The end arrives Saturday for Maryland’s football season, a 12-game journey in which inexperience and lack of talent at crucial places took their toll, injuries popped up in all the wrong places, and the job security of coach Ralph Friedgen came into question.
Rarely does a single moment assure disaster in any season, and that wasn’t the case for the Terrapins (2-9, 1-6 ACC). An accumulation of problems both major and minor left Maryland relegated to playing meaningless games for much of November.
There is one date left, a meeting with Boston College (7-4, 4-3) at what could be a half-empty Byrd Stadium. There is no shortage of twists that placed Maryland on the precipice of the first 10-loss season in school history, and few escape Friedgen’s memory.
“A lot of them, almost every game,” Friedgen said. “Every one is like a knife in my heart.”
Some problems, like a green offensive line, could be spotted far before the season began. Others proved far worse than could be predicted. But these five in particular played a significant role in torpedoing the Terps:
1. Losing cornerback Nolan Carroll. Injuries happen, and Maryland dealt with ailments throughout the season. But when Carroll broke his right tibia in the second half against James Madison, it deprived a defense adjusting to a new scheme of arguably its best player.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown wasn’t interested in using Carroll’s absence as an excuse, and Cameron Chism stepped in to secure as many interceptions (four) as the rest of the secondary combined. Yet for a unit relying so much on man-to-man coverage, Carroll was a crucial loss.
“If you were going to clone a guy at that position that he plays, he’d be one of the prototypes,” Brown said. “I’m more than positive that his talents, leadership ability and all those things would have come out during the course of this season.”
2. Trouble with turnovers. Pick a pick (or a fumble) in September. Maryland was minus-10 in turnover margin in its first four games, and opponents scored 61 points in the first month of the season off Terps giveaways.
The problems haven’t been nearly as bad in conference play. Maryland has forced three more turnovers than it yielded in September, and ACC teams managed just 17 points off takeaways. But the Terps’ generosity placed them in a 1-3 hole they never could recover from.
“The biggest factor of all, early on, was the turnovers,” Friedgen said. “Even if you make those plays [you should make], you can’t give four or five possessions to the other team and expect to win. That happened at California, happened with James Madison, happened with Rutgers. We have two games where the first play of the game was an interception.”
3. The thin red line. An offensive line returning only two players - tackle Bruce Campbell and center Phil Costa - appeared questionable to begin with. Then Campbell suffered a series of injuries, and his absence forced the Terps to mix and match a patchwork unit that included only one recruited fourth- or fifth-year player on scholarship.
Maryland started seven offensive line combinations in nine games as it frantically tried to solve the crucial piece of its offense. The pass blocking had its moments, but the Terps have managed to run for 144 yards - last year’s per game average - just twice.
“You sit here in August, and all your hopes and dreams are there,” Costa said. “Then September and October kind of withers it away a little bit, but we always felt like we were in there. Every week, you come to the realization you’re doing it for pride now.”
4. Bad breaks. They’re not the primary reason for Maryland’s struggles, and placing them front and center is a bit of a cop-out. Maryland ranks in the bottom half nationally in 15 of the 17 categories the NCAA tracks and in the bottom quarter in 10. Statistically, it’s not an overwhelming outfit.