BLACKSBURG, Va. | Maryland toiled for nearly two weeks preparing for one of three quarterbacks from Virginia Tech.
It turned out it was a tailback the Terrapins should have worried about the most.
Redshirt freshman Darren Evans ran for a school-record 253 yards as the Hokies reassumed their role as Thursday night bullies with a 23-13 defeat of the No. 23 Terrapins at raucous Lane Stadium.
Maryland (6-3, 3-2 ACC) emerged from its bye week unable to ignite its own running game. The Terps managed minus-12 yards on the ground, the worst figure in coach Ralph Friedgen‘s eight-year tenure.
But for all those foibles, it was the flattening of the Maryland defense that dictated the outcome - and flew in the face of the message Friedgen delivered coming out of his team’s second bye week.
“We made that a real point this week,” Friedgen said. “I figured that’s what they were going to do. I talked to our players the whole two weeks about stopping the run and what we had to do to stop the run. Last thing I talked to them today was about stopping the run, and we didn’t do it. That’s a credit to Virginia Tech. They just ran the ball right down our throats.”
Evans needed 32 carries to ransack the Terps and create a season’s worth of memories on one night. The Hokies (6-3, 3-2) improved to 15-3 on Thursday nights since ESPN began its midweek broadcasts last decade and did so in dominant fashion.
It was a breakout night for Evans, who owned only two runs of at least 20 yards entering the night and none of more than 24 yards. He scampered 50 and 45 yards to reverse shaky field position on two occasions and almost single-handedly killed the clock to snuff out a potential Maryland rally in the fourth quarter.
“He was a very physical running back,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “I didn’t think he was going to be that strong. He has some very powerful legs. Running behind that line helped him a little bit, too.”
It was far from a debilitating blow to Maryland, which remains in control of its Atlantic Division fate. But it was far from the performance the Terps, who have lost five straight Thursday night affairs, desired on a national platform.
It was no help for the Terps that their offensive line, which bounced back from a midseason slump to play well in back-to-back games, was throttled throughout the night. That Da’Rel Scott returned from his left shoulder injury didn’t matter; Maryland’s rushing game was doomed to anemic returns.
Scott managed only 11 yards on 10 carries after a week of noncontact work in practice. It couldn’t have helped, but there were other issues at play as well.
“I didn’t think he had a whole lot to run with, either,” Friedgen said.
Oddly enough, the Bizarro Terps summoned their better selves after trailing 20-3 early in the second half. Chris Turner (19-for-31, 240 yards) connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey on a 63-yard touchdown pass, and Maryland managed a field goal after recovering a punt that deflected off Virginia Tech’s Kam Chancellor late in the third quarter.
But it was still on the Terps’ defense to hold back the Hokies - a task it couldn’t handle throughout the night. Evans bounced off would-be tacklers throughout the first half, rolling up his first 100-yard outing before the break.
No sequence expressed Maryland’s defensive woes more than being forced to call a timeout before a third-and-18 close to halftime. The Terps then came out in a soft coverage, and the Hokies converted a 26-yard pass and went on to kick a field goal to make it 17-3.
“We didn’t have the call, and it was a big play, and it was a third down,” Friedgen said. “I don’t know why there was confusion there. There was plenty of time. Some of our guys didn’t have the call, and it was third down, and I used the timeout to make sure. … I’m going to find out why we didn’t get the call.”
Hokies coach Frank Beamer was especially tight-lipped in the dozen days leading into Thursday night’s game, closing practice to reporters and refusing to offering any significant details of his quarterbacks’ health other than to acknowledge it was a game-time decision.
He wasn’t exaggerating. When the starters from both teams were announced over the public address system, the Hokies’ quarterback was conspicuously absent. All of his options threw just before the game, with Sean Glennon trotting onto the field for his first start since the season opener.
Glennon judiciously spent much of the night handing off to Evans. The senior was a solid 14-for-20 for 127 yards when asked to throw while managing two time-consuming drives in the fourth quarter.
That zapped Maryland’s chances of producing a signature prime-time performance. The Terps still can reach the ACC title game with three more wins - or two victories and some help - but a rerun of Thursday night rapidly would end those hopes.
“If we could have won this game, it would have helped us a whole lot and showed we can play in a big game,” Wujciak said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it out, but we need to keep moving forward.”