With nearly two weeks in between the Maryland football team’s last game and its next, first-year coach Mike Locksley is in the middle of a balancing act. He is trying to help his team forget what happened Saturday against Temple while also hoping to build toward the visit from No. 13 Penn State a week from Friday night.
Locksley liked the way his players reacted to the season’s first defeat after the Terps wasted two chances handed to them in the last few minutes. Maryland started its last two possessions deep in Temple territory — first after DJ Turner’s 55-yard punt return to the 4, then after a 7-yard punt went out of bounds at the 10 — but came up empty in a 20-17 loss.
“I said last week our season was going to be a journey and obviously we’re sitting here this week at 2-1 in our journey, and we’re a little disappointed, which I think is a good thing,” Locksley said at his weekly news conference Tuesday. “Our team and our expectations, and they expected to go into this game and get to win, I’m glad to see that our players are disappointed.
"As we said to our players on Saturday, no one expects setbacks, but everyone has them. For us, it’s going to be really important that we get to the crux of what created the setback for us. And that’s a good thing that we have a bye week to get the answers.”
Since most of the breakdowns came on offense, Locksley said it’s his responsibility to make sure those answers come. He’d especially like the solution by the time Maryland has another game come down to the wire after starting the season with one-side blowout wins over Howard (79-0) and then-No. 21 Syracuse (63-20).
“These close games, to me, the desire to win them are there, but how to, that’s on the head coach to show us how to win in these close situations,” Locksley said. “Last year [Maryland] had four games that we lost in the fourth quarter. That’s on me, the head ball coach, to show our guys how to make these plays when they’re there to be made.”
Looking ahead to the Nittany Lions (3-0), who also have a bye this weekend, Locksley said he expects graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson to rebound from what was statistically the worst performance of his college career. Jackson completed just 15 of 38 passes for 183 yards, with a touchdown and interception. He was also sacked four times.
On Maryland’s final possession, Jackson missed sophomore tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo streaking across the end zone and overthrew him. He then delivered the ball to Turner after the senior slot receiver already was outside the back line of the end zone. It was the end of an afternoon that began with an interception on Maryland’s first possession.
“Josh didn’t have a great game, but from us as coaches across the board all the way down to the players, on the offensive side of the ball, I wasn’t happy with a lot of stuff,” Locksley said. “As I told Josh, the quarterback gets the brunt of the accolades but he also takes the brunt of the negative things when things don’t go well on offense. Sometimes guys have bad games.
"I thought he pulled himself out of it with the drive we had there at the beginning of the second half. He made a great throw there to Tyler Mabry for the touchdown. He made some big throws. If you look at the way we tried to adjust things because of the way he played early in the game, we tried to take the ball out of his hand and remove a lot of the [run-pass options] in the second half and got the ball to our running backs to give him a chance to settle down.”
While some might have questioned Locksley not trying to use any backs other than redshirt sophomore Anthony McFarland Jr. near the goal line, and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery’s decision to try running the 5-foot-9, 198-pound McFarland four straight plays — the last two times from the Temple 1-yard line — Locksley said he would do the same thing again.
“Anthony is our best short-yardage running back we have,” Locksley said of McFarland, who after getting stopped twice inside the Temple 2 in the first quarter later scored on a fourth-and-1 from the 4 to give the Terps a 9-7 lead early in the second half.
McFarland led the Terps with 132 rushing yards on 26 carries. Though he is rushing for three yards less per carry than last season — 4.9 compared with 7.9 — McFarland has already scored more touchdowns (five) than he did as a freshman.
“As I said Saturday, when it’s fourth-and-1, I’m going to put the ball in my best player’s hand and that’s Anthony McFarland,” Locksley said. "He’s the same guy on the first touchdown run who broke three tackles and made some guys miss in the hole. … I have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to give the ball to Anthony McFarland all day long for 1 yard. If we execute up front, he’ll figure out a way to get it in the end zone.”
Asked about the play-calling at the end of the game, Locksley stood his ground.
“I thought the play-calling was fine,” he said. “We had wide-open guys with the game on the line. Chig came wide open on one. We missed that one. We had some opportunities. I thought the execution of the play-calling continues to be worked on for this week. These are some of the same plays we ran throughout the first three weeks of the season and in training camp. My job is to figure out why the execution was off on the offensive side of the ball.”