TAMPA, Fla. — Maryland football coach Randy Edsall had a message for his team during practice Tuesday: "You better make sure you work and do everything we ask you to do, because if you don't, you're going to get surprised."
On Saturday, the Terps got surprised. They entered Saturday's game against South Florida as nearly 14-point favorites. Yet the Terps trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter and might not have escaped with a 24-17 win if not for a fourth-quarter blocked punt by fullback Kenny Goins (Gilman) that linebacker Avery Thompson recovered for a touchdown.
There were six turnovers. There were defensive miscues that led to big plays for South Florida's offense. All in all, it was possibly as ugly of a win as Edsall has had since taking over as the Terps' coach in 2011. But Maryland is nonetheless 2-0 heading into next Saturday's home game against rival West Virginia.
"I'd rather be able to teach the lessons that we're going to be to teach coming off of a win than sitting here talking to [the media] and it be an 'L,'" Edsall said. "Right now, we're 2-0. That's the best we can be. Do we have to get better? Yeah. Will we get better? Yes, we will. Does this send a message to our team? Yes, it does."
The biggest problem Saturday was the offense.
All three Terps running backs fumbled. Quarterback C.J. Brown also lost a ball that was returned 21 yards for a touchdown by South Florida linebacker Auggie Sanchez. In all, Maryland fumbled seven times and lost four.
But Brown's passing might be the bigger concern. After going just 11-for-24 for 111 yards passing during the Terps' season-opening win over James Madison, Brown was a respectable 17-for-28 for 201 yards. He threw two first-half touchdowns to wide receiver Marcus Leak, but he also had two interceptions, both of them throws that could have produced Terps scores.
On the first pick, Brown had wide receiver Stefon Diggs streaking open down the middle during Maryland's first possession of the game. But Brown, late on the throw, put the ball behind Diggs, and . South Florida (1-1) cornerback Johnny Ward came up with it.
The second interception came with the Terps driving for a go-ahead score midway through the third quarter. Brown had Diggs open across the middle on third-and-9 from South Florida's 18. Diggs might have scored with an accurate throw, but the pass was again behind the junior. It was a catchable pass, but it deflected off his hands and intercepted by Sanchez. The turnover cost the Terps a chance at a short field goal by kicker Brad Craddock, which would have tied the game at 17.
"No style points today, but we got the win, and that's all that matters," Brown said.
There were some positives for Maryland besides the win, though.
Making his first start as the third receiver, Leak caught three passes for 72 yards, including the two touchdowns.
The Terps also got big returns from Will Likely and Diggs for the second straight week. Likely had a 46-yard punt return to set up Maryland's first touchdown, and Diggs had a 49-yard kick return to set up the second.
The Terps shut out South Florida in the second half after a steady start to the game by Bulls backup quarterback Steven Bench, who replaced starter Mike White (left forearm) after the first play of the game.
And Maryland got the big blocked punt from Goins with 12:25 left in the fourth quarter that put the Terps in front 21-17 and allowed them to escape Raymond James Stadium with a win.
There is still plenty of work to do. Edsall and players acknowledged as much after the game. But, most important, the Terps emerged from Saturday with a 2-0 record. Now they can make the improvements they need coming off of a win rather than a loss.
"We know this. We're happy we won. We're disappointed in how we played in some phases," Edsall said. "Now what we've got to do is go back starting [Sunday] and look at the mistakes we made, correct them and get better."