Then, during the game yesterday, the Terps lost their starting quarterback, Jordan Steffy, to a slight concussion and an injured shoulder. And for the second straight weekend, Maryland lost its lead.
But the Terps didn't lose their will, or the game.
One week after an inexplicable meltdown at Wake Forest in which the Terps blew a 21-point lead and lost in overtime, they overcame both tangible and intangible pains yesterday to upset Rutgers before a red-clad crowd of 43,803 -- the largest of the season and the second-largest in school history.
It was Maryland's first win against a nonconference opponent ranked in the Top 10 since the famous Frank Reich comeback against Miami in 1984.
Backup quarterback Chris Turner not only proved his own worth as a possible starter, but he also put on a passing performance the Terps lacked through their first four games. Defensively, Maryland redeemed itself for giving up several long plays by staying staunch on third downs, creating turnovers and becoming the first team in six games to sack Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel.
"It was a tremendous win and tremendous display of character by our players,? Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. " There were a lot of ways these guys could've chucked it, and said it's not our day."
There were plenty of moments yesterday when the Terps (3-2) seemed headed toward another offensive breakdown instead of what now might be a turning point .Placekicker Obi Egekeze missedthree field goals, and a 14-3 lead in the second quarter turned into a 17-14 halftime deficit.
By that point, Turner said he knew he was taking over, as the trainers had diagnosed Steffy with a concussion. With 41 seconds left in the half, Steffy was drilled by backup safety Joe Lefeged. He looked woozy when he tried to get back up and was escorted off the field by the trainers.
While Steffy was in the game, Friedgen opted to again rely on the run, as Steffy threw the ball just eight times and completed half of them for 70 yards and one touchdown.
Turner, in the most significant playing time he's seen to date, completed 14 of 20 passes for 149 yards. Friedgen said Turner played well enough to be considered for the starting job next weekend when Maryland hosts Georgia Tech.
"I'm going to look at the tape and see," Friedgen said. "I'm going to play the best guy."
The offense looked entirely different with Turner behind center, as the pass plays Maryland fans have been craving were finally attempted. Leading receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey caught five passes, followed by Danny Oquendo's four.
"I did what Iwas coached to do," Turner said, "nothing more, nothing less."
Thomas, who started at left guard, stayed in New Jersey last night to be with his father, who is in stable condition at a local hospital.
"I had great protection," Turner said. "I don't know if that was it. I go throughmy progressions. I had a lot of time."
Time was something Steffy hasn't had much of, as he has been sacked 18 times this season. Led by Turner -- deemed "Sunshine Cali" by his teammates for his laid-back attitude, and blond California curls -- the Terps regrouped and moved the ball with fluidity against a team that had previously held opponents to just nine points per game.
"It gave us our mojo back," said receiver LaQuan Williams, who led the Terps with 66 receiving yards on two catches.
Friedgen made an uncharacteristic trip into the locker room at halftime, as he usually meets with his assistant coaches to find out the trends and tendencies of the other team.
"I told them, 'what, did you think this was going to be easy?' " he said. "... I said wins don't come easily. You gotta work for them. There's going to come a time where it's that matter of wills, who's more determined .. I said we're going to get the ball in the second half and it's anybody's ballgame right now so stop sulking, stop worrying about what you just did. Worry about what we're going to go out and do, and they responded."
Williams' spectacular diving catch late in the fourth quarter was highlight-worthy. He was stretched to his fullest and parallel to the field when he made a 27-yard catch that put Maryland on Rutgers 2-yard line, setting
up Keon Lattimore's 2-yard touchdown run that put the Terps ahead 27-17.
The win marked the first time Maryland scored more than 33 points since an Oct. 8, 2005,win at Temple. By the end of the game, Rutgers -- which had compiled its impressive numbers against unheralded Buffalo, Navy and Norfolk State -- no longer looked as if it deserved its Top 10 ranking.
The Scarlet Knights, who entered the game averaging 525.3 yards per game, were held to 392. Heisman trophy candidate Ray Rice was averaging 143.7 rushing per game and had nine touchdowns. He was held to 97 yards and one touchdown.
Because of the two sacks against quarterback Mike Teel -- the first this season and the first in six games -- Rutgers finished with just 82 net rushing yards. They converted three of 13 third downs.
"We showed a lot of character, and we showed a lot of will," said linebacker Erin Henderson, who said he had a few injuries but seemed fine in the locker room. "We started together and told each other we came up here on a mission and we weren't going to stop until it was completed. Let's just lock arms, let's just lock up and see what happens. Together we'll be a lot better than any separate individual could ever be."