- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Maryland is the last team standing in the ACC without a conference loss. It’s only mid-October. It’s only after two games.

It’s also unexpected, even if the victories came against short-handed Wake Forest and self-destructing Virginia.

After Saturday’s 27-20 victory at Virginia, the Terrapins’ solid first half is something the program’s older players can truly appreciate after some disorienting seasons.

“It’s so far been a great year,” tackle Justin Gilbert said.

Maryland (4-2, 2-0 ACC) is just two victories away from bowl eligibility thanks to a series of tight triumphs over mediocre opposition (combined record of the four teams to succumb to the Terps: 10-15). This is not a knock on coach Randy Edsall‘s team, but merely a gauge of how Maryland has etched out a path to victory despite minimal external expectations.

In short, it is starting to look similar to Maryland’s unexpected burst of two years ago.

Granted, it’s a far from identical comparison. That team was much more capable on offense, particularly in the running game. The coaches were different, as was the quarterback and the star receiver. Just nine players started at least one game for both teams.

But the strikingly common element was Maryland’s preseason irrelevance coming off a 2-10 season. In 2010, the Terps were opportunistic against a favorable schedule and rolled up nine victories in coach Ralph Friedgen’s swan song.

Maryland regressed enormously last year in Edsall‘s first season, and significant offseason attrition followed by junior quarterback C.J. Brown’s ACL tear in August ensured little would be expected of the Terps this fall.

Unsurprisingly, it is a team with its share of on-field issues. The Terps are ranked next-to-last nationally in total offense, and 118th out of 120 major-college programs in rushing offense. They are prone to miscues, such as quarterback Perry Hills’ fumble on a handoff that gifted Virginia with possession at the Maryland 31 while down 17-10 late in the third quarter.

The Terps would yield only a field goal there, and exploited a foolish Virginia personal foul penalty after the play ended to start what would become a touchdown drive in Cavaliers territory. Later, they turned a Virginia turnover into a field goal to make it 27-13.

It’s been like that for a month and a half for Maryland, which regularly staggers out of halftime (outscored 34-3 on the season in the third quarter) only to recover in the final period (a 51-27 edge).

“I think the biggest thing this year is we’re finishing games, and I feel like we’re a lot more experienced than we were last year,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said.

The 2010 team needed to survive its share of tight games. It denied Navy a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute. It immediately responded when Florida International closed within a score in the closing stages. It fended off Boston College, and it dropped 21 fourth-quarter points on Virginia.

And like now, Maryland reached the midpoint of its season fully expecting to reach the postseason — and perhaps more.

“It does seem like there’s a resemblance to that team,” linebacker Darin Drakeford said. “Just like in 2010, every team, they’re just saying ‘Well they’re nothing, they won just two games.’”

This group already has won four. And they don’t plan to be done with another six weeks to go.

Note: Offensive linemen Sal Conaboy and Bennett Fulper and tailback Justus Pickett left Saturday’s game with undisclosed injuries. While Edsall declined to specifically discuss their ailments Sunday, he said the Terps have no pending surgeries.

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