Since Maryland joined the Big Ten for the 2014 season, few football games have matched the excitement, intensity, emotion and disappointment — for the Terps and their fans — of Saturday’s 52-51 overtime loss to No. 10 Ohio State. In fact, it’s a pretty short list indeed.
There had been a couple against Penn State.
The first came in 2014, when Maryland turned Happy Valley sad with a 20-19 win on a 43-yard field goal by Brad Craddock with 51 seconds to play, and the following year in Baltimore, when the Nittany Lions returned the favor in a 31-30 win to ruin Mike Locksley’s debut as interim coach after Randy Edsall was fired.
There were even a couple against Rutgers during the same years.
The first came when the Terps blew a 35-10 lead in College Park in 2014 when Ralph Friedgen returned as the offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights four years after being fired by Kevin Anderson. The next year, Locksley won his only game as Edsall’s replacement, 45-41, in Piscataway.
But those were against a Penn State team that was still rebuilding from the NCAA sanctions placed on the program in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, before former Maryland assistant James Franklin had brought Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley to State College.
And those were against a Rutgers team that was, well, Rutgers.
Saturday’s game marked the first time since the Terps joined the Big Ten that they took a top-10 team from the Big Ten down to the wire. In six previous matchups against top-10 teams from the Big Ten, Maryland lost by an average of 43.3 points, including a 62-14 beatdown by the No. 10 Buckeyes in Columbus last season.
So for those who questioned the progress the program made in DJ Durkin’s two seasons, look at the talent he brought in that was in evident at Maryland Stadium. And for those who questioned the job interim coach Matt Canada has done this season, look at the heart the Terps showed coming off a tough loss at Indiana.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
1. If he can stay healthy, Anthony McFarland Jr. might become the best running back in Maryland history.
A week after recording the 10th-highest single-game rushing performance in school history when he went for 220 yards against the Hoosiers, McFarland’s 298-yard outburst against Ohio State ranked second only to LaMont Jordan’s 306 against Virginia in 1999.
Considering that Jordan had his best game as a junior — one of two with over 200 yards for Maryland’s all-time leading rusher that season and in his career— it’s fair to say that the redshirt freshman has a chance to do that, though he’ll likely play only one more year in college.
McFarland has created his own category to add to the record books — consecutive games with over 200 yards. Jordan’s two games — he also had 227 against Duke in 1999 — came three weeks apart. Charlie Wysocki had three in career, two as a junior in 1979 (two games apart) and one in 1980.
2. Though he only played one season at Maryland, Tre Watson has made a tremendous impact on the program.
Forget what he did on the field against the Buckeyes, making a team-high 12 tackles and nearly getting his sixth interception of the season. It’s been a while since the Terps have had a player like Watson in the program.
Maryland has not had an Academic All-American since defensive end Joe Muffler in 1977 and 1978. Watson was selected to the all-district team last week, and given the season he has had in leading the Big Ten in tackles (111) and interceptions (5), it seems likely that he will be recognized nationally as well.
But it’s inside the locker room, on the practice field and in news conferences where Watson has probably played his most important role, establishing himself as one of the team leaders — if not the leader — and its voice. The Terps will have a tough time replacing many of those who were honored Saturday on senior day.
Watson, who played three years at Illinois before transferring to Maryland, might be the most difficult.
If you listened to Watson talk in the postgame interview — he was one of the two players Canada selected, along with McFarland, for a second straight week — you got a sense that his teammates listen to him, too.
“I know you can go down the line of every guy that played in that game and they’d feel there was one play that they’d wish they could have had back,” Watson said. “I know personally there are several that I feel I could have made the difference for the game.
“I feel like — as a leader of the team, as a guy the team relies on — you want the weight on your shoulders. You want to be able to make those plays. We have a lot of guys who are like that.”
The player who was brought in to replace Jermaine Carter Jr., a well-respected, accomplished player in his own right who is now with the Carolina Panthers, might be close to irreplaceable next season unless the Terps can be as lucky as they were to get Watson.
3. Despite the team’s three-game losing streak, Canada deserves a legitimate shot at becoming Maryland’s next head coach.
After the Terps started the season 5-3, there was the prevailing thought that the 46-year-old offensive coordinator and interim coach would likely become the team’s next head coach. Then came disheartening losses to Michigan State and Indiana.
With Maryland finishing the season playing against No. 10 Ohio State and at No. 14 Penn State, most figured the history of blowout losses to the Big Ten East’s elite would likely end Canada’s candidacy to replace Durkin on a full-time basis.
While some might have questioned his conservative play-calling (at least before the fake-punt throw by Wade Lees) and clock management both Saturday and throughout the season, it’s hard to argue with what Canada has done in keeping this team together through one of the most trying seasons in recent college football memory.
When Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season, then-athletic director Kevin Anderson said there was a need to get a coach whose offense could fill seats. So instead of hiring Mike Leach, Maryland hired Edsall. And instead of hiring Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost after he fired Edsall in 2015, he and then-deputy athletic director Damon Evans hired Durkin.
Now it’s up to Evans to make a decision, and he is expected to make one quickly. Locksley looms large, both because of his ties to the program and his ability to recruit local talent, as well as his swiftly rising stock as top-ranked Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Many believe the job is his if he wants it.
But what happened the past few months and what happened when he didn’t get the job the last time also loom large in this decision for a couple of reasons.
One is Canada’s connection to the team and some of its rising stars, such as McFarland and wide receiver Jeshaun Jones. As Watson talked glowingly about the job Canada has done communicating with his players, McFarland sat nodding his head in approval.
Then there’s the record of the two coaches as interims.
When Locksley presented his case for promotion in 2015, a big sticking point with the committee, particularly one influential member, was his 3-31 record as a head coach, which began with a 2-26 mark in two-plus seasons at New Mexico State.
With a victory Saturday at Penn State, which after the Ohio State game doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility, Canada will have twice as many wins in one very trying season as Locksley had in a little over three years.
Locksley wouldn’t be a bad choice as Maryland’s next head coach.
Canada would be a better one.