- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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BALTIMORE, Md. -- Maryland coach Randy Edsall would not go so far on Saturday evening as to call his team’s 37-0 shutout of West Virginia a “signature win.”
Save that for any potential upsets down the road of Atlantic Division giants Florida State and Clemson.
Instead, call Saturday’s win over the hapless Mountaineers validation. It was proof that Maryland is a team to be taken seriously this year, and that the program has taken significant strides since winning just six games in the past two years. It was further evidence that this is the best team Edsall has had since he was hired in College Park, and that West Virginia -- a program that has historically been a benchmark for the Terps on a national level -- is now the punching bag. It was validation for Edsall, who entered the game 1-8 against West Virginia and has now led the Terps to their first 4-0 start since 2001, the last time they won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl.
The win against WVU capped a perfect start to a program in desperate need of one.
“It’s big,” said safety A.J. Hendy, who had two fumble recoveries and returned one interception 28 yards for a touchdown. “Only the guys in that locker room thought that we’d be 4-0 at this point. A lot of people doubted us and said we aren’t good enough. I feel like we still have a chip on our shoulder.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been through a lot. First year, transfers, second year we had a big injury bug at the quarterback position. I feel like through the years we’ve been through so much that it’s only right we start getting some breaks and start winning.”
No. 3 Clemson and No. 8 Florida State have distanced themselves from the rest of the ACC, but Maryland has looked like the Atlantic Division’s third-best team and a program good enough to crack the Top 25. Maryland’s success on Saturday has to be tempered by the very real fact that West Virginia simply isn’t very good -- (“Offensively, we’re as inept as we can possibly be in college football,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen.) -- but as far as ACC competition goes, Maryland is good enough to be 6-1 heading into their Oct. 26 home game against Clemson.
“It’s very satisfying,” Edsall said. “We don’t take it lightly, but we know we still have so much ahead we have to accomplish. We can’t just sit here and just think we’ve arrived after four games when we have eight more to go.”
Saturday was a step in the right direction.
Maryland snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Mountaineers and left no doubt it was the better team. West Virginia had as many turnovers (6) as it did first downs. Maryland scored in all three phases of the game. It was Maryland’s largest margin of victory over West Virginia since 1951 and the program’s first shutout since 2008.
“To go out there and get a big win, solidify ourselves, it feels good,” said quarterback C.J. Brown. “We’re very confident as a team. I wouldn’t say cocky. We understand where we’ve been, we’re humble. Where we are right now is completely different from where we were last year.”
The same can be said for West Virginia, which was ranked No. 8 in last year’s 31-21 win. The Mountaineers didn’t even get into the red zone, and completed just 2-of-12 third-down conversions. Everything that went right for Maryland went wrong for West Virginia, even as they traded fumbles.
What Edsall likes best about this team is the fact that it hasn’t reached its peak yet.
“I’m just a firm believer we can be a really good football team,” he said. “There’s things we have to clean up. Again, every game gets a little bit bigger. If we prepare the right way and play hard and take care of the football and do the things that give us a chance, we’re going to continue to be a good football team. But we’re nowhere near where we can be. We still have got a lot of room for improvement. That’s the thing that I like, that these guys are hungry and they want to improve and they’ll do the things we ask to improve.”
If they do, don’t count out the possibility of a signature win.