- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

The crowd was long gone even before Maryland returned to the locker room Saturday night. Any warm feelings associated with the annual frivolity of homecoming dissipated even earlier. And the Terrapins’ chances of salvaging their season were whittled yet again at soggy Byrd Stadium.

Ultimately, all Maryland took away from a dank, dreary day featuring a 20-9 loss to Virginia was a reminder that, no matter how many times it might try, it won’t succeed with an excess of turnovers.

Yes, it’s a broken record repeated ad nauseam. It also has left the Terps with virtually no margin for error.

“We have to win every game,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “That’s where it puts our season. It’s really not that complicated. We just have to win. … Yeah, we’re in a bad place right now - that’s for sure. A bad place.”

It’s one of the Terps’ own doing. Four turnovers, three field goals to show for the day’s offense, two unsightly halves and one wretched afternoon-turned-evening later, Maryland (2-5, 1-2 ACC) stared further up at the deepening crevice it had created for itself.

The Terps’ season turnover margin is minus-13, a chasm wide enough to allow a medley of misery to permeate a season that somehow grows worse every week. The latest foible was Turner’s tipped pass landing in the hands of Virginia defensive end Nate Collins, who rumbled 32 yards for the only touchdown of the game’s first 58 minutes.

“Until we stop turning the ball over, we can work 24 hours a day, they can work as hard as they want to work,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We’re just giving games away. I don’t think these teams are really better than us. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Until that gets corrected, it’s not going to happen.”

It was a satisfying result for the Cavaliers (3-3, 2-0), who ended the weekend as the lone team unbeaten in conference play. They wound up in such an enviable spot even though tailback Mikell Simpson (neck) did not play and quarterback Jameel Sewell left late in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.

No matter. Fullback Rashawn Jackson accounted for 119 of Virginia’s 201 yards, including an insurance score to prompt emphatic chants of “U-V-A” from the tiny Cavaliers contingent.

There was no reply from Maryland fans for two reasons. First, what could any Terps supporter say after yet another unsightly loss? Second, there was virtually no one left in the stadium wearing red besides those on the field and the sideline, awful weather mixing with apathy to sap an announced crowd of 44,864 that was never anywhere near that large.

Those who lingered witnessed the sort of sloppiness expected from outfits arriving with sub-.500 records. There were five fumbles (three lost) and six sacks, and Turner tossed two interceptions as well.

The fumbles short-circuited what started as a promising rushing effort for the Terps. Both Davin Meggett and Gary Douglas lost fumbles, and Douglas later suffered a sprained AC joint in a shoulder.

As the run faded, it amplified the need for Turner to come through on what was not one of his finer days. He completed just 16 of 38 passes for 158 yards and two interceptions, the first of which was especially costly.

Neither team possessed the capability of reaching the end zone without assistance, which was why Maryland’s 9-3 lead in the third quarter seemed somewhat sturdy. But the Cavaliers concocted a field goal drive, and two plays later Collins collected his crucial pick to give Virginia a 13-9 edge.

“Turnovers, it’s self-explanatory,” receiver Adrian Cannon said. “We’re giving the ball away. Anyone who knows football… they know you can’t turn the ball over and expect to win. That’s definitely one thing we have to stop.”

Such miscues, of course, lead to vulnerability to more innocuous problems. Speedy tailback Caleb Porzel tripped on a 10-yard burst in the open field. Nick Ferrara, the reliable freshman who accounted for all of the Terps’ points, slipped a 37-yard field goal just right early in the fourth quarter and plunked a waterlogged ball well short on a 44-yard try a few minutes later.

The rest of the night was merely a postscript. The Terps turned it over on downs near their goal line, leading to Jackson’s 2-yard scoring plunge to clinch the victory. Turner tossed another interception in a futile final gasp.

And Maryland found itself deeper than ever in an increasingly troubling situation.

“What really troubles me is this team works very hard, and not to get more for how hard they play, I’m really trying to figure out a way for some of these kids to grow,” Friedgen said. “I thought we were on the right path.”

Without an instantaneous reversal, though, the Terps’ turnover-addled journey will continue down a road to ruin.

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