Ever since he coached his first game at Maryland, and won his first two road games, DJ Durkin said winning away from home is the hardest thing to do in college football — no matter who the opponent might be.
That proved to be the case Saturday.
A 31-24 defeat to the Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium might’ve been the most disappointing, and crushing defeat in Durkin’s first two seasons.
Not only did it all but end whatever long-shot hopes the Terps had of making a bowl game for a second straight year, but it came after Maryland had seemingly taken control of the game in the third quarter.
Now Durkin’s team has to go into the last three weeks against three of the Big Ten East’s elite — Michigan at Maryland Stadium next Saturday, followed by a trip to No. 24 Michigan State and a home season finale against No. 7 Penn State.
The Terps (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) could be looking at starting their fourth quarterback of the season after sophomore Max Bortenschlager went out in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. Walk-on Ryan Brand did an admirable job and nearly became the hero.
Brand, who started his college career at Air Force and who started the season as Maryland’s No. 4 or 5 quarterback, had an apparent game-tying touchdown pass to senior Taivon Jacobs wiped out by an obvious holding call and then had another potential tying touchdown to junior DJ Moore knocked away on what looked like pass interference.
In reality, Maryland did more to lose the game than it did to possibly win it.
After scoring the game’s first touchdown on a 6-yard pass from Bortenschlager to junior running back Ty Johnson — on a third-and-goal after the Terps were called for one of their three false starts in the first half and four for the game — things appeared to be going in the wrong direction.
Too many third-and-longs against a defense ranked among the worst in the Big Ten and in the country. Too much indecision by Bortenschlager, and one terrible choice to throw a pass on third-and-7 from his team’s 43 into the hands of a Rutgers defender.
It led to a sideline pep talk — OK, it was a chewing out — by Durkin for his quarterback. It led to Maryland seemingly making another big comeback as the Terps did against Indiana a week earlier.
But this time, on the road, the comeback win didn’t happen.
Only a disappointing and crushing defeat, perhaps the worst in Durkin’s two seasons.
After Bortenschlager was knocked out of the game, Brand came in and steadily directed the Terps, first on the ground, then by completing several clutch passes. But after hitting on two third-and-long passes and a fourth-and-3, the holding call on junior left tackle Derwin Gray wiped out a 15-yard touchdown to Jacobs. Brand then hit Moore for a 10-yard gain. With 56 seconds left, Brand seemed to have Moore in the corner of the end zone. But the normally surehanded Moore couldn’t hold on as he was being grabbed and pushed by Isaiah Wharton.
Leading 21-17 late in the third quarter, the Terps had a chance to make it a two-possession game after recovering a muffed punt at the Rutgers 41. After an 11-yard pass to Moore, who had been held to just one 4-yard catch at that point, Bortenschlager lofted a perfect pass to Jacobs, who was wide open in the end zone. But Jacobs, who was having a terrific afternoon, watched the ball go through his arms. Maryland had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by graduate transfer Henry Darmstadter. The Scarlet Knights then tied the game on their next possession.
What it means
With the next three opponents having a lot to play for — though Penn State’s loss at Michigan State on Saturday all but erases any chance of the Nittany Lions getting into the College Football Playoff — Durkin’s ability to keep his team motivated will certainly be tested as any opportunity to get a second straight bowl bid is gone barring some huge upsets. It also means the Terps will challenge the 2012 team for starting the most quarterbacks, if Brand starts against Michigan.