Rocky road for 7-5 Terrapins
Maryland's up-and-down season can be summed up in two consecutive games.
On Sept. 21 on a sort-of-neutral field in Baltimore, the Terrapins blanked West Virginia 37-0, causing no shortage of consternation among the Mountaineer faithful.
Two weeks later, the Terrapins went to Florida State and were laid waste by the Seminoles, 63-0. By the time the clock mercifully ran out, nobody remembered Maryland's 4-0 start, its best since 2001.
As America eventually learned, FSU's Jameis Winston will do that to opponents. The eventual Heisman Trophy winner threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns, exposing a defense that had given up 41 points in the first four games.
Worse yet, quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a concussion, courtesy of a monstrous hit by FSU lineman Jacobbi Daniel. Officiating coordinators at the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA reviewed the hit and did not deem it to be a targeting offense.
Brown missed the next game, a home game in which backup QB Caleb Rowe pulled out a 27-26 win over Virginia. Rowe threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Dave Stinebaugh with 5:14 left, then survived when Virginia kicker Alec Vozenilek missed a 42-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
"It was definitely getting our pride back, our sense of Maryland pride," said linebacker L.A. Goree. "The fact that we got the victory, 5-1, that's not too bad."
The next three weeks were bad for the Terps. Really, really bad.
That started with a 34-10 loss at Wake Forest, set up in part by three turnovers. Brown returned to the lineup but was hooked after two second-quarter interceptions, but that wasn't the worst part. This was: Receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs suffered season-ending leg fractures. Diggs broke his tibia and fibula; Long fractured his fibula.
Long, a junior college All-American, led the team with 36 receptions when he went down. Diggs averaged 17.3 yards on his 34 catches with three touchdowns.
"It really hurt them, in terms of depth," said Chuck Heater, MU's defensive coordinator. "The three they have are really good, skillful players, good, stable guys there."
Maryland returned home to face ninth-ranked Clemson and trailed just 19-13 entering the fourth quarter before the defense collapsed in a 40-27 loss. The Tigers ran 98 plays for 551 total yards and forced four turnovers.
By then, the Terrapins were missing Brown, Diggs, Long and Stinebaugh, a tight end.
Maryland probably hit its bottom on Nov. 9 in a 20-3 home loss to Syracuse. The Terrapins committed four more turnovers - two on interceptions by the resurfaced Brown - and was held to 292 total yards.
On Nov. 16, more than a month after winning its fifth game, Maryland reached bowl eligibility in an unlikely place - at Virginia Tech, in a 27-24 overtime win. The overtime was surprisingly easy, as the Terps covered the 25 yards in four runs, the last 3 yards by Brown, who rushed for 122.
"They had a resolve this week that they wanted to change things around," said coach Randy Edsall. "It's a beautiful win for us."
That sparked a stronger finish, though the Terps let the home game against Boston College get away, 29-26. Edsall tried to "ice" BC kicker Nate Freese on the winning field goal, but it backfired - a 52-yard miss was nullified by a timeout, giving Freese the chance to nail the next try.
Looking back, that was probably the game that put Maryland (7-5) in the Military Bowl, played roughly 30 miles from their College Park home in Annapolis. The 9-4 Thundering Herd provides the opposition for the Dec. 27 game, kicking off at 2:30 p.m.
The Terrapins finished the season doing what everybody else in the ACC did, thumping North Carolina State. The 41-21 win gives them the momentum that Marshall, 41-24 losers to Rice on Dec. 7, lacks.
"They're an ACC team like Virginia Tech was," said coach Doc Holliday, remembering MU's triple-overtime loss to the Hokies. "When you look at them, they've got athletes all over the place."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.