The Maryland Terrapins apparently know how to start games and how to finish them. That stuff in between? Eh, not so much.
Today, though, that much was enough. The Terps outscored the Virginia Cavaliers 27-7 in the opening and closing quarters, leveraging their defense and special teams to compensate for an inconsistent, stop-start offense. And that offense, inconsistent and stop-start though it was, was just opportunistic enough - twice they were handed the ball on the good side of the 50, and they punched it in both times for their only two TDs of the game. Perry Hills' fourth-quarter 6-yard touchdown rush proved to be the game-winning score, sealing the Terrapins' 27-20 victory.
There are a lot of things to dissect here, from Maryland's troubling offensive showing, even in victory, to their still-impressive defense. And we'll get to them in time; today, some, and throughout the week for sure. But one thing stands above the rest: Maryland is 2-0 in ACC play, and 4-2 on the season. No one, except crazy people, had them 2-0 to start the season, much less two games away from bowl eligibility with still half the season left to play.
And yet, here they are. With Boston College - a likely win - still on the schedule, plus winnable contests against N.C. State, Georgia Tech, and UNC on the horizon, postseason play is now likely for Maryland. No, it's not pretty, but who cares about the aesthetics? Wins are wins are wins, and Maryland's darn close to having six of them.
Perhaps the most encouraging take-away from today: the Terrapins were the better-coached teams. Virginia made mistake after mistake, had all kinds of penalties and game management problems. Maryland made mistakes, too, but their errors were out of personnel shortcomings, not mental lapses. And where this especially shone through was when Maryland was at their best: the start and the finish. Last season, we saw Maryland teams come out flat and fade late. They looked out of early, then didn't see to have enough fight in close games.
Today, the exact opposite happened. They dominated Virginia from the kick, quite literally: Stefon Diggs took the opening kickoff three yards in the end zone and housed it, bursting through a hole and outrunning angles. Four snaps later, Virginia quarterback Phillip Sims threw a pass into coverage, with Kenneth Tate tipping the ball and Anthony Nixon coming up with the interception. The Terps converted on the short field, with Justus Pickett taking a swing pass in the flat 20 yards to paydirt to give Maryland a 14-0 lead hardly three minutes into the contest.
Things didn't stay that fun for long, sure - Virginia outscored them over the next two quarters 13-0. Maryland's offense didn't look a thing like scoring for the most part, and then when they finally did threaten a dropped pass and missed field goal killed their momentum. Virginia ground out some yards on the ground while Maryland's own offense ground to a halt.
But Virginia has more talent and experience, and you had to expect that at some point. When their backs were against the wall, though, Maryland found ways to slow Virginia's momentum and stave them off at the end, fighting tooth and nail to get big stops on defense and an opportunistic score on offense. The Hoos helped matters with silly penalties and timing mistakes, but even when things seemed to be falling apart around them, Maryland as a team never fell apart. They deserve credit for that, and Randy Edsall deserves credit for instilling a measure of fight in them. I criticized Randy last year for a lack of moxie in Maryland; this year, the guys have bought in and seem to be responding to him. Credit where it's due.
More thoughts tonight and tomorrow, because I'm in a rush. Perry Hills needs to get better, the offensive line needs to get a lot better, the defensive line worried me a bit agains the rush. But darn it if this team isn't scrappy as hell and mighty likable. And hey - they're the class of the ACC! (Statistically speaking.)