Maryland and Virginia: Who's got hope?

September, 28, 2009
9/28/09
10:44
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


Virginia coach Al Groh had a bye week this past Saturday. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen wasn’t that fortunate, and a loss to Rutgers dropped the Terps to 1-3, with their lone win coming in overtime against unheralded James Madison.

Paul Abell/US PRESSWIRE
One of Ralph Friedgen's first priorities should be finding ways to limit turnovers.
Both programs are young, have had injuries to key starters, and have had disappointing starts to their seasons before conference play has even begun.

But there is hope -- for Virginia.

All you have to do is look at Groh’s track record for proof. In 2002, the Cavaliers got off to an 0-2 start, reeled off six straight wins and finished 9-5 with a win over No. 15 West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. In 2007, Virginia lost to Wyoming then won seven straight to finish 9-4, tie for second place in the Coastal Division, and play in the Gator Bowl.

Last year, Virginia started 1-3 before winning four straight to take the lead in the Coastal Division before an overtime loss to Miami changed their fate. Groh has a history of making comebacks. In fact, Virginia hasn’t had back-to-back losing seasons in 26 years – the 16th longest streak in the country.

One only needs to look back to the 2004 and 2005 seasons to find Maryland’s last consecutive losing seasons. Over the past five seasons, Friedgen is 33-28 (54 percent), mediocre at best. Groh isn’t much better, at 34-27, yet for some reason he is the one who has the loudest critics.

The first priority in changing the direction of Maryland’s season is to put a screeching halt to the turnovers. Maryland has given away 61 points off turnovers this month on 13 turnovers. Only Miami (Ohio), with 16, has more.

“I’m planning on getting better,” Friedgen said. “I’m not looking at it like everyone else. … Something positive has to happen for these kids so they can grow. That’s what I’m trying to do, put them in the best situations where they can be successful.”

Groh said the three main things they wanted to work on during the bye week to get back on track were more efficient play on the offensive line, better play at the quarterback position and more game-changing plays from special teams and defense. A key difference between Virginia and Maryland is at quarterback, where the Cavaliers have more options.

Because the Cavaliers weren’t adapting well to the new spread offense, Groh began to simplify things for them in the Southern Miss loss, and quarterback Jameel Sewell played his best game of the season. Plus, Virginia hasn’t had injured quarterback Vic Hall, one of its top playmakers, since the first half of the William & Mary game. His return, possibly this week, will be a huge help. The staff has been tinkering with its offense all week.

Nobody knows what Virginia's scheme will look like when it travels to UNC this weekend. Everyone, though, knows what Maryland has to offer on Saturday against Clemson -- status quo.

“A lot of these situations,” Friedgen said, “it is what it is. Some of them we’ve got to get better. A lot of them, they’re very young, and they’re growing right now. I know people don’t want to hear that, but that’s the state of affairs, like it or not.”

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