Virginia on upswing in time for Terps

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

It started as a normal pregame talk, with most of the team sitting around their lockers while a few veteran players walked around, talking about what the Cavaliers needed to do to beat Indiana. And then something changed. Virginia senior quarterback Jameel Sewell thinks cornerback Ras-I Dowling and linebacker Denzel Burell were the ones who started it.

Whatever “it” was, it was contagious.

“It was different because it was mayhem in there,” Sewell said. “Every single person in that locker room was up yelling, up trying to boost everyone else’s morale. Honestly, I’ve been at Virginia a long time, and I’ve never seen our locker room that way. It was totally different than I’ve ever witnessed.”

And it lasted for four quarters in a 47-7 romp of the Hoosiers. The question now is whether Virginia (2-3, 1-0 ACC) can carry that emotion through the rest of its schedule.

As Virginia prepares to travel to Maryland for what some consider a rivalry game on Saturday, the Cavaliers do so with a newfound confidence after back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Indiana. Virginia looks like a different, more respectable team than the one that started the season 0-3 with a loss to FCS opponent William & Mary. The Cavaliers have been overshadowed by the success of the three ranked teams in their division -- Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami -- but with a 1-0 start in conference play, Virginia is in the race, too.

“I think the players feel positive about themselves concerning what they've done the last few weeks, and they can see themselves getting better,” said Virginia coach Al Groh. “You know, the players are pretty smart, they've got eyes and ears and they can see -- they don't always need the coach to tell 'em. When a player can see that he can do things better than he could do them before, sure, that makes everybody feel better, whatever we're doing, so I think we feel positive about ourselves in those circumstances.

“I think it's unlikely that any of us feel that previous games with Maryland have any bearing on how this game is going to go. This one is about the level of preparation that we have, how everybody understands and embraces the plan and most particularly how we execute on Saturday.”

Virginia, though, has won back-to-back games in the series, including a stunning win last year. The Cavaliers were 1-3 heading into the 2008 Maryland game, their lone win coming over Richmond, and having suffered an embarrassing 31-3 loss to Duke the previous weekend. Maryland came to Charlottesville full of confidence and left humbled after a sound 31-0 defeat.

“I was joking with somebody the other day, it seems like every year we play Virginia they get really good right when we play them,” Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said. “It’s just the way it is I guess.”

There are some on-field tangibles, though, to point to regarding Virginia’s new success. One of the most noticeable differences is the fact the Wahoos haven’t turned the ball over in each of the past two wins, and Sewell hasn’t been intercepted in his last 86 pass attempts. UVA’s defense has also played well, allowing just 22 third-down conversions in 77 attempts (28.57%). That’s tied for eighth-best in the FBS. Virginia's opponents are averaging 8.59 yards per completion -- the third fewest in the FBS behind North Carolina and Florida.

There are some things, though, that can’t be measured or scripted.

“The players were clearly very together in terms of what they wanted to achieve and their approach to the game,” Groh said of the last weekend’s pregame locker room scene. “Those things, if they’re to be genuine, always have to come from the players’ hearts. Nobody could put it in there for them.”