Maryland had just committed another turnover — its fourth — and seemed headed for its low point of the season. It had grown dark and cold inside Byrd Stadium, the student section had thinned out, and the loudest remaining fans were huddled in the Syracuse section, chanting, "Let’s go, Orange!"
A 4-0 start to the season seemed like an eternity ago Saturday after Terps mistakes — two fumbles, two interceptions and multiple receiver drops — contributed to Syracuse’s 20-3 victory.
It was Maryland’s fourth loss in five games and kept the injury-depleted team one win shy of becoming bowl eligible with three games remaining.
Since 2011, the Terps (5-4, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) are 0-16 in games played after Oct. 13.
The Terps closed the first half with turnovers on three straight possessions. They advanced inside the Syracuse 40-yard line three times in the half without scoring.
Maryland opened the second half with a fumble by quarterback C.J. Brown — the fourth straight Terps series to end with a turnover.
“You don’t have a shot to win when you turn the ball over four times and you have as many dropped balls and as many errors as we did,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “They were ready to play, there’s no doubt about that. We just didn’t do the things that we needed to do in order to win.”
Maryland asked fans to wear black for its annual "blackout" game, to match the team’s uniforms. As the game wore on, the mood of much of the announced 37,213 in attendance wasn’t much brighter than the Terps’ apparel.
Brown, a fifth-year senior who had missed two of the three previous games with various injuries, completed 21 of 40 passes for 211 yards and two interceptions.
“Most of those turnovers were on me,” Brown said. “I’ve got to take responsibility. One went right through my hands.”
Maryland won its fifth game — against Virginia — on Oct. 12 but has failed in its last three chances to record another win and become bowl-eligible.
“We’ve still got three more games,” Brown said. “We’ve still got our goals ahead of us.,” Brown said.
Brown, who has suffered a concussion and unspecified upper body injury this season, had an ice pack on his right knee as he was interviewed. “My knee feels fine,” he said.
The Orange, who entered with the second-most rushing yards in the conference, ran for 242 yards despite losing second-leading rusher Prince-Tyson Gulley to an unspecified injury early in the game. Junior Jerome Smith, the leading rusher, had 28 carries for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
“I knew with Prince-Tyson going down I would have to pick up a big load,” Smith said.
Brown and the Terps have sorely missed top wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The injured playmakers suffered lower-leg fractures in an Oct. 19 loss to Wake Forest and are out for the season.
Maryland receiver Amba Etta-Tawo had six catches for 109 yards, but dropped a third-down pass that hit him in the hands in Syracuse territory in the first quarter.
Maryland entered the game last in the ACC in turnover margin in conference games. It is now minus-10 in its five league contests.
A fifth Maryland turnover on Saturday — another fumble by Brown — was nullified by a Syracuse offsides penalty in the third quarter.
Brown said Maryland’s strategy was to frequently use read-option plays to try to freeze Syracuse’s defense, which is among the ACC’s best at sacks. But both the quarterback and top Maryland rusher Brandon Ross were neutralized, and Maryland rushed for just 81 yards and allowed three sacks.
Maryland started freshman Moise Larose for the first time at left tackle, replacing usual starter Mike Madaras, who left the program for personal reasons.
“Moses is the best tackle we have so he was out there,” Edsall said.
Maryland didn’t score until Brad Craddock hit a 23-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 13-3.
Fireworks erupted from the scoreboard after Craddock’s field goal. But the Terps couldn’t hold ACC newcomer Syracuse (5-4, 3-2 ACC) after that.
Facing a third-and-5, Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt evaded pressure and scrambled 29 yards to the Maryland 23. Two plays later, Smith ran 21 yards for a touchdown, making it 20-3 with 10:33 left in the game.
Syracuse opened the game by with a 16-play drive that spanned 7:54, and took a 7-0 lead on Smith’s 1-yard run on fourth down. Ten of the plays in the drive were runs.
It was a deflating way for Maryland to begin the afternoon.
“It gets frustrating when you see things not going the way that you want them to out there,” Edsall said. “You’re trying to make adjustments the whole time. It’s obvious that I’ve got to continue to stress the simple things and doing them right.”
twitter.com/sunjeffbarkerCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun