Maryland won't look past the Cavaliers this year

Maryland was a two-touchdown favorite the last time the Terps played at Virginia's Scott Stadium.

But Ralph Friedgen knew better. "I've got butterflies," the Maryland coach said two days before that 2008 game. Three hours before the contest began, Friedgen's wife, Gloria, had stood nervously in the lobby of the team hotel, talking about how she had pre-game jitters and needed an Advil.

When the Terps (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) return to Virginia today, the Friedgens will remember how their premonitions became reality in a 31-0 Maryland loss. And they will remember how the Cavaliers spoiled Maryland's homecoming last season with a 20-9 victory on a dreary, rainy day.

Coaches may say such history doesn't matter. But given its recent lack of success against the Cavaliers, Maryland can't help but be superstitious.

The Terps have dropped three straight to Virginia and 14 of 18 dating to 1992. Virginia has won eight of the past nine meetings in Charlottesville.

Among the most memorable games in the series was the 2007 edition, in which running back Mikell Simpson scored the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left in an 18-17 Virginia win.

After all those experiences, Friedgen acknowledged a few days ago that the Terps were switching their team hotel this season from the one near Virginia's campus where they stayed in 2008. Friedgen wore a smile as if sheepishly conceding that he was succumbing to superstition.

There are a variety of theories for Virginia's recent success in the series.

One is that the Cavaliers typically have many players raised in Maryland, giving them extra incentive to beat the Terps.

"They've got two or three guys on that defense that are Maryland kids, so you know they're going to be juiced up to come and play against us," Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said this week.

In all, the Cavaliers (4-5, 1-4 ACC) have 10 players from Maryland. The group is led by defensive end Cam Johnson (Greenbelt), who ranks fifth in the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss.

Maryland has even more players (15) from Virginia, which is in Friedgen's prime recruiting zone. They include receiver-returner Torrey Smith, center Bennett Fulper and defensive backs Trenton Hughes and Dexter McDougle.

All of the recruiting in each other's states heightens the feeling of a rivalry game.

"It's against a team that has become kind of a rival -- it's a rivalry game," first-year Virginia coach Mike London said. "No secret about Virginia and Maryland. We're excited about the opportunity to play these guys at home."

The Cavaliers will have added motivation because it will be the last home game for the team's seniors. Among them is quarterback Marc Verica, whose first career start was in his team's shutout victory over the Terps in 2008.

In that game, Verica used shovel passes, screens and draws to neutralize Maryland's pressure -- a tactic he might employ again today against Maryland's multiple blitz packages.

This season, Verica ranks fifth in the ACC (conference games only) in total offense at 229.4 yards per game.

He threw for a school-record 417 yards and four touchdown passes in last week's 55-48 loss at Duke.

Maryland is looking for its seventh win of the season, which would guarantee a season above .500 and set up a pivotal game with Atlantic Division leader Florida State at Byrd Stadium in a week.

With each win, the Terps put more distance between this season and last season's 2-10 disaster while elevating the program's stature in the eyes of future recruits. "A lot of the players that were on the bubble -- and just wanted to see how we were going to play this year -- it's helping with those guys," Franklin said.

For now, Franklin is focusing on solving the Virginia puzzle. "They've played well at home for years," he said. "If you watch the film, they're a better team than their record shows."

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