Second-year head coach Randy Edsall has a team that many thought would be where Mike London and UVa are right now. Thanks to a defense that has played extremely well this season, the Terrapins (3-2, 1-0 ACC) come into Saturday's matchup against the Cavaliers (2-4, 0-2) believing they can win this game and continue on with a surprising 2012 campaign.
"We know we've got a tough one in Virginia this weekend down in Charlottesville," Edsall said on Wednesday.
This matchup, being played for the 77th time, pits two teams against each other that regularly see each other on the recruiting trail. Virginia recruits the "DMV" or Washington, D.C., southern Maryland, and norther Virginia areas, very hard.
"This is a game against our cross-border rival," London said Wednesday. "A lot of young men on our team are from the Maryland area. We've recruited against them and it makes for a more exciting opportunity for the kids from that area."
Statistically speaking, UVa is having a pretty unbalanced season. The Wahoos don't have bad offensive numbers. They're 88th in rushing offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But they're 25th in passing offense, racking up 294.5 yards per game through the air. Not surprisingly then, Virginia has the nation's 45th best total offense, gaining 429.3 yards per game.
After sophomore transfer Phillip Sims got his first start at quarterback last week in the 42-17 loss at Duke, London said the staff has high expectations for him.
"There were positives and obviously some things Phillip has to work on," London explained. "Having two turnovers? That's a negative, particularly when we're not getting turnovers. We can't afford turnovers."
The biggest problem for Sims and the home-standing Wahoos this week is that Maryland boasts one of the nation's best defenses. The Terps are allowing 257.20 yards per game, which ranks them seventh in the country in total defense. While they're 41st against the pass (118.1 yards per game), their run defense is also nationally pretty stout. UMd is allowing just 81 yards rushing per game, also good enough for seventh in the country.
"We're not a typical 3-4 defense," Edsall explained. "We're not [a] two-gap scheme. We say it's a 3-4 but I would say it's more of a hybrid 3-4. It's something that we've taken to our personnel.
"I think we're pretty simple but we do enough things that I think we can cause problems. Ultimately, it comes down to the players doing the job."
London said he sees an opponent that is really coming together at the right time.
"They have an emphasis on linebacker play and they're playing with a level of confidence," he added. "And that's important. You can see that and it's very evident on film."
The problem for the Terps, though, is that they aren't nearly as good offensively. They're 116th in rushing offense (86 yards per game), 102nd in passing offense (188 per game), and 117th out of 120 in total offense (274 yards per game).
Now, contrast those with some mediocre UVa numbers (81st against the run, 77th against the pass, 72nd overall) and still, Maryland doesn't look on paper like it should be able to move the ball well this weekend but it's not nearly as tall a task as it will be for UVa to gain yards and score points.
London said this week that after the loss at Duke, he's decided that defensively, particularly on the line, he wants to see more players in the game. While there will be some players, like David Dean, that might see the field, what it likely means is that the players rotating into those spots will be more balanced in terms of the number of reps they get.
"I've committed to getting guys game experience," London said simply.
Unfortunately for both of these teams, the statistics say they are both pretty awful when it comes to turnovers. UVa is 119th in turnover margin with Maryland being just a few spots better at 115th.
"I think we've turned it over way too much," Edsall said. "We've got to have better ball security."
Though his defense has been stingy when it comes to points and yards, it hasn't done as good of a job as he would like in terms of takeaways. And his defense, because of the way UMd hasn't taken care of the ball, has "been put in some situations this year because of the turnovers." Overall, the Maryland head coach pointed out, his defense has "stood tall."
Added Edsall, "We hope that we'll have some opportunities this weekend."
In terms of scoring offense, Maryland averages 20.1 points per game while UVa allows 34. On the other side of the ball, Virginia averages 23.7 points per game while UMd allows 20.4.
One other interesting statistic is that Maryland is 100th nationally in punting while UVa is 35th. The Cavaliers also allow just 1.3 sacks per game while the Terrapins allow 3.8. To put that in perspective nationally, Virginia ranks 32nd in that category while Maryland is 118th.
"We're finishing games and I think [freshman quarterback] Perry Hills is making plays for us in the fourth quarter when we need them," Edsall said.
"Coach has them playing well, playing hard," London added. "We're looking forward to putting a four-quarter game together."