In homecoming game against Rutgers, Maryland seeks to improve in role of big favorites

The number seems staggering for a team coming off a 21-point road loss.

Can Maryland really be a 23-point favorite Saturday in its homecoming game against Rutgers?

Recent history should make fans — and possibly interim coach Matt Canada — shudder at the notion.

It was less than a month ago that the Terps lost badly, 35-14, to previously winless Temple after being favored by 16 points going into its home opener at Maryland Stadium.

A week later, it seemed rather strange that Maryland was actually favored at home — albeit by 2½ points — over previously unbeaten Minnesota in the Big Ten opener.

Of course, the Terps won easily, 42-13.

So how should Canada and his team, coming off a 42-21 loss at then-No. 15 Michigan, feel going into a game against the Scarlet Knights, who since winning the season opener over Texas State have lost five straight, by an average of 29.4 points a game?

Rutgers’ past three defeats were at home, including a 38-17 loss to Illinois last Saturday.

Asked if his team learned its lesson from the Temple game, Canada said during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference Tuesday, “I certainly think that happened after the Temple game. Our football team is learning and maturing and growing and we have to do those things. I think Rutgers is a team very similar to us — year three of a process. They’re getting better all the time, too.”

What sometimes makes it difficult for a team such as Maryland is the atmosphere surrounding its home games. The Terps have averaged just over 34,000 for its first two home games.

While homecoming typically draws more fans, the lack of a big-name opponent might keep the crowd size down at Maryland Stadium for the noon start.

Canada said he doesn't believe it will affect the way the Terps play.

"Our football team is playing with the mindset that they’re playing for each other, to represent each other, and they’re certainly very proud to represent their family and the University of Maryland,” Canada said. “Right now in our building, we’re sticking together and playing for each other. We’re very appreciative of all the fans that come out and support us. I think we’ve had great support. … If we continue to play well, more and more people will come watch us and that’s how we’re going to approach it.”

Graduate receiver Taivon Jacobs said the size of the crowd for home games doesn't matter.

“As long as we go out there and do our jobs, execute and come away with the victory,” Jacobs said after practice Tuesday night, “that’s all that really matters.”

Asked if he pays attention to the size of the crowd — whether at Maryland or Michigan, where there was nearly 110,000 in attendance, Jacobs said, “It’s always great to have the support from your family, friends, peers, all the things like that. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to focus on our group and go out and try to get a victory.”

There is something else to consider. Saturday represents the four-month anniversary of the death of their teammate, offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke.

“We are going through a grieving process and a lot of our students have been amazing to our players, and I’m sure a lot of the alumni that come back are going to come back and be appreciative of how the players have handled this how they’ve handled the adversity,” Canada said at Tuesday’s news conference.

But Canada has conveyed the message about not underrating the opposition.

“Rutgers is a great team, Temple is a great team,” Jacobs said after practice Tuesday. “We’re going to go out and compete with those guys and hopefully they bring their ‘A’ game, we bring our ‘A’ game and it’s a great showing for the fans.”

While the stakes have never been that high, this has been an interesting series.

Their first two matchups as Big Ten foes included huge comebacks by the road team, with the Scarlet Knights overcoming a 25-point deficit in 2014 and the Terps coming back from down 21 points to win in 2015.

The home team has won each of the past two years, most recently a 31-24 Rutgers victory in Piscataway, N.J., last season.

Asked if the Terps are out for a bit of payback after last year’s game — which ended with a controversial no-call in the end zone after All-Big Ten receiver DJ Moore was grabbed as he went to make a catch that would have helped force overtime, Jacobs stayed on message.

“Like I said, they’re a great team, and hopefully we show we’re a great team team and just go out there and compete and have a great day for the fans,” said Jacobs, who is tied with junior DJ Turner for the team lead in receptions with 13.

Given his role as interim coach — meaning his future at Maryland is nearly as uncertain as that of third-year coach DJ Durkin, who remains on administrative leave — Canada said homecoming is more important to the players than it is to himself.

“Well, obviously to the team, it’s their school, it’s a special time,” he said. “We’ve got some former players that are going to come back and obviously alumni come back and you know this is their campus, their school. Those who have been so supportive of our players, we are very appreciative of.

“So we’re excited for everybody to come back. We’re always excited for them to watch us play. We’re very proud of how our kids play. You know we want to win more, we want to win them all. But as far as the way our kids are handling all of this — the way they’re playing hard, the way they’re playing together, the way they’re going to class, the way they’re doing everything.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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