Terps face tough ACC road

Maryland tailback Lance Ball was ready to move on soon after Saturday’s 38-16 loss to Boston College, a thorough rout of a team that had relied on smart play and luck during a five-game winning streak and couldn’t find either against the Eagles.

Nevertheless, the junior’s mind remained on the Terrapins’ severely compromised ACC championship hopes after their visit to the league’s northernmost outpost.

“We just have to watch the scoreboard and get this win against Wake Forest,” Ball said.

Neither will be easy for the Terps (8-3, 5-2 ACC), who tumbled out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll and into a three-way tie for the Atlantic Division lead after turning in their sloppiest performance in two months.

Maryland still can earn a title game berth, but it needs aid before its regular-season finale against Wake Forest (9-2, 5-2) on Saturday. Boston College (9-2, 5-2) can eliminate the Terps with a Thanksgiving victory at reeling Miami.

Even with some help, the Terps must defeat the Demon Deacons, who can win the division with a victory, to earn a trip to the ACC title game Dec. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.

There also is the Terps’ bowl picture, which would become cloudier with a loss. Even without a division title, Maryland could be an option for the Chick-Fil-A, Gator and Champs Sports bowls, but another loss might consign the Terps to a lower-tier game, such as the Music City Bowl or a meeting with Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

“You’ll go to a better bowl with nine wins than with eight,” coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday. “If nothing more, the Wake Forest game has implications in that. If Miami should beat Boston College, then it would have tremendous implications for us. [But] we can’t wait on that to happen. We have to get ourselves ready to play.”

The Terps’ array of blunders — including three turnovers returned for touchdowns — was not Saturday’s only concern. Maryland needed to generate several long drives while playing from behind, and its chance for success plummeted when wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey suffered a concussion late in the first half. The speedy redshirt freshman has emerged as the Terps’ most reliable downfield threat, and his absence forced quarterback Sam Hollenbach to abandon the vertical game.

It also illuminated a problem Friedgen has bemoaned for much of the season: Heyward-Bey and sophomores Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams are the Terps’ only reliable receivers, creating inflexibility and a problem for the coach as he calls plays. Redshirt freshman Nolan Carroll received extensive time in the second half and dropped a pass in the end zone.

“It’s been a concern of mine the whole year,” said Friedgen, who added that team doctors believe Heyward-Bey probably will be ready to play this week. “We have a lot of kids who haven’t developed. We didn’t play well at wide receiver. Seven dropped balls, three for touchdowns. I don’t think the throws could have been any better.”

Heyward-Bey isn’t the only Terps player hurting. Left guard Donnie Woods (concussion) missed Saturday’s game, right tackle Jared Gaither (nerve injury) played sparingly and fullback Tim Cesa has not appeared since suffering a concussion Oct. 28 against Florida State. Friedgen hopes Woods and Gaither can return this week.

Those ailments don’t even include a season’s worth of aches and the reality that each of the Terps’ last seven games before Saturday was undecided until the final two minutes.

“I’m sure we’re pretty much banged up, all these consecutive weeks of playing 60 minutes each week,” Oquendo said. “That doesn’t change the fact that if we make mistakes, we’re putting ourselves in a good position to lose.”

An encore appearance of turnovers and dropped passes surely will lead to another loss, but it is also reasonable to believe the Terps can recapture their savvy recipe for success. Despite Saturday’s loss, Maryland still could win 10 games, play in a significant bowl game and perhaps earn the ACC title it has eyed all season.

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