Almost two months ago, Maryland coach Randy Edsall faced the first true low tide of his tenure when Temple demolished the Terrapins 38-7 at Byrd Stadium.
"Well, there's no need to sugarcoat anything," Edsall said after the Sept. 24 walloping. "We got our butts handed to us today."
There's no sugarcoating this, either: It wouldn't be the last time. The scene played out frequently the rest of the fall, the Terps somehow continuing to ebb as Edsall's first season spiraled into an unmitigated disappointment.
Major injuries. Suspensions of varying severity sprinkled in throughout the season. Quarterback uncertainty and, at times, ineffectiveness. The smallest home crowd in more than a decade gathered for the Oct. 29 loss to fellow doormat Boston College (aided, in part, by miserable weather). Six consecutive double-digit losses, matching a school record. The program's worst defensive performance in nearly 20 years.
Put it together, and Maryland (2-9, 1-6 ACC) has little to play for Saturday when it visits N.C. State (6-5, 3-4) besides avoiding its second 10-loss season in three years.
Still, there are modest signs of hope for the program going forward. There certainly aren't enough for anyone to believably spin the last three months as a time of progress, but there are a few things to build upon.
• Joe Vellano's strong play. When the ACC releases its all-conference teams next week, Vellano is probably the only realistic candidate on the Terps' roster to receive a nod. But the junior defensive tackle has earned it, rolling up 86 tackles (6 1/2 for loss) and serving as a mainstay with plenty of flux around him.
"I think Joe has just been a warrior, been a leader, been a guy who gets after it the way I like guys to get after it," Edsall said Tuesday.
Vellano also has handled the thankless task of speaking to the media in the midst of a miserable season more than anyone else on the roster (especially after injuries to fellow captains Andrew Gonnella and Kenny Tate), and done so gracefully and in an upbeat manner.
• A capable offensive line. The root cause of the 2-10 season in 2009 was a woefully inexperienced and undeveloped offensive line, and it was a problem easy to identify. This year's line played reasonably well, though the midseason loss of Gonnella to a dislocated knee didn't help.
Still, Gonnella was Maryland's only senior on the offensive line. The program's disastrous 2007 offensive line recruiting class finally cycles out, and barring attrition the Terps could have three senior starters (R.J. Dill, Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert) to go with well-regarded left tackle Max Garcia.
• Gilbert's return. Perhaps the most welcome subplot of the entire season was Gilbert's comeback from two knee surgeries in response to tearing the same anterior cruciate ligament — in a September 2010 game at West Virginia, and again during spring practice earlier this year.
Gilbert made his season debut Nov. 5 against Virginia and has started at right guard the past two games. It's a new position for the energetic junior, but the possibility of an offseason there means the right side of Maryland's line could be especially stout next year.
• Freshmen up front. Defensive tackle Andre Monroe has a team-high five sacks, despite missing three games with an ankle injury. Defensive end Keith Bowers — who Edsall has said is 233 pounds despite being listed at 260 — has started 11 games. Both are freshmen who are likely to improve and grow stronger over time.
• Dorsey's a solid catch. Until suffering a midseason injury, junior wideout Kevin Dorsey had established himself as a potential No. 1 receiver. He wasn't quite the same player after returning (13 receptions for 124 yards in three games) and is questionable for Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. Still, he's a valuable piece of the puzzle for next year and said earlier this month he would be back.
• Twine's time arrives rapidly. Injuries to all three of Maryland's starting linebackers forced Alex Twine into extensive action as a 17-year-old. He's shown a penchant for solid tackling in difficult situations, and he had three tackles for loss in the Nov. 12 loss to Notre Dame, the most for a Terp in any game this season. The freshman could be a mainstay as the Terps look to develop their defense in the future.
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