Nate Collins had nine tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, and a game-changing interception return for a touchdown against Maryland.
COLLEGE PARK – In the mud, on the road, and behind on the scoreboard, the Cavaliers had the odds stacked against them in the second half against a Maryland team desperate for a win. But, thanks in large part to some fine plays by a few Virginia seniors, “Grohtober” continued.
With senior Rashawn Jackson carrying the load on offense and seniors Darren Childs and Nate Collins teaming up to make the play of the season on defense, an overall sloppy game for both teams ended in a 20-9 Virginia victory over rival Maryland.
“That was a magnificent effort from our players to deal with everything that we encountered today,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “We had a target for what the mission was. They took that aim on the target – they weren’t gonna be distracted by anything. As a result, they did something they can be very proud of.”
With a persistent rain that lasted for the game’s duration, both teams had difficulties moving the chains, and neither team could punch the ball into the end zone as the score stood at 9-3 in Maryland’s favor through nearly three quarters. But, with just more than two minutes to play in the third, the Cavalier defense came through with its first non-offensive touchdown of the season, a game-changer that Groh has clamored for since training camp. On second down at the Maryland 38-yard line, quarterback Chris Turner had his pass deflected by the rushing Childs, and the ball fell into the hands of Collins. The 6’2″, 290-pound defensive end mustered all the speed in his system for a 32-yard touchdown return, as even a pursuing Maryland wide receiver was unable to catch him.
“I saw green and just took off running,” Collins said. “Thank God it wasn’t more yards than it was, because I probably would have gotten caught.”
“I just got the tip, and he got the pick,” Childs said. “[Collins] is faster than I thought he was.”
Jameel Sewell went down with an ankle sprain late in the third quarter, but said that he would be fine in postgame interviews.
Even with QB Jameel Sewell out with a right ankle sprain – “I’m fine,” Sewell said with a single crutch and ice on his ankle at game’s end – Virginia was able to run time off the clock while giving repeated carries to Jackson. With usual starting running back Mikell Simpson unavailable due to a neck injury sustained a week ago, Jackson either ran or caught a pass on every snap in the fourth quarter except for two QB kneels at game’s end. With the Terrapins keying on him, Jackson picked up 43 total yards and his first career rushing touchdown on 10 plays. He finished with 90 yards on 19 carries, both career highs.
“When it came down there at the end, we had no plan other than to keep giving it to the guy [Jackson] who had proven that he was up to it tonight,” Groh said. “He did a terrific job for us.”
“Our offensive line played wonderful – they had their blocks,” Jackson said. “They pretty much made my running easy for me.”
Maryland, though, had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board on its fourth quarter drives. Thanks to a couple clutch Virginia tackles and some Terp mishaps, including two missed field goals, the Cavs remained unscathed. On 2nd-and-4 on the Virginia 20-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, Chris Turner hit Maryland’s most dynamic player, wide receiver Torrey Smith, on a screen. Corner Ras-I Dowling was blocked off his man, but safety Rodney McLeod recovered to wrap up Smith at the line of scrimmage for no gain, saving at least a first down and possibly a touchdown. Turner’s third-down pass then fell incomplete, and kicker Nick Ferrara’s 37-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
Maryland’s next drive was even more promising, but ended the same way. On 2nd-and-9 from the Terrapin 30, Smith again hauled in a pass from Turner near the sideline, and again little stood between Smith and the end zone. Outisde Linebacker Denzel Burrell , however, grabbed Smith from behind to hold him to a 17-yard pick-up.
The Terps continued driving, though, as Turner later found Smith for another 17 yards to the Virginia 18. But then, Maryland simply fell apart. On the next play, center Phil Costa’s snap barely got off the ground, and the ball scooted past Turner’s left foot before he fell on it for a 9-yard loss. Two plays later, Maryland could have salvaged the error on 3rd-and-18; Turner lofted a perfect pass to an open Kerry Boykins on a crossing route beyond the first-down marker, but Boykins could not hang on. On fourth down, Ferrara then missed his second consecutive field goal, this time coming up well short from 44 yards out.
Rashawn Jackson scored his first career rushing touchdown in the win.
“The rain puts the ball down a little bit, makes it a little heavier in the air,” UVa kicker Robert Randolph said. “And there was a little wind going towards the open side of the field – back towards the locker room. So when he tried a long field goal towards the closed end, I knew the wind would be there.”
After Jackson and company ran off three minutes on Virginia’s next possession, Maryland had a final chance, driving from its own 9. On third down, though, Collins broke through the Terrapin O-Line, and brought down Turner for a loss of seven. Turner’s pass fell incomplete on 4th-and-17, and Jackson punched in his touchdown from the 2-yard line on the Cavaliers’ next play.
Collins had a career game, finishing with nine tackles – including the sack and two tackles for a loss – and the critical pick-six.
“When it comes down to it, [Groh] just always tells us, you’ve just got to do your job,” Collins said. “Be at the right place at the right time, and when you have the opportunity to make plays, you do it.”
Prior to Collins’ pick, both offenses had trouble moving the chains. Maryland, in particular, had difficulties with the weather conditions, as it fumbled three times in the first half, losing two of them. The Cavaliers can be partially credited with the turnovers, however, as big hits from linebacker Steve Greer and safety Rodney McLeod forced the two fumbles that Virginia recovered. One of those turnovers came in Cavalier territory, while the other occurred in Maryland territory and led to a Virginia field goal.
“We went into the game with a big emphasis on [turnovers] had the sun been shining,” Groh said. “But, we did emphasize that perhaps the elements might increase our opportunities to [force turnovers]. The guys were on it.”
Virginia, meanwhile, had all kinds of trouble blocking for Sewell early on, as he was sacked five times in the first 35 minutes. The poor pass protection led to an inefficient offense whose only three points in that span came off a Maryland fumble.
A fortunate 28-yard pass play in the third quarter, though, seemed to jumpstart the offense. Sewell floated a jump ball to wide receiver Kris Burd in double coverage and the ball was nearly intercepted by a Maryland defensive back. Somehow, though, the ball slipped through and landed in Burd’s hands as he lay on his back just inbounds at the Terrapin 41. Jackson then got going, rushing three times for five-plus yards, before kicker Randolph knocked in a 31 yard-field goal – his ninth straight to start the season – to cut the Maryland margin to 9-6.
From there, Collins’ interception and Jackson’s efficient running allowed Virginia to pick up its 12th win in its last 13 October games.
“A lot of years, we’ve been a developmental team,” Groh said. “We’ve had some guys that just needed to play, and needed to practice, and needed to come on, and were willing to do it. Plus, as I said earlier this week, I’m German, and it’s Octoberfest.”
In other words, as has been a pattern in the Groh era, the Hoos started slow this season, but remained resilient and found an identity that helped turn the season in the right direction – in this case, they’ve turned the tides to an undefeated record in ACC play so far.
“I have nothing but the highest admiration for what these kids gave tonight,” Groh said. “How they’ve stuck together, and been unified, and kept believing, and worked. As a result, we’ve got a little something going now.”