Terps got a win, but did they show their fans anything else to be optimistic about?

Albert Reid

Terps running back Albert Reid, bottom, fumbles in the first quarter and William and Mary recovers. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / September 1, 2012)

If there was a Job One for the Maryland football team in its season opener against William and Mary on Saturday, it was to make Terp fans forget — at least for one overcast afternoon — the frustrating first year of the Randy Edsall era.

The opponent appeared to be just what a spin doctor would have ordered, a team that was picked to finish in the lower half of the Colonial Athletic Association and didn't figure to force the Terps to do too much heavy lifting in front of the home crowd at Byrd Stadium.

The Terrapins did manage to escape with an unattractive 7-6 victory, but what exactly are all those beleaguered fans supposed to think about that? Where on the 2012 schedule is there another game that anyone could comfortably predict will be in the win column this year?

Sure, a win is a win, but for a program trying to turn the page on so much past unpleasantness, it could not have been very satisfying for anyone who was dreaming of a dynamic change in direction this season.

Edsall acknowledged that it could have been a lot more aesthetic, but he isn't going to throw it back.

In fact, he did what any good football coach would do in this kind of situation. He focused on the most positive aspect of the game — the fact that the Terps came back after three scoreless quarters to take the lead and then made a big defensive stand to protect it.

"I'm very proud of these players,'' he said. "One of the things we've talked a lot about is finishing. They could have folded their tents. They kept persevering. To overcome all the adversity we had, that's a credit to our players."

That's one way to look at it, but the Terps stumbled through a mistake-marred first half that featured three turnovers and a missed 25-yard field goal attempt. Freshman quarterback Perry Hills showed signs of the poise and talent that won him the starting job after C.J. Brown went down with an injury during training camp, but he also made a couple of glaring rookie mistakes that were only glossed over by the Terps' only scoring drive.

Everyone knew that there were going to be some big questions to answer with all of the underclassmen who will need to step up for the Terps to be competitive this season. Not many of those answers were apparent in the opener, but — in major college football — the end really does justify the means.

Clearly, however, Edsall is aware that appearances are still very important when you're trying bounce back from a 2-10 season and convince your fans that your team is worth their Saturday afternoons. That's why he started his postgame news conference by thanking the crowd of 31,321 for showing up and sticking with the Terps right to the end, even if they did loudly express their discontent after a couple of aborted drives.

"That's something this young team is going to need,'' Edsall said. "We really appreciated the noise today."

Whether such a lackluster debut will encourage those fans to come back and bring their friends remains to be seen. The program has been fighting that battle for several years, and it's hard to imagine a one-point, one-score victory over William and Mary convincing any skeptics that they just have to be here when the Terps face Connecticut in their next home game Sept. 15.

Edsall knows that his team has a lot of work to do before next week's road game at Temple. He conceded that Saturday's performance revealed a number of areas in which the Terrapins need to improve if they are to be competitive at all in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but he hopes that fans will be patient enough to look past this uneven performance to give his team a chance to prove that it is growing in the right direction.

"They're going to get better and they're working hard,'' Edsall said, "but they need the support and they really appreciate the support. I think if people will just be patient and understand that when they see these kids and take a look at some of the things that happened today, there were a lot of good things that happened and there were a lot of things that didn't go the way we wanted them to. But this is a team that is going to give all they've got for 60 minutes."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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