COLLEGE PARK — To borrow a term Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley has used a few times, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind for the Terps. From reports of former coach Randy Edsall's imminent firing days before a trip to play No. 1 Ohio State to pushing those Buckeyes into the third quarter to Edsall's walk-off press conference to his subsequent firing the next day, there has been little normalcy for Maryland.
But there was a bye this week, an open date at the halfway mark in Maryland's schedule, an opportunity to reset before the final six games. Athletic director Kevin Anderson acknowledged Sunday that the chance for Locksley to have two weeks to prepare for Saturday's matchup against Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore did indeed play a role in the timing of Edsall's firing.
And the Terps' weekend off allows them to escape the grind of the past few weeks and get rejuvenated for the back half of a grueling schedule.
"We get a chance to [recuperate], put some new stuff in, just get back to the basics," cornerback Will Likely said. "Just get ready for Penn State."
Before the season started, there was some uncertainty surrounding the program. The winner of the three-way quarterback battle between Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman wasn't announced until a week before the season opener against Richmond. The Terps had lost significant production and experience on both sides of the ball from a year ago. One of the only things that seemed certain was Edsall's status, thanks to the three-year contract extension he signed over the summer.
Bowling Green's 42-14 second-half run on Maryland in the Falcons' 48-27 victory on Sept. 12 threw all of that — certainties, uncertainties, starting jobs, coaching jobs — into pure chaos.
Hills was benched for Rowe, who responded by throwing the most interceptions in the Football Bowl Subdivision in just four games. The offense couldn't keep the defense off the field. The defense eventually wore down late. The inkling that maybe Edsall wouldn't turn things around entered Anderson's mind.
There were some positives. Maryland trailed Michigan only 6-0 at halftime of their Oct. 3 meeting before succumbing to a second-half barrage. Behind a gutsy performance from Hills, the Terps tied Ohio State at 21 early in the third quarter before the Buckeyes pulled away, ending hopes of a shocking upset and of Edsall's tenure continuing.
But now, a bye week, a respite before the second half of a schedule that boasts No. 7 Michigan State, No. 17 Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State.
"It's been tough," Locksley said. "To happen the way it happened for us, the good thing is with the bye week here, we've got some time to get away and reflect on a lot of things that happened."
When the Terps resume practice this week, a few things will have been sorted out for them. Locksley is the team's coach for the final six games of the regular season. Hills is Maryland's starting quarterback moving forward, and the coaching staff will tailor the offensive scheme to his strengths.
The results on the field are to be determined. At 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference, the Terps aren't completely out of the bowl picture. It's a difficult slate that lies ahead — it's doubtful Maryland will be favored in a game again this season until possibly its finale at Rutgers, and even by then, the Scarlet Knights can sort out their myriad issues. But a 4-2 finish wouldn't necessarily be unforeseen.
"We always have to be a resilient group in terms of just coming to practice every day and playing," defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. "At the end of the day, we came here to play football. You've got to have energy. You've got to have passion, and we've just got to focus week to week, and this week we've got to focus on Penn State."
The Terps aren't doubting themselves. They know they've been close this season. In losses to Bowling Green, Michigan and Ohio State, Maryland was leading, within striking distance and tied in the second half. The Terps just haven't strung together a full four quarters that has translated to the win column.
After the Ohio State game and again last week, Hills said the Terps are focused on playing for themselves and their preseason goals. Despite the change swirling around the program, the Terps have remained cohesive at their core.
"I believe even from the beginning, we were a very united team because we're brothers," Hills said. "We're out here sweating every day, hitting every day, doing everything together, working hard for each other. And we're just going to put it on the line for our brothers, so we've always been very united."
Two games under .500, with an interim coach and six games remaining on their schedule in one of the nation's toughest divisions, the odds are stacked against the Terps. But they've been in similar positions before, such as last season when no one expected them to acclimate well to the Big Ten, and they finished 4-4 and beat Michigan and Penn State on the road.
Things have changed drastically from where they were last season, not to mention even two months ago. But Locksley said he spoke to the Terps about their opportunity to leave a legacy, and after taking a week to reset, that quest begins against Penn State on Saturday.
"We've got a chip on our shoulder," Ngakoue said. "It's not too late for us."