Resilient Cavs again win hard way

If Al Groh ever needs proof of the value of perseverance, all he need do is cue the DVD of Virginia-Maryland 2009.

If Ralph Friedgen ever suffers with back pain or maybe a throbbing knee, all he need do is cue the same DVD. Guaranteed the discomfort he feels from watching that will take his mind off of any other ache.

Groh's Cavaliers continued their October Lazarus act with Saturday's 20-9 win over Maryland and did so in conditions that only ducks and Scottish golfers could love.

They produced minimal offense. They did without their most productive running back. They watched their starting quarterback carted away from the field and saw him return to the sideline on crutches.

They saw Friedgen's Terrapins repeatedly get to their front porch, but once again the couch and the cabinets they piled against the door held.

And suddenly, the team that lost to William and Mary to begin the season has won three straight and leads the ACC's Coastal Division. Who'da thunk it?

"That's one of our cultural values," Groh said. "You don't develop that during the course of a game — 'All right, fellas, you need to persevere.' You do that as you build the philosophy and the culture into which players come.

"One thing that these players and their predecessors have proven is that they have a tough shell. They're pretty hard to crack."

What was tough to crack, again, was Virginia's goal line. For the third consecutive game, the Cavaliers' front-line defenders didn't allow a touchdown.

In the past three games, the Cavs have permitted a total of 19 points and a paltry 237 yards per game — defensive numbers that are, dare we say it, very much like those often associated with the commonwealth's other major-college football factory.

"They've been playing lights out. Really, they've been playing well the whole season," said Virginia quarterback and relief pitcher Marc Verica, who played the last quarter-plus when starter Jameel Sewell injured his right ankle.

"Initially, in our first few games on offense," Verica said, "we really put them in a couple tough spots. But they've been playing well the whole season. Now that the offense is starting to catch up, we're really seeing how good of a unit they really are."

The defense had to be good Saturday. To say that Virginia's offense caught up is being generous, since the Cavs generated just 108 yards in the final three quarters.

Take away a gift 28-yard, flat-on-his-back reception by Rashawn Jackson midway through the third quarter, a play that eventually led to a Robert Randolph field goal, and the productivity was even more anemic.

In fact, the Virginia defense produced the game's only two touchdowns. Defensive end Nate Collins did his runaway dump-truck imitation, with a 32-yard interception return off of a tipped pass that gave the Cavs the lead for good.

The Cavs' defense, combined with desperation time for Maryland, produced the exceedingly rare 2-yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes. Jackson was the recipient of that good fortune and amassed half of his 90 yards in the fourth quarter, assuming the role of sidelined Terp nuisance Mikell Simpson.

Terp types will lament four turnovers and two missed field goals that could have changed the complexion of the game, and certainly the play-calling late. But it's tough to fault Maryland kicker Nick Ferrara, whose misses were at least partially the result of bad footing and slick footballs.

As for the turnovers, that seems to be who the Terps are. They entered the game minus-10 in turnover margin, and Saturday's conditions didn't contribute to sure hands.

"I told them," Friedgen said, "until we stop turning the ball over, we can work 24 hours a day and they can work as hard as they want to work, we are just giving games away. I don't think the teams we're playing are better than us, but we just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Until that gets corrected, it's not going to happen."

While Maryland looks for solutions, Virginia continues a trend. The Cavs have won 10 of their last 11 October games dating back to 2007 and, for the second consecutive season, overcame a poor start with a simple formula.

"Getting better," Groh said. "Just staying with it. Coming out every day. Not listening to anybody who speaks in another direction toward them. Just believing in themselves, believing what they're taught, believing in the plan. Continue to work at it.

"We've had some precedent to that around here. So when we say that you just keep grinding that way and keep fighting, it's not something that hasn't happened here. There's a little history here with it, so they believe it."

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at For more from Fairbank, read his blog at

Next game

WHO: No. 19 Georgia Tech (6-1, 4-1 ACC) at Virginia (3-3, 2-0).

WHEN: Noon Saturday.

TV: Raycom

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at