CHARLOTTESVILLE | The countdown echoed through the walls Saturday evening at Scott Stadium, a staccato recitation of Maryland’s place at the midpoint of its season.
“ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!” came the punctuated glee from the visitors’ locker room, and it was clear this was not an ode to Count von Count. Far from it.
Here are the Terrapins, the lone unbeaten left in ACC play after a 27-20 defeat of Virginia. Here is Maryland, 2-0 in the conference for the first time since 2001.
Here is Randy Edsall, a much-pilloried coach a year ago now presiding over a 4-2 team. Here is an offense that coaxes points out of the few quality possessions it musters each game. Here is a defense that came up with a game-clinching stop in the final minutes (again).
Here is the Maryland rollercoaster, yo-yoing from 2-10 to 9-4 back to 2-10 and now with a possibility to swing back toward at least a .500 season, if not even better.
“Yeah, it does feel good,” linebacker Darin Drakeford said.
As well it should.
Like in their three previous victories, Maryland offered little artistry against the Cavaliers (2-5, 0-3), with the exception of Stefon Diggs’ 100-yard kickoff return to commence the proceedings. At this stage, it shouldn’t be expected.
And while the Terps have played more unsightly games to date, they still upped the degree of difficulty even as Virginia generously committed two turnovers and earned seven penalty calls.
Maryland was held to minus-2 yards rushing. It lost starting offensive linemen Sal Conaboy and Bennett Fulper and slogged along anyway. Virginia’s rushing attack gashed the Terps in ways no opponent had to date this season. After a fast start, Maryland scored just twice in 11 possessions before taking a knee three times at the end.
Nonetheless, there was mirthful counting in the locker room afterward.
“I’ve won some ugly games,” Edsall said. “Alls anyone’s going to look at tomorrow is just that we won.”
Well, not entirely. There will be more praise for Diggs, whose first special teams touchdown carried an air of inevitability. At some point, the freshman would break loose. It just happened to come when it appeared he would harmlessly take a touchback.
Except he didn’t.
“I had a plan; as soon as I got it in the end zone I was going to take it out regardless,” Diggs said.
So he zipped out of the end zone. And while Edsall didn’t expect to see Diggs run out, the outcome wasn’t stunning.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Edsall said.
As for who was caught off guard? That would be Virginia, which appears to have regressed to its 2010 levels of disorganization after what appeared to be a breakthrough 8-5 season last fall.
“We knew that Diggs was a special player, a dynamic player,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said. “Your job is to run down on the kickoffs and cover the kickoffs. Regardless of what you think someone is doing, that’s what we’re supposed to do and obviously we didn’t do it.”
That wasn’t the last time the Terps received a lift from their precocious star.
It was Diggs’ 60-yard reception that set up the field goal to make it 17-0 —- the first time Maryland dropped 17 first-quarter points on a major-college opponent since 2002. It was a fake to Diggs that opened things up for quarterback Perry Hills to stroll into the end zone with 6:08 to play to make it 27-13.
Virginia switched quarterbacks after that, opting for Michael Rocco over Phillip Sims. He proceeded to lead a 10-play touchdown drive, but tossed four incompletions after taking over near midfield as Maryland sealed the victory.
The Terps have already doubled their victory total from a year. They’ve avenged three losses and will get a crack at a fourth Saturday when N.C. State visits Byrd Stadium.
And despite some statistical anomalies, the Terps have massaged four tight games into tightrope victories.
“They just keep playing,” Edsall said.
And they keep counting, too.
—- Patrick Stevens