PISCATAWAY, N.J.-- --It's a thin line sometimes that separates winning and losing. Sometimes we find victory in defeat, and sometimes we suffer losses in our biggest triumphs.
One week after a monumental loss at Wake Forest, the Terps upset No. 10 Rutgers, 34-24, yesterday. In the process they lost their starting quarterback. And in the process, they maybe have found their No. 1 quarterback.
Everything about last night's win was unlikely. We didn't need the final scoreboard to tell us that. Start back in February 2005. That was when Terps coach Ralph Friedgen was on the recruiting trail, getting rejected by 18-year-old quarterbacks like the Math Club president searching for a prom date. After three had told him "No, thanks," on Signing Day, Friedgen was left talking about a fresh-faced kid from California named Chris Turner.
Nearly three years later, Turner began the 2007 season No. 3 on the depth chart but last night found himself as the surprise leader of this surprise team.
In the waning moments of the first half, starter Jordan Steffy was flattened like a penny on a railroad track. He got up, wobbled and went right back down.
In came Turner. A Napoleon Dynamite lookalike. A West Coast kid whose dad was once the drummer for Ratt. His teammates call him "Sunshine Cali" because of his laid-back nature. No one had any idea what to expect - least of all Friedgen.
The end result is something they're still screaming about in College Park this morning. No, it wasn't always pretty, but it was the best we've seen out of these Terps this year. And keeping Turner in the pocket for at least another week sure seems like a smart move.
Friedgen says he'll evaluate video of yesterday's win and wait to see how Steffy's feeling. But if he's really going to "play the best guy," as he said yesterday, he ought to give Steffy some extended recovery time.
Turner's final numbers weren't overwhelming - 14-for-20 for 149 yards - but his composure on the field and the way his teammates responded to him in the huddle sure felt promising. With the exception of six pass attempts in the year's season opener against Villanova and a single series against Wake Forest, yesterday was the first significant football Turner had played since high school in 2004.
No one knew just what to expect - Sunshine Dynamite or a Division I quarterback. The end result just might have saved a Terps season, one that was teetering on a free fall after the team blew a 21-point lead seven days earlier. When Turner trotted onto the field just before the first half ended yesterday, the Terps were in the middle of losing an early 14-3 lead.
When the Terps came out a few minutes later, slowly, methodically - but not without some mistakes - Turner presented a pretty compelling case for the starting job, a case he had failed to make in the spring and again this fall.
"He's a lot more intense in the game," running back Keon Lattimore said. "In practice, he's much more laid-back."
Turner said there's just something about game day: "When the lights go on, that's when it counts."
Asked whether he realized Turner would be that reliable, Friedgen chuckled. "I don't know if I could answer that question until the second half," he said.
"I'm hoping he's going to play like that every week."
Turner had the benefit of an impressive running game and a Rutgers defense that before the game couldn't have picked him out of a lineup.
"I wish I would have seen this guy before today," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said after the game.
Turner made plenty of mistakes that a sophomore with little game experience is expected to make. But he also showed confidence in routes, patience reading coverage and sufficient awareness in the pocket, evading defenders and doing his part to make sure Rutgers wouldn't notch a second-half sack.
He made two clutch third-down completions, including a 27-yarder on third-and-12 to an outstretched LaQuan Williams near the goal line, a highlight-reel play that put the Terps on the 2-yard line and set up a touchdown one play later.
Turner, more of a pure pocket passer than Steffy, also allowed the offense to open up more. Friedgen called more pass plays, Darrius Heyward-Bey was involved more than he had been a week earlier, and the Rutgers defense couldn't cheat on Lattimore and Lance Ball - who combined for 214 rushing yards.
Like we saw a year ago, Friedgen's teams do not quit easily. They had a million chances yesterday and responded each time. Building confidence is different than spotting hope, though. Beating Rutgers gives Maryland confidence moving forward; Turner gives them hope.
"It's going to be interesting to see where we go from here," Friedgen said when it was all finished. "I told them, this has run the gamut in two weeks.
"You've been as down as you could possibly be, been as high as you could possibly be. Now which do you like best?"
After the game, Turner's teammates picked him up and paraded him around the field. When he reached the locker room, his cell phone had virtually blown up - voice mails and text messages from California to College Park. The first was from his mom and dad. If their son can play as he did yesterday, they might want to invest in a family plan with a few more email@example.com
Rick Maese -- Points after
Touchy time in our sports world where we're all one of two things: the critics or the criticized. Or both.
An Oklahoma columnists rips a college quarterback, using unnamed sources and rumors. When you make your living putting words to paper, you'd better have a bit more evidence before delving into someone's character. For columnists, a part of the job is to offer criticism, and another part is to receive it, a truth I'm reminded of every time I open my inbox.
Mike Gundy, the Oklahoma State football coach, responds with a YouTube dandy. Unfortunately, he came off no better than the columnist. A note for the future: The only time you hear someone barking their age as proof of maturity is on an elementary school playground.
Before the Duke game, a reporter mentioned to Navy coach Paul Johnson that fans had noticed he tends to take credit for wins and spread blame after losses. To which Johnson retorted: "I don't go down to McDonald's and start second-guessing his job."
OK, let's all remain calm, take a deep breath, hold your neighbor's hand (not you, Mike Tyson) and count to 10.