Schmuck: Maryland football shows big-play potential and something more important during difficult time — resilience

Who are these guys and where were they last week?

The Maryland football team thoroughly trounced undefeated Minnesota in its Big Ten opener Saturday at Maryland Stadium after being thoroughly trounced by winless Temple there seven days earlier. You figure it out.

This time, everything that could go right pretty much did. The Terps (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) broke off several big touchdown runs. They scored on a back-breaking pick-six. They had three takeaways and did not commit a single turnover. Interim coach Matt Canada had to dig deep to blame himself for anything that happened Saturday after delivering 21 personal postgame mea culpas for the Temple debacle.

The Gophers didn’t know what hit them. By the end of the first quarter, they had to wonder if somebody had sent them the wrong scout video.

Canada said there wasn’t any mystery to it. This season has been — and will continue to be — like no other for the young men who endured the death of teammate Jordan McNair and the summer of institutional uncertainty that grew out of that horrible tragedy.

Call them Team Resilient.

“It’s unbelievable. … It’s unbelievable,’’ said Canada, sounding more like Dick Vitale than the humble offensive coordinator who was scourging himself only days earlier. “These kids are special. What they [went] through and how they came back, they’re awesome.”

The Terps responded with a season-opening upset victory over then-No. 23 Texas and overcame a sluggish start to score a decisive win at Bowling Green. They did not overcome a slow start against Temple to lose a supposedly winnable game that figured into their best-case scenario for earning an attractive bowl bid.

But maybe this is not the year to measure success in any traditional manner. Head coach DJ Durkin remains on administrative leave and the program remains in limbo. The Walters Inc. report reviewing the circumstances that led to McNair’s death was released Friday, but the wider investigation into the culture of the football program has yet to be completed.

Though none of it reflects on the players, the lingering controversy can never be far out of mind and the coaches and players have made sure McNair is always in their thoughts with reminders all over the football complex.

Still, if it is difficult to go forward not knowing who your head coach might be a few weeks from now, the Terps ended up after Saturday’s game where they realistically could have hoped to be after four games. They were a double-digit underdog against Texas and a double-digit favorite against Temple, which pointed to a 3-1 start heading into the upcoming bye week before they travel to Michigan on Oct. 6 to see how good they really are.

Who knows how that will go. The Wolverines, who have averaged 50 points per game since their season-opening loss to Notre Dame, will be a huge favorite at home. The Terps will have two weeks to shake off three games worth of bumps and bruises. Their interim coach doesn’t seem worried about anything getting in the way of their preparation.

They’ve got a right to feel good about themselves. On Saturday, they showed a level of big-play potential that hasn’t been seen around here for quite a while. They scored their first touchdown on a 26-yard run by freshman Anthony McFarland. They scored again in the first quarter on an 81-yard sprint by Ty Johnson.

McFarland would break off a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo took a handoff and scored from 21 yards out in the final minutes of the game.

Quarterback Kasim Hill, who completed just seven of 17 passes for 56 yards against Temple, completed 10 of 14 passes Saturday and linked up with junior wideout DJ Turner on a 54-yard touchdown.

The Terps were so much in the grip of big-play mania that they rolled up 432 yards of total offense and had only 15 first downs, which almost sounds like a statistical impossibility.

In the wake of such an uplifting win, anything must seem possible.

“The kids are awesome,’’ Canada said. “We are so proud of our players and how hard they play, stick together and how hard they focus on each other. Somebody smart ought to do a study on it because it’s impressive.”

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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