It has happened so much, it almost seems like the Maryland football team is working off a script.
The Terrapins approach the opponent’s 30-yard line, a solid drive in progress. Then, the offense falls apart. There’s a penalty. A dropped pass. A mental error. Maybe even a turnover.
Performance inside the red zone is always emphasized, so much so that the term long ago entered the football lexicon. But as Maryland can attest, other places on the field can be just as sticky.
In Saturday night’s 37-3 loss, the Terps ran plays between the Florida State 40 and 30 on four possessions. In an area that ESPN.com columnist Gregg Easterbrook dubbed the “maroon zone” a few years ago, Maryland managed no points on those drives.
“It’s like there’s an invisible line at the 30-yard line, and we just don’t do a very good job of executing,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We missed a key pass Saturday: Third-and-4, we had a guy open and didn’t hit him. We’ve had some mental issues down there.”
Unlike trips into the red zone, where there is usually a decent chance of kicking a field goal, situations in which progress halts around the 30 create difficult decisions. Field goal attempts approach or exceed 50 yards, which is out of the range of most kickers. A punt often doesn’t make sense, especially since there’s the risk of a touchback that would lead to only a mild boost in field position.
With those possibilities unappetizing, some teams are more likely to attempt to convert a fourth down. But when a team struggles as much as Maryland has, that isn’t such a promising option, either.
For the season, the Terps (7-4, 4-3 ACC) have had 44 drives with plays run between the opponent’s 40 and 30 and have come away with points 21 times - 53 percent. In Maryland’s four losses, the Terps have only a field goal to show for 12 possessions there.
“I have no idea,” tight end Dan Gronkowski said. “When we get to the 30-yard line a lot of times, the execution [is off], and guys mess up. I don’t know what it is. It just happens. I think it’s stuck in our heads. It’s one of those mental blocks where it happens a lot and you start thinking about it.”
Friedgen has tried to figure out ways to alleviate those problems, even dedicating extra time at practice to it on Wednesdays. Gronkowski said the Terps work on the same plays that they utilize in games in that area.
But it doesn’t seem to matter for Maryland, which visits No. 20 Boston College (8-3, 4-3) in the regular-season finale for both teams Saturday. The Terps have healthy conference rankings in total offense (third), passing offense (fourth) and rushing offense (fifth). But Maryland is 11th in scoring offense - albeit just 0.1 points behind Duke and Wake Forest - in the ACC.
“That’s just an issue we have had all year,” center Edwin Williams said. “The good thing is that it’s not effort. It’s not people saying, ‘Man, I’m so tired and worn out, and I can’t go any farther.’ It’s things we can fix.”
Perhaps “fix” isn’t the right word since the 30 isn’t always an artificial barrier. In back-to-back defeats of Wake Forest and N.C. State last month, Maryland scored six times in seven trips inside the 40.
But when things go poorly as the Terps approach the 30 - for whatever reason - the offense has quickly unraveled.
“When we do well, we do OK and get by that Mendoza mark or whatever it is,” Friedgen said. “Saturday, we didn’t do a very good job of that.”