Nov. 1, 2011
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nick Jenkins grew up in Westminster, Md., about 55 miles from College Park. He chose to play college football at UVa, however, in part because the program at his home state’s largest university held no appeal for him.
As an All-Metro defensive lineman at Good Counsel High, Jenkins received scholarship offers from many colleges, Maryland among them. But the Terrapins, then coached by Ralph Friedgen, did not earn a place among his finalists.
“I just couldn’t stand the coaches,” Jenkins, now a fifth-year senior at UVa, told reporters Monday at John Paul Jones Arena.
Maryland fired Friedgen after last season and hired Randy Edsall away from the University of Connecticut. Edsall’s first season in College Park has been a disaster, and Mike London’s Cavaliers will look to add to the Terrapins’ misery Saturday.
At 12:30 p.m., in a game the ACC Network will televise, UVa (2-2, 5-3) meets Maryland (1-4, 2-6) at Byrd Stadium. A victory would make the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. Moreover, a UVa win would make the Terps, who won at Scott Stadium last year, ineligible for postseason play.
Edsall’s team has dropped four straight since beating Towson on Sept. 24. The mood among Maryland supporters who show up Saturday at Byrd Stadium is sure to be foul, and that’s fine with the Wahoos, who have won two straight in College Park.
“It’s exciting,” said Jenkins, one of Virginia’s captains. “They have pretty mean fans up there. It’s such a nasty area to go play in. It’s fun. I think everybody’s really excited for it.”
Jenkins is not the only Cavalier for whom this game holds special meaning. UVa’s roster includes 12 players from Maryland, many of whom the Terps pursued.
“That’s something that Coach London preached as well during the recruitment process, that this could be a home away from home,” said true freshman Darius Jennings, a graduate of Gilman School in Baltimore. “There are a lot of guys from Maryland [here].”
London said: “There’s no secret that Maryland is an area where we recruit heavily — D.C., Northern Virginia, up and around there. Having success in the recruiting arena is important, as is having success in the athletic arena. Having the opportunity to play Maryland, for us it’s another chance for another ACC win. But naturally you look at some of the recruiting implications as well.”
Maryland “recruited me very hard,” Jennings said. “During the process, I kind of felt Virginia was always going to be the school where I wound up, but [the Terps] were definitely pressing hard to keep me there.”
Defensive end Johnson, a senior from Greenbelt, Md., starred at Gonzaga College High School in D.C. He didn’t seriously consider Maryland, Johnson said, because “it was just a little too close to home for me. I wanted to be further away, but not too far away to see my parents.”
When he was at Gonzaga, Johnson rode to school each day with A.J. Francis, now a defensive tackle at Maryland. Jennings will know players on the home sideline Saturday too.
“It’s definitely going to be fun playing against them,” Jennings said, “and it’s going to be fun having all my family there to watch the game.”
Indeed, relatives of UVa players will abound at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, because “everybody’s asking for Maryland tickets on the team,” Jenkins said. “For the guys from New York and Jersey, it’s the closest game that they have, and for everybody from Northern Virginia and Maryland.”
This is London’s second season as Virginia’s head coach, and he collected his first ACC road victory last week, on national television. The Wahoos know they’re tantalizingly close to earning a postseason invitation, but they also know they can’t get ahead of themselves.
“We’re not thinking, ‘Win one more game and be bowl-eligible’ at all,” said Jenkins, a team captain. “We’re thinking, ‘Win Maryland right now.’ I think I speak for the whole team when I say that. We’re not putting a cap on any kind of goals. We want to beat Maryland and get on to the next one.”
Before the season, Virginia’s seniors talked repeatedly about their desire to play in postseason, and “that would be a great thing, to get them to a bowl game,” sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco said Monday.
“But really, right now, we can’t worry about it. We really gotta worry about Maryland this week. That’s the game we’re preparing for. We can’t really look ahead. I know everybody says that, but it’s the truth. When you start looking ahead, bad things happen in the current week.”
The Terps’ record notwithstanding, they “have great skill players, and they have pretty good big guys up front on both sides of the ball,” Jenkins said. “Some things just haven’t fallen their way this year, [but] they’re a very dangerous team. We just have to keep playing our game and get a ‘W.’ ”
NIGHT AND DAY: In 2010, only two of the 120 teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision averaged more penalty yards per game than Virginia (73.3).
In London’s second season at UVa, his team is tied for 22nd nationally in fewest yards penalized per game, at 42.3.
“At the beginning of the season, we said that we wanted to be one of the least-penalized teams in the ACC,” Jenkins said. “We talk about it every day at practice, meetings, everything. We always talk about it.”
The key, Jenkins said, is “being smart, and being smart in the moment, and we’ve really taken a stab at just trying to be very focused, to not hold or not jump offsides or things like that. It’s tough, but you practice it every day, and you try not to hold during practice, you try not to jump offsides, you try not to grab a facemask, and it carries over into the game.”
RUNNING WILD: Maryland is coming off a 28-17 loss to Boston College, which rushed for an astounding 372 yards at Byrd Stadium.
The ‘Hoos will be disappointed if they can’t run the ball effectively Saturday. At 186.4 yards per game, UVa ranks 37th among FBS teams in rushing offense. Maryland, meanwhile, is 118th in rushing defense, having allowed an average of 234.8 yards.
Injuries have ravaged the Terps, whose defensive two-deep for the Virginia game includes nine freshmen.
“You put them in there,” London said, “and you have to live sometimes with the results of however it shakes out. But it appears that’s one of the issues they’re having.”
On offense, however, Maryland has two excellent quarterbacks in sophomores C.J. Brown and Danny O’Brien, a game-breaking tailback in Davin Meggett and a superb tight end in Matt Furstenburg, among other weapons.
The Terps’ record is “not indicative of the type of talent they have,” London said.