Cavaliers Slay Terps

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Marc Verica had 226 yards and 2 touchdowns passing against Maryland.

Shortly after Virginia’s disappointing loss at Duke last week, UVa coach Al Groh said “You can’t run for the hills when things are tough.” He was speaking about quarterback Marc Verica ‘s tough outing against the Blue Devils, but he just as easily could have been talking about the whole Virginia program after the team’s 1-3 start featured three blowout losses.

Well for one October night, Verica and the Hoos showed they aren’t headed for the hills just yet.

Behind a sterling effort from Verica, a resurgent running game, and a strong defensive outing, UVa stomped Maryland, 31-0, in front of 50,727 Scott Stadium fans. The victory is Virginia’s most lopsided win since a 48-13 romp against the Terrapins in 2002.

“We took a little step forward here tonight. All four phases had a good evening, offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff. We’ve got a ways to go yet and a lot of things we can improve upon,” Groh said after the win. “Our challenge now is to try to keep moving forward here next week and realize that this is just a phase in the development of our team and we’ve got quite a ways to go yet with seven more games.”

Without question, Saturday’s showing against Maryland was collective effort from the Cavaliers. UVa’s balanced offense piled up 427 offensive yards, the most since producing 439 last season at Maryland. Virginia picked up 226 passing yards to go with 201 rushing yards, calling for 34 passes and 41 runs.

Defensively, Virginia held Maryland to just 302 yards off offense just one week after the Terps put up 486 in a win against Clemson. The visitors averaged less than four yards per play on the night thanks to the efforts of guys like Antonio Appleby (8 tackles), Clint Sintim (7 tackles, including 1 sack), and Vic Hall (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble); five other players had three tackles each, including Ras-I Dowling, who iced the winning cake with a late interception to preserve the shutout.

And it started early.

Virginia’s defense buckled down after a short Maryland drive opened the game, stopping the Terps on third and fourth down inside the Cavalier 40. Virginia’s offense took until its second possession to find similar success, but delivered in a big way with the season’s biggest offensive play.

Kevin Ogletree ‘s long touchdown catch gave the Hoos an early lead and they never let up.

After Cedric Peerman picked up 12 yards on two tone-setting carries, the Cavaliers pulled a play-action pass from the seemingly bare 2008 cupboard. On the play, Verica faked the running play with Peerman, hid the ball perfectly, and then unleashed a 51-yard bomb to Kevin Ogletree behind two Maryland defenders. Ogletree, who matched his career-long with the grab, lunged into the end zone for the touchdown, giving the Hoos their first receiving touchdown of the season and a much-needed boost of confidence.

“Oh yeah, anytime you get a big play like that, which we haven’t had in a long time in the passing game, everybody on the sidelines gets excited and wants to keep going at them,” running back Mikell Simpson said when asked if the play lifted the team. “The defense played a great game and the offense stepped it up and executed all the plays we needed to do.”

“That was certainly energizing for everybody,” Groh said. “As we have discussed, when teams are point producers in any particular game, it’s because it comes from big plays. It’s the rare, unusually gifted team that can drive for 12 plays four or five times in a game and get pretty good point production that way. So you’ve got to get some big plays wherever they come, in the running game or the passing game.”

The play had a similar feel to Ogletree’s 2006 touchdown against the Terrapins in Scott Stadium. Both plays featured Ogletree running free behind the Maryland secondary on a post pattern.

“It’s not the same play as far as the call. I was flanked out on the outside [this time], the one before I was in the slot,” Ogletree said. “But I mean, it’s the same pattern, the post pattern, and it was a great play call in a great situation and we got the right coverage that we wanted and we converted it.”

The offense was far from done. Peerman ground up the Maryland defense with 110 rushing yards on 17 carries, which included a 9-yard touchdown run on a fourth down play in the third quarter. Ogletree joined him in the 100-yard club with 100 yards receiving on 5 receptions, his second 100-yard game of the season. Ogletree also added a second touchdown with a 15-yard catch with 11 seconds to play in the first half. Simpson had a good effort as well in averaging 5.5 yards per carry; he finished with 77 yards on 14 carries.

Of course, the balanced attack was orchestrated by Verica, the quarterback that drew that “you can’t run for the hills” quote from Groh after throwing four interceptions last week at Duke. The sophomore was splendid in just his third start, completing 25 of 34 passes (73.5% completion percentage) for 226 yards and the first two touchdown passes of his young career. He also ran for a 5-yard score in the second quarter.

No tail-tucking, hill-seeking runs from a young man raised Pennsylvania tough this week.

“He had a very, very good game tonight obviously. He was on target from the start,” Groh said. “This was a challenging week as we discussed after the game last week. Some people will say why did we leave him the game [last week] because we said a quarterback can’t run for the hills when things aren’t good. They’re going to have to walk around all week with it. We could see it was wearing on him and it wasn’t an easy week for him. What he was able to do to come out and play with that kind of confidence and energize his team, we hope is a positive sign for what might follow.”

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