Terps can’t run from this problem

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BLACKSBURG, Va. | Chris Turner’s evening of pressure and harassment was finally over. The Maryland quarterback left Lane Stadium like so many others who dared enter on a Thursday night.

The junior was dragged down only three times, a number belying the torment Virginia Tech inflicted throughout the second half. It was enough for Turner to acknowledge one of the tenets of Football 101 as the Terrapins pondered a 23-13 loss to the Hokies.

“It’s hard to do anything when you can’t run the ball every now and again,” Turner said.

Superficial wounds from the prime-time loss are obvious. Maryland (6-3, 3-2) is no longer is alone atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but it still would reach the league title game with three straight victories. The No. 23 Terps, however, will surely lose their national ranking.

But if there is something deeper to find in the loss - far more than the defense Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans torched for a school-record 253 yards - it is the weakness in Maryland’s rushing game exposed for all to see. The Terps ran for minus 12 yards, the worst showing in coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure. The team’s longest run was a 7-yard scamper and none of the team’s first downs was collected on the ground.

Sure, Maryland barely bothered to run in the second half. And three sacks of Turner made meager numbers appear even worse. Yet, even without the sacks, the Terps managed 14 yards on 15 carries. Starting tailback Da’Rel Scott, who played 12 days after aggravating a left shoulder injury, had 11 yards on 10 carries.

“We didn’t run the ball the way we’re capable of running the ball,” Friedgen said.

It was a multifaceted problem. Certainly, Maryland had yet to face as physical a front seven as the Hokies’. But the Terps’ offensive line, which recovered from a dreadful night at Virginia to post a pair of strong games, regressed dramatically in a not-ready-for-prime-time performance in Blacksburg.

Then there was a battered backfield not at full strength at the most inopportune time. Scott was far more effective on short passes than when taking a handoff; fullback Cory Jackson sat out the first series before playing for nearly the rest of the game.

Neither looked like his usual self. Scott was ineffective in the first half and the Terps were cautious with Jackson - both by limiting his special teams work and giving the first series of work to redshirt freshman Taylor Watson.

“They didn’t practice most of the week, trying to get healthy,” Turner said. “I don’t know if it was a factor in the production. I know it doesn’t help not to practice, but at the same time you have to decide if you want to be healthy or if you want to get the game plan down and this and that. From what I saw, I thought Da’Rel was doing pretty good - same with Cory.”

Friedgen is optimistic that an extra week of preparation entering a Nov. 15 meeting with North Carolina will offer ample healing time for his backfield. The Terps will need both, especially with a three-game finishing flourish determining whether Maryland will surge or plummet in the ACC’s bowl pecking order.

Home games with North Carolina and Florida State loom, followed by a visit to Boston College. Win all three and a trip to Tampa, Fla., for the ACC championship game is assured. Even victories in the final two games, coupled with one more conference loss for Wake Forest, would get the job done.

A path to the title game remains, but that’s assuming Maryland can recover in time to blaze its own trail on the ground.

“I think the future is still bright,” Turner said. “We have what, three games left? Our fate is still in our hands.”

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