COLLEGE PARK — A sign of Maryland's progress in Randy Edsall's third season with the Terps came Saturday night.
Returning to the University of Connecticut for the first time since leaving the school where he began his head coaching career in 1999, Edsall watched the Terps fall behind early, play sloppily on offense into the second half and lose the game's defensive star with a season-ending injury. Yet, somehow, Maryland managed to return home with a 34-21 victory and its first 3-0 start in 12 years.
"First to go on the road, you get down 7-0 in a loud stadium, and guys never really panicked," Edsall said Tuesday."And then we didn't really play as well offensively as I thought we're capable of playing. You sit there and say, 'It was good to get that win.' But moving forward, we can't have that little production with that movement of the football and expect to win against some of the teams we're going to be playing."
Asked about his team's collective confidence, Edsall said, "I would hope that we — and I think we do — have confidence. I think the players believe in themselves and they believe in all the things that we're doing. I think it's a good confidence that we have, it's not one that is overinflated. They're mature enough to see that we've been able to win the first three games and we haven't come close to playing our best game to date."
Another indication of what the 2013 season might have in store for Edsall and Maryland comes Saturday afternoon at M&T; Bank Stadium. The Terps will enter as a slight underdog against rebuilding West Virginia (2-1), hoping to end a seven-game losing streak to the Mountaineers that dates back to 2003. The Terps then go into a bye week unbeaten before traveling to Florida State on Oct. 5.
"They're a tough team," senior quarterback C.J. Brown said of the Mountaineers, who lost first-round NFL draft picks Geno Smith and Tavon Austin (Dunbar) after last season. "To go out there [and win], it would be a significant win for us. We're going to go in there and play our game. We're going to go out there prepared to win and kind of put on a show."
Edsall said his players know about the recent one-sided history against their border rival.
"Our players are aware of those things. That's the truth, that's reality," Edsall said. "They're going to understand that. But again, those things all happened in prior years. Some of these kids had nothing to do with it. But what they can do is make a contribution to what's happening on Saturday. That's my job to keep them focused and ready to play the game on Saturday."
Said senior tight end Dave Stinebaugh (Perry Hall): "It's kind of like every other game. We take games one step at a time, one week at a time, around here. We're not trying to blow this game out of proportion to any of the other games we've played this season. It's all about this week, going 4-0. Nothing about the past. The past is the past. We're a different team this year and we're looking forward to taking that next step."
Much could hinge on Brown's performance against a defense that held its own against Oklahoma in a 16-7 loss in Norman two weeks ago. After starting the season completing 34 of 45 passes for 556 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games, Brown was 15-for-28 for 277 yards with one touchdown and one interception against Connecticut.
"They were a good team," Brown said of the Huskies. "I just didn't execute as well as I needed to. But we did enough to win, and that's what you need to do. I've got to play better this week and have a better week of practice."
Brown agreed with the suggestion that winning ugly (three turnovers) was better than the alternative of barely winning at all the past two seasons.
"I think the biggest thing was that we didn't get rattled as a team," he said. "Yeah, we didn't play our best — it was our first game on the road, there were a lot of first-timers out there, first game away from Byrd. To play the way we did and bounce back and have a little bit of adversity, especially on offense, to finally get settled in a little bit at the end and come out with the win was huge."
Edsall understands the significance of this week's game when it comes to regional bragging rights and recruiting, but he said that in the context of the season, it's just one game of a dozen on the schedule.
"Right now we got three in the bank, that's all we got," Edsall said. "We've another one coming up against West Virginia. That's [game] No. 4. After that we've got eight more [games] that are guaranteed. We don't know what's going to happen after this week. This group is a good group from the standpoint that they're listening to what I'm saying. ... They've been very good at focusing in on the task at hand that we have for that particular week."