The Maryland football team was supposed to deliver a Big Ten beating on winless Temple on Saturday afternoon at Maryland Stadium. The Terps were favored by more than two touchdowns and they were flirting with a place in at least one of the national polls.
Sometimes, you just have to scratch your head.
The Terps looked sluggish and indecisive and the Owls looked like the Top 25 candidate in a stunning 35-14 upset that evoked memories of the way Maryland started last season with two victories and then came unglued in a lopsided loss to Central Florida.
The difference then was that Maryland lost its top two quarterbacks during those first three games and UCF turned out to be one of the nation’s best teams. The only explanation Saturday was the Terps didn’t look like they were ready to play, got outcoached and basically were dominated by a team that gave up 36 points in a loss to Buffalo the previous week.
There were some personnel problems this time, too. Three starting offensive lineman and two running backs did not dress, but that doesn’t adequately explain how an 0-2 American Athletic Conference team essentially pitched a shutout against a Maryland team that scored 79 points over its first two games.
The Terps did not score a touchdown on offense. The two Terps scores came on an interception return and a return of a blocked punt.
Give the Owls credit for going on the road with a great game plan. The Terps were hoodwinked on a fake punt in the first quarter, left a receiver completely uncovered for a back-breaking touchdown early in the second half and made a variety of lesser mistakes that added up to one giant letdown.
Interim head coach Matt Canada looked at the stat sheet afterward and quickly boiled the offensive performance down to one statistic.The Terps were successful on a grand total of one out of 12 third-down opportunities.
Then he blamed himself over and over for the loss. He must have done so a dozen times, so it would only be polite to take him at his word.
There were all sorts of mind-boggling moments, but one obscure play in particular was emblematic of Maryland’s incoherent offensive attack. It might not have affected the outcome of the game, but it showed the Terps just weren’t tuned in to what was going on out there.
They were trailing 14-0, and had driven from their 17 to the Temple 48-yard line with about four minutes left until intermission. They faced a third-and-2 situation at a time when they needed to grind down the clock, get on the scoreboard and go back to the locker room to figure out how to stop Temple in the second half.
Instead, quarterback Kasim Hill went for a big chunk instead of a little one and threw a 20-yard pass intended for tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo that bounced off the back of Temple safety Delvon Randall. The worst thing about it was that Hill appeared to have more than enough unoccupied grass in front of him to get the first down and keep the drive alive.
The importance of the play was obscured by what happened during the final minutes of the half. The Terps punted and pinned the Owls back, then scored a huge touchdown when safety Darnell Savage Jr. picked off a pass by Temple quarterback Anthony Russo and sprinted into the end zone to make it a one-score game.
Unfortunately for the Terps, there was a big difference between sustaining a drive to score the last touchdown of the half and leaving 3½ minutes on the clock when the defense has been on its heels for much of the game.
Kicker Joseph Petrino hooked the kickoff out of bounds and the Owls took the ball from their 35-yard line to the end zone in 11 plays to reach halftime leading 21-7.
It only got worse from there. The Terps drove into Temple territory three times in the fourth quarter, only to fail on a fourth-down conversion before Hill and reserve quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome each threw an interception as the game drew to a close.
Let’s not get carried away here. The Terps weren’t waylaid on their way to an undefeated season, but this was a winnable game that was lost in a way that can only discourage an already-dispirited fan following.