, and Rocco doesn’t have even close to that (his passes look like they’re laced with molasses).
With a shaky offense and a bunch of question marks on defense, that could spell well for the Terrapins and lots of other ACC opponents.