Only 28.2 miles stands between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and Maryland Stadium in College Park, but Saturday saw two seasons continue in opposite paths a world away.
Navy’s 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU continued the turnaround from last fall’s 3-10 disaster; in the grand scheme of things amid an era of bowl bids, conference contention and Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies 2018 will be regarded as an isolated incident. That’s what you get with the sturdy foundation of a program that’s been in place for a decade-plus.
The Midshipmen still have bigger games: The trip to Houston has AAC West implications and the annual game with Army means dealing with their recent slide in the rivalry, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offseason mission — modify the program while embracing its culture — has been a successful one that has shown immediate results.
The road to recovery at Maryland is only just underway for head coach Mike Locksley. Despite a 2-0 start in September the reality is that this program is in a serious rebuild.
Saturday’s 54-7 loss to a slumping Nebraska fighting for bowl eligibility shined the spotlight on many deficiencies, the most apparent being the turnovers and penalties that crop up at the most inopportune times.
“You don’t win games when you beat yourself,” Locksley said. “And I’ll keep saying this: when we learn to not beat ourselves first that’s when we’ll start turning the corner, and get back to the winning football that we need to play.”
Winning football has been the isolated incident this decade, with the team not finishing over .500 in conference play since 2010.
For the 16 seniors who played their last game in College Park Saturday, the culture has been one of upheaval. A fifth-year senior has played for three head coaches and two interim coaches.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the road ahead for Mike Locksley will certainly have many more bumps, twists and turns before he has the program where he wants it.
National Notebook: “You love her, and she loves him. He loves somebody else, you just can’t win.”
The Pac-12 completed its version of the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” with No. 6 Oregon’s loss to Arizona State.
Perhaps I should have referred to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” because the Pac-12 did not break it. You see: the Ducks lost to the Sun Devils, who fell to UCLA, who lost to Oregon State, who came up short against Utah, who lost at USC, who couldn’t beat Washington, who succumbed to Stanford, who came up short against Colorado, who wilted against Washington State, who fell to Cal, who lost to Oregon, who — well we’re now back to square one.
Good news for Alabama, who despite not being able to play for their conference championship naturally is in the mix to play for the national one. Bad news for the only conference that plays nine league games while also having a name that accurately refers to the amount of schools in its membership. Utah at 10-1? The 13-member committee snickers at the thought.
One thing’s for sure: Pac-12 love stinks.
Virginia (8-3) came off their bye week and took a while to find themselves before pulling away from Liberty, retaking the lead with two quick scores late in the first half to enter the locker room by ten before rolling 55-27. The season of possibilities leaves them 60 minutes away from a Coastal Division crown. We’ll worry about the ghosts of Octobers past later in the week.
- Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins throws for two scores and runs for a third, while PK Kier nets 82 yards and a touchdown rushing. DeVante Cross tallies two interceptions, returning the picks back for 35 and 52 yards to set up a pair of TD’s. Aaron Faumui notches a sack and a half. Seneca Milledge shines on special teams, averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return.
- Cavalier Concerns: The defense that began the season by holding three of its first four foes to under 20 points has allowed 29 points per game over the last month.
Next: Friday at 12 p.m. against Virginia Tech. Actually, it’s not too early to worry.
Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) continues to play the tortoise to UVa’s hare, setting up a showdown in Charlottesville for the Coastal Division crown with a 28-0 shutout of defending division champion Pitt. That’s back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2005, or the first year they won the Coastal.
- Hokie Highlights: Can we salute retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster one more time? The defense held the Panthers to 2.2 yards per carry, 39% passing, and 3-15 on third down. Rayshard Ashby notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Norell Pollard returned a fumble for a touchdown. Hendon Hooker completed 10-13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns while freshman sparkplug Tayvion Robinson had a 32-yard run and a 71-yard catch.
- Hokie Humblings: The running game ran aground, gaining just 110 yards on 48 tries. Even adjusted for sacks, the ground attack averaged 3.0 yards per carry which contributed to moving the chains on 3 of 12 third downs. Seven penalties for 54 yards certainly won’t go unnoticed by head coach Justin Fuente.
Next: Friday at 12 p.m. in Charlottesville against Virginia. Many Hokies fans count this as a home game.
Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) had two weeks to prepare for a slumping Nebraska team that had lost four straight while allowing 35 points per game during that slide. But the Terps never got in gear, as two lost fumbles put 10 first quarter points on the board and the Cornhuskers would score on four of their first vie drives en route to a 54-7 rout.
- Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake scored the Terps’ lone touchdown on a 58-yard scamper for a score. Nick Cross kept even more Nebraska points off the board with an interception in the end zone. Keandre Jones led the defense with 10 tackles and Colton Spangler averaged 41.8 yards per punt.
- Terrapin Tumbles: Javon Leake lost three fumbles while freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre lost a fumble as well; the freshman QB’s drop occurred on the same play he injured his non-throwing shoulder. Three other quarterbacks would see action, with the quartet completing 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards while getting sacked six times. Josh Jackson also got banged up. The defense allowed 305 yards rushing while permitting the Cornhuskers to complete 63% of their passes. Special teams saw a fumbled kickoff and a leaping penalty during a punt; each led to Nebraska scores.
Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 5-6 Michigan State.
Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) may have finished 6-0 at home this year, but they certainly kept the home fans on the edge of their seats this fall. While the comeback in the final minute against Air Force avenged last year’s loss in Colorado Springs and the field goal in the final seconds to top Tulane made them bowl eligible, the 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU put the Midshipmen in position to win the AAC West. If they’re able to win at sub-500 Houston and Memphis falls to 9-1 Cincinnati, the Mids advance to their second AAC title game in four years.
- Midshipman Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns (including the 70-yard game winning scamper) while also completing 9 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD. This was the expanded passing game we were told about in August, and it picked the perfect time to show itself. But that’s to say they’ve gone air-raid: the Mids rushed for 378 yards while maintaining possession for over 39 minutes.
- Midshipman Miscues: A pair of big plays kept this one close: the defense allowed a 61 yard touchdown pass while special teams surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD. The offense converted just 6 of 17 third downs. Five penalties for 31 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but they were flagged more than the Mustangs.
Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. on the road against 4-7 Houston.