If you've been living under a rock for two weeks, like I have wanted to with the state of the football program right now, you might've assumed Virginia would be the easiest game on Maryland's schedule. After all, after their first three games the Cavs were 0-3 with a loss to lowly William & Mary, and were in the hundreds in ranks of at least six major categories: rushing offense, total offense, rushing defense, scoring offense, scoring defense, and turnovers. Free money.
Well, do you remember the post about the defense's surprising turnaround after Clemson? Imagine that type of change, only multiplied by ten and reflected in the entire team. That's exactly what happened to Virginia the past two games. Not too long ago, this was a team that committed seven turnovers against an FCS team and couldn't do anything except stop the pass against teams that didn't pass anyway. Then, they transformed into a squad that handed UNC their lunch in Chapel Hill and demolished an Indiana team that only lost to Michigan by three and kept it respectable against Ohio State. Quite the turnaround.
Indeed, the transformation, both from a statistical and real life viewpoint, is pretty amazing. First three games? 53rd in total defense. Last two? Fourth. First three games? 102nd in scoring defense. Last two? First. It's just as impressive offensively: they went from 117th three weeks ago to 57th in the past two games in total offense, and jumped from 103rd to 36th in the last two weeks in scoring offense. More impressive and important, they actually look good.
The source of this? Maybe it's turnovers. The first three weeks, the Hoos had a total of ten turnovers; that's pretty terrible. Granted, seven of them came against one team, but still, it's a lot. The last two games? Zero turnovers. We Maryland fans have first hand experience of what TOs do to a team, so it's no wonder UVA's looked so good.
Of course, something had to cause the turnaround, and that's players (we know it isn't Al Groh's coaching). Jameel Sewell, after a rough few weeks at QB, started to turn it around against UNC, and he looked downright ACC-starter worthy against Indiana. He has plenty of targets; none of them (Vic Hall, Kris Burd, Tim Smith, Jared Green, Javaris Brown) have really separated themselves as studs, but they've all been at least average or above-average.
They've yet to find a bona fide RB, as Mikell Simpson hasn't yet looked as good as he was in past years, but the running attack has several options, from Simpson and Sewell to fullback Rashawn Jackson and do-everything Vic Hall. Simpson suffered an injury against Indiana and might be out this week, but it's too early to call at the moment. If he is out, expect explosive but untested Torrey Mack to take the field in his place. Regardless of Simpson's status, this is a team that can run just enough to keep a defense honest.
Defensively, they absolutely shut down two respectable teams the past two weeks. They're led by the underrated Steve Greer at linebacker, who's their leader in both tackles and tackles for loss. They also have Ras-I Dowling, who was second team All-ACC last year, and Chris Cook, who has two interceptions, manning the corner spots. Both Dowling and Cook are great at what they do, and beating them through the air may prove difficult.
There'll be more on Friday and a gameday on Saturday, like usual. Right now, I'm not feeling good about this. There's just too much going right for UVA and too much going wrong for Maryland.