COLLEGE PARK -- Virginia football coach George Welsh called 1991 "a transition year" after losing his All-America passing combination of Shawn Moore and Herman Moore.
But yesterday at Byrd Stadium, as the Cavaliers were hurt by fumbles and lost their season opener to Maryland, 17-6, it looked a lot like the last half of their 1990 season when, after being ranked No. 1 for three weeks, they suddenly fell apart, dropping four of their last five games and out of the Top 25.
The offensive output was the lowest for Virginia since a 55-0 loss to Clemson in its 1984 opener. But Welsh said he almost could sense it coming after an unenthusiastic week of practice, when the effort led him to label his 1991 Cavaliers "a quiet team."
"Football teams I've coached here in the past have been a lot more enthusiastic," said Welsh, who resurrected football in Charlottesville.
"We just don't have that aggressive attitude, yet. You could really see it in the first half today. I don't know if we were nervous, scared or tired."
Welsh's thoughts were echoed by junior tailback Terry Kirby, who gained more than 1,000 yards last season, but was limited to 73 yards on 13 carries by the Terps.
"We've got to start playing games during the week," Kirby said. "We have to pick up the pace in practice, playing Monday through Friday. We can't first start thinking about playing on Saturdays."
There were other things that could be cited as factors in the loss: an inexperienced starting quarterback in Matt Blundin, a rebuilt offensive line and six Virginia fumbles -- four lost, including three inside the Maryland 40.
"Putting the ball on the ground that much was the most discouraging thing for me," said Welsh. "We hadn't been doing that in scrimmages. If we could have got a couple of field goals out of those situations, it would have been a different game."
But it was the way the Terps stifled the Cavaliers offense that proved most perplexing for Welsh. Virginia, which ranked fourth nationally in total offense last season, averaged 40 points and 500 yards in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year.
Virginia netted only 120 yards rushing, but Kirby and Nikki Fisher, who gained 848 yards and averaged 7 yards a carry last season, seldom found running room.
"Last year, we had some giant holes to run through," said Kirby, an All-America candidate. "Today, there were only tiny, little cracks. That happens sometimes with a young line like we have, but then you have to just run on instinct and take what's there. Still, I thought we'd try to run more. That we didn't was a little shocking to me."
Blundin, who has waited four years to become the No. 1 quarterback at Virginia, also suffered from a lack of experience. His passing statistics were adequate (17-for-36, 226 yards, no interceptions), but often he missed open receivers on deep patterns, or waited too long to release the ball, leading to four sacks and a costly fumble.
"That was my biggest problem, holding the ball too long," said Blundin, who started two games late last season after Shawn Moore fractured his thumb. "I have to work on stepping up and getting rid of the ball. The coaches keep reminding me, and I say, 'I know, I know,' but I'm still not throwing quick enough."
After all the negative talk, Welsh salvaged a few positive impressions from the loss.
"Defensively, we played well enough to win," he said. "If you throw out their last touchdown that was a gift, we only gave up 10 points. But, hey, this is only one game in a long season. I can't get discouraged this early."