Why It Matters: Maryland enters the game at 3-2, halfway to bowl eligibility. With the Virginia Cavaliers in a tailspin at 2-4, the Terrapins could put themselves in a strong position to make the postseason, needing to go only 2-3 down the stretch to become bowl eligible. Getting up a head of steam heading into the homecoming game against N.C. State would set them up for an interesting finish. It's also one of those traditional recruiting battle games, with the Cavs building in-roads into Maryland and the Terps building their own into northern Virginia. If Maryland can win, they'll be sitting pretty while hastening UVA's decline. That should give them a shot at flipping players like Kirk Garner, Micah Kiser, and Donta Wilkins, plus an upper hand with 2014 guys like Caleb Henderson, Sam Mustipher, and Kobie Walker.
When + Where: 3:00 kickoff Saturday, Oct. 13 at Charlottesville, Va.
TV: Regional sports networks, which pretty much means CSN. It'll also be on ESPN3, though presumably on a blackout.
Series Record: 42-32-2 Maryland, though just 1-4 in the past five years
Odds: Cavs open as three-point faves. Unexpected.
At a Glance
Last Time Out: Maryland, of course, beat a middling, depleted Wake Forest, not exactly impressively but beat them all the same. Virginia had, uh, a bit less success, getting absolutely throttled at Duke, 42-17. The Blue Devils are obviously not bad this year, but they had their backup QB in for the entire game. (They also still don't have a single impressive win; their best opponent, Wake Forest, lost by only a single score in Winston-Salem.) The Hoos actually outplayed Duke in many statistical categories, finishing with more first downs, more yards, and more time of possession. The difference, as you might expect, came down to mistakes: UVA turned the ball over twice, missed two field goals, and gave up a big punt return, each of which set up scores for the Blue Devils. What's really worrying for the Hoos is the mental aspect of it: they went into the half with a 17-14 lead, before letting Duke run rampant in the second half, giving up four unanswered touchdowns. They largely gave up, and their performances so far are somewhat reminiscent of Maryland last season.
Season So Far: Like I said, a bit reminiscent of Maryland last year, albeit probably a better team. They started off strong, easily defeating FCS Richmond before hosting Penn State and escaping with a win. Since then, things have dropped off a cliff: they got taken to the woodshed by (now 2-4) Georgia Tech, then taken to the woodshed again by TCU. They would lose a close one to Louisiana Tech (understandable, I guess, but not exactly impressive) before getting taken to the woodshed yet again by Duke. Folk at Streaking the Lawn are concerned:
For the second week in a row, the Hoos played a less-talented opponent and somehow managed to find a way to lose. Against both Louisiana Tech and Duke, UVA dominated stats like total yards, passing yards, and first downs. However, the "behind the scenes" issues, whether they be penalties, dropped passes, clock miscues, special teams errors, or turnovers, continue to crush the team. The Virginia coaching staff and players are getting less with more, and it's led to a disastrous start to the year.
Notable Stats: As you might expect from the quoted graf, UVA are doing better in the yardage department than they are in the actual points department. They're sixth in the conference in total offense and seventh in total defense, yet they come in tenth in scoring O and eleventh in scoring D. That points to a general lack of discipline and propensity for painful mistakes, and that's backed up by stats, too: they're 102nd nationally in penalties and dead last in the country in turnover margin (both are conference-worst marks, of course.) ... They're also 115th in sacks, so between their poor front and Maryland's porous offensive line, something has to give.
Of Interest: You've probably heard, but the Cavs are right in the middle of a QB transition, taking off junior Michael Rocco (the most-intercepted QB in the ACC) in favor of highly-regarded sophomore Phillip Sims. Sims started against Duke, displaying some of the athleticism and raw talent that had UVA fans fawning over him early in the year, but he still turned out a mediocre 21-42 (and two interception) line. That's a QB rating of only 94.1. Mike London will be hoping he settles in a little more by Saturday.
Know the Name: Steve Greer. Virginia's senior linebacker is both their leading tackler and leading sack man on the season. He'll be licking his licks and looking to blow things up against Maryland's struggling offense.
Probably Wrong Conclusions After a Fleeting Look: I'm a bit surprised that Maryland's the underdog here, even though the -3 line makes it basically a toss-up. I know they didn't look great against Wake Forest, but Virginia's going through a very rough spell, and you have to start wondering about their mentality at some point here. Basically giving up in the second half against Duke - a good team, but still vastly inferior talent-wise to Virginia - strikes me as a real warning sign. Sims is a big X-factor in this, but I'm more concerned about Maryland's offense. The Terrapins' D, even as good as it is, probably won't be good enough to limit an offense with this much talent to two scores, but we also know they won't let the game get out of the low-20s. Perry Hills - and Mike Locksley, for that matter - will need to show some improvement for Maryland to have a shot. But if they do, I'd think Maryland would be the easy favorite.