COLLEGE PARK — There wasn't a cloud in the sky above Byrd Stadium on Saturday afternoon, except for the exceedingly dark one that has hung over Randy Edsall and the Maryland football program for the past few weeks.
Things have been going so badly of late that the main consolation when the Terps headed to the locker room at halftime of Saturday’s loss to Clemson was that they got through the first two quarters without having a player carted off the field on a trainer’s truck.
They lost seven regular players to injury at Wake Forest last week, so it was a minor miracle they were still in the game against the No. 9 Tigers well into the second half.
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This is not a new phenomenon, of course. The Terrapins have run aground in October in each of Edsall’s three seasons at Maryland. They have not won a game for him after Oct. 13 in any of those years, thanks to a confluence of circumstances that would make even the most logical observer wonder what he has done to run so afoul of the football gods.
You would think the guy deserved a break after he last year became the first Division I football coach anybody could remember who lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries -- and you apparently would be wrong – but Edsall hasn't given up on this season and, based on their gutty performance against all odds on Saturday, neither have his players.
"I told the guys afterward, ‘We’re going to accomplish the goals we want to accomplish this year,'" he said. "I don’t have any doubt about that. We're going to come out in the last third of the season and we're going to accomplish what we need to accomplish regardless of injuries or anything else."
The list of players who became unavailable at Winston-Salem included a veritable who's who of Maryland offensive playmakers, including quarterback C.J. Brown, star receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, tight end Dave Stinebaugh and leading rusher Brandon Ross. The Terps also lost safety Anthony Nixon in the Wake game and played without linebacker L.A. Goree (pregame back spasms).
It would have been no great surprise if Clemson had run the Terps right off of Capital One Field. They arrived as a 17-point favorite and moved the ball effectively throughout, but the Maryland defense showed terrific resilience in the red zone and forced three second-half turnovers to keep the Terps close until the fourth quarter.
Backup quarterback Caleb Rowe thrilled the crowd of 48,134 with a 71-yard touchdown strike to speedy sophomore Levern Jacobs in the first quarter, but there was no glossing over the absense of all those skills players.
What a quantum momentum shift this has been after the Terps got off to a 5-1 start and were within one victory of bowl eligibility at the halfway point in their schedule. Maybe it was unrealistic to think they would get that sixth victory by now, but they were favored by nearly a touchdown at Wake before all those injuries took their toll.
Nobody's giving up. The Terps were still within one score early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, so the game – against a high-quality opponent -- really was much closer than the final score might indicate. They still have four more chances to earn a bowl bid and they will have an extra week to prepare for a winnable home game against Syracuse on Nov. 9, but their personnel issues are not going to go away.
Brown likely will be back behind center by then, but he'll have the same receiving corps that struggled mightily to catch the ball on Saturday. If the Terps cannot find a way to beat Syracuse, the going gets tougher and the possibility increases that they will mirror last year and end the season on a long and frustrating losing streak.
Edsall doesn't deserve to be in this position, but he has no choice but to try and make the most of it.
"That’s how you have to deal with it,"’ he said, "because some day … we'll get the breaks that we hopefully, maybe deserve. But, for me, if I approach it any other way I'm doing a disservice to the players, to our institution and really, to myself, because what we do here is we develop young men. And yes, we play a game, but I have to make sure that when these guys leave here and whatever they go into for the rest of their lives, I hope I set an example of how to deal with adversity and what you have to do to overcome that instead of feeling sorry for yourself.
"I think that's what it's all about. And you just keep fighting. You keep working. And you keep doing the things necessary to overcome whatever comes your way. And to me that's the responsibility – first and foremost – of the head football coach, which is me."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.