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Senior day game against Nebraska gives struggling Maryland a chance to win and build for the future

The start to coach Mike Locksley’s first season when Maryland outscored Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse 140-20 is a pleasant but distant memory.

Helped by their recent bye week, the Terps have tried to forget their back-to-back losses to then-No. 14 Michigan and still-No. 1 Ohio State when they were outscored 111-21.

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What remains of the season are two potentially winnable — and loseable — games against teams struggling nearly as much as Maryland.

Nebraska, which visits Saturday for senior day, has lost four straight. Michigan State, which hosts the Terps on Nov. 30, has lost five in a row going into Saturday’s game against Rutgers.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Locksley either way.

"I’m more excited about being the head coach at Maryland now than when I got the job,” he said during his weekly news conference Tuesday.

In his eyes, and he hopes in the eyes of his players, these final two games are just opportunities to keep rebuilding a Maryland program headed for its fifth straight losing season under its third different coach.

“No. 1, success is not just going to be measured by the wins and losses on the field,” Locksley said. “Losing a game is a snapshot of who you were that day.

"I go back to my time at Alabama and the national championship game [last season]. We were undefeated, we got beat pretty handily [44-16 by Clemson] and I don’t think that loss was indicative of the type of team we were.”

During what is now a five-game losing streak, Maryland (3-7, 1-6) has lost by an average of nearly 33 points, and held just one of those opponents close, losing to Indiana, 34-28, at home Oct. 19.

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As disheartening as some of those snapshots might seem, Locksley is trying to find whatever speck of hope he can locate whether it’s his young players getting experience or junior running back Javon Leake becoming the Big Ten’s top kick returner.

It’s also starting to do the day-to-day tasks that Locksley saw being done during his three years at Alabama or when he was a young assistant working for Ralph Friedgen while the Terps were in the midst of winning 31 games in three years.

“Improving for us is about the architecture on which this program is being built on, doing things the right way, having the right habits and behaviors in all aspects,” Locksley said.

“I see a guy like Javon Leake and the improvements he’s made, not just as a football player, but off the field. To me those are the small signs and those are the small steps of progress … and the small victories you don’t see.”

Graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson said after practice Tuesday that the Terps have to do some of the intangibles before they can become a winning program.

“Increasing our discipline, that goes on the field and off the field,” Jackson said. “That’s something that can make a really bad team really good if you have really good discipline. I’m not saying we’re a very bad team. Discipline can do that [help a team improve].”

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Locksley is not ready to give up on the season, evidenced by the fact that he still plans on using Jackson and redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome, for the bulk of the snaps at quarterback.

Not that he won’t hesitate to put true freshman Lance LeGendre on the field against Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) and Michigan State (4-6, 2-5) as he did for a few plays early and again late in a 38-7 loss to Michigan three weeks ago.

“Piggy and Josh are both at full strength,” said Locksley, who again declined to name a starter until game time. “With us going back to some of the fundamental things we need to get better, both those guys have embraced it.

“Again, I’ve said it before, I’d love to have a guy that is our guy, but it’s going to take both those guys to win and give us the best chance to win, so we’ll play both.”

As for LeGendre, who showed his ability to run against the Wolverines, Locksley and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery will have some packages that might fit the former four-star prospect better than either Jackson or Pigrome.

“Being a developmental program, we’ll try to develop all the players in our program we can, through practice, through game experience, without compromising our ability to win the ballgame,” Locksley said.

Locksley acknowledged that being competitive these last weeks is “important for us” when it comes to recruiting.

One of the team’s top local recruits, three-star offensive lineman Jordan White of DeMatha decommitted during Maryland’s 73-14 loss at Ohio State, becoming the second commit to reopen his search in a matter of days.

“Recruiting is our future and we’ll continue to do that,” Locksley said. “We didn’t come into this selling our ability to win to help us in recruiting. We’re selling the architecture on which this program is being built on.

“But for us, it’s really important to go out and send our seniors out the best way we can with the best record we can. We’ll always focus on this game, then worry about the next.”

Asked what he hoped for the last two weeks, senior cornerback Marcus Lewis said Tuesday, “Playing as hard as I can, man. I’m a fifth-year senior and a guy who’s been at a couple of places. I just want to go out the right way for my teammates, the coaches, everybody.”

Locksley, who helped recruit many of the team’s seniors when he was offensive coordinator under Randy Edsall and interim coach for the last six games of the 2015 season after Edsall was fired, empathizes with what many of them have endured during their time at Maryland.

“These guys understand that football is one of those sports that most mimics life, and change is inevitable in every aspect of your life, whatever you do, whatever field you go into,” Locksley said. “This has given [them] the tools to handle change in their future. It’s tough.

“For these guys to be still standing, and still really proud of wearing the Maryland colors and really fighting every day and coming out to practice, having a positive impact on the young kids in the program, it speaks volumes to the character of these kids.”

Nebraska@Maryland

Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM

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