There’s a pretty good chance that the Maryland Terps football team will finish this difficult season next week with nowhere to go but back to the proverbial drawing board, but that doesn’t mean they need to wipe it clean and start over from scratch.
If the Terps have been frustratingly inconsistent at times this year, Saturday’s wild, one-point overtime loss to the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes proved they have a lot of young talent and a chance to get a lot better.
They also have shown terrific unity and resilience in the wake of the Jordan McNair tragedy and all the uncertainty that has enveloped the program over the past six months, which is why interim coach Matt Canada deserves the opportunity to stick around for a while.
He took control of the situation after DJ Durkin was placed on administrative leave in August and brought the team to the point where a difference of three points spread over the past two games has left them needing a victory over No. 14 Penn State next week to become bowl-eligible.
The job has been so consuming that Canada insists he has never given his own situation a second thought.
“Nope, we’ve got a day-to-day deal,’’ he said, minutes after the Buckeyes slipped away with a 52-51 victory. “That’s been the deal since whenever that day we started and that will be the deal until this season’s over.
“I’ve got the greatest job in America. You guys have got to go write stuff and hope somebody buys your papers or whatever you guys do. I get to hang out with a bunch of great kids and talk about football, so I’m winning. I wish we’d have won this game, but I’m winning.”
He certainly showed that he wasn’t scared when the game came down to choosing between a 2-point conversion to win in OT or settling for point-after kick to send the overtime period into a second round.
The game went back and forth all day and it was pretty obvious at that point that the weary Terps defense could not stop former Maryland commit Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the Buckeyes offense.
It was the right move, but that didn’t make it any easier to walk off the field without the signature upset that would have locked up a bowl and made this season look a whole lot better.
Whatever happens next, his players recognize what he has done to put them in the best position to succeed during a season born out of tragedy and clouded by an institutional scandal.
“Obviously, it’s an extremely tough situation,’’ senior linebacker Tre Watson said. “You come in and he’s just expecting to call plays and run the offense and now he’s got to manage a million other things on the fly, so he’s done a great job of that. And he’s just allowed us to be comfortable doing what we’re doing and just go out and play.”
“Being able to give and take with players is huge. You have to find a middle ground where everything we’re doing is helping us get better as a team and nothing is detracting from what we’re doing. He’s done a great job of that.”
Of course, there’s also a case to be made for the university embarking on a new search for an established coach. The dismissal of Durkin and all the uncertainty that accompanied it have put a big dent in recruiting and created the need to create a new narrative for the football program.
Whoever is in charge next season, Canada believes the future is bright and the proof was in the performance of players such as running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who rushed for 298 yards on Saturday and quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who led the Terps offense to a 535-yard performance in his first start since last year’s season opener.
“This program is on the rise,’’ Canada said. “Everybody knows that if you actually pay attention, because there’s a lot of talent out on the edge out there. Those young wideouts can play. The running backs can play. I said it a few weeks ago, there’s only one ball. That’s the biggest problem that’s going to be here. There’s a lot of really good talent and really good skill players here to spread the ball around to and make plays with.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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