There comes a point in every lost season when nothing is going right and there’s really not much left to do but try to maintain your poise and learn from an otherwise miserable experience.
That’s where the Maryland Terrapins found themselves after last week’s loss to Rutgers. Their bowl hopes were all but dashed and the remaining schedule promised a string of games like their discouraging 35-10 loss to Michigan on a gloomy late Saturday afternoon at Maryland Stadium.
So, what are you supposed to do when you’re down to your fourth quarterback (Ryan Brand) and you’re pretty much overmatched at the line of scrimmage against a perennial Big Ten powerhouse?
The answer: Not this.
The Terps stumbled all over themselves in an ugly first half and didn’t give a real hint of competing with the Wolverines until it was too late to make things interesting. Michigan certainly isn’t the best team in the Big Ten, but was made to look like it on the way to a quick 28-point lead because of the myriad opportunities presented by Maryland’s incoherent game plan and consistently poor execution.
It should have been obvious which direction this day was going when offensive coordinator Walt Bell started breaking out the trick plays in the first quarter when the Terps – at least theoretically – were still in the game. Can’t blame him for that, given the circumstances. But it’s a lot tougher to dish up that kind of razzle-dazzle when your quarterback is 13 minutes into his first college start.
Sure, desperate times call for desperate measures, but faking a punt deep in your own territory early in the second quarter when the game is not close to being out of hand is simply a prescription for the game getting there even faster.
Of course, it did just that when Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters hit Zach Gentry with a 33-yard touchdown pass on the very next play to give the Wolverines a 21-0 lead with 11 minutes left in the half. And then there was a blocked punt and another quick touchdown and you know the rest.
The Terps can be forgiven for not being able to compete effectively against the top teams in the conference after losing three quarterbacks. Any chance of finishing this season with a winning record probably evaporated the moment that promising freshman QB Kasim Hill tore up his knee in the Maryland’s first loss of the year against UCF.
Instead, they have become the poster team for the out-sized importance of the quarterback position, because they have decent offensive talent everywhere else and – at least until a couple of offensive linemen got banged up on Saturday – they had been able to stay healthy all season at the other 10 offensive positions.
The trick play now for head coach D.J. Durkin is to find a way to make something positive out of this season-ending string of games against ranked teams, which obviously is not going to be easy. Michigan figured to be the most vulnerable of the three, and the Terps appeared to be in a disturbing state of disarray in the first half.
They were able to calm things down in the third quarter and Brand moved the offense well in the second half, but an end zone interception and a missed field goal attempt kept them from doing more than make the final score slightly more presentable.
Brand finally drove the Terps for their only touchdown in the fourth quarter, hitting wideout Taivon Jacobs with a 10-yard scoring pass.
By that time, the Terps and Wolverines might as well have been playing in Ann Arbor, Mich., because the Maryland faithful started filtering out of the stadium at halftime and the stands behind the Wolverine sideline were still well-populated with Michigan fans.
Durkin and his coaching staff can take some solace in the way his team refused to quit in the second half and outscored the Wolverines in the final two quarters, but No. 13 Michigan State and No. 16 Penn State lie ahead.