Just wanted to slip in a preview of tomorrow’s e-edition story on how Maryland’s football season slipped away. There’s not one root cause, but rather several factors (some I couldn’t even fit into the article filed for tomorrow) that did the Terps in.
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 in all the wrong places popped up and the job security of coach Ralph Friedgen came into question.
Rarely does a single moment assure disaster in any season, and it wasn’t the case for the Terrapins (2-9, 1-6 ACC). It was an accumulation of problems both major and minor that 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 are 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 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 Terp giveaways.
The problems aren’t nearly as pronounced 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 could never 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 plays 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 scholarship fourth-year or fifth-year player.
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 managed to run for 144 yards —- last year’s per game average —- just twice as the season slowly unraveled.
“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. It’s not the primary reason for Maryland’s struggles, and placing it 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 of 10 of 17. Statistically, it’s not an overwhelming outfit.
But there have been enough close-but-not-quite moments. The decision to try a field goal on a fourth down against Middle Tennessee when a first down would clinch a win backfired. A pick-six and a dropped pass probably combined to cost Maryland a win against Virginia. The Terps missed two open receivers for touchdowns against N.C. State. Then there was last week’s meltdown at Florida State.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs within the season, we just haven’t been able to get Ws,” defensive end Deege Galt said. “I really do think it has piled on. You get low and you get beat down and you get back up and you’re playing good and you just need that one break or you need to make that one play or that one adjustment. A lot of times we’re not getting that one play or one break.”
5. Second-half follies. Maryland couldn’t defend the pass against Wake Forest, couldn’t establish the run in the rain against Virginia and Duke, couldn’t score on offense once quarterback Chris Turner suffered a sprained left knee ligament against N.C. State and couldn’t close out arguably its best played game of the season at Florida State.
Name a way for the Terps to stumble during their six-game skid, and they’ve found it.
“It’s just really take your pick,” said Turner, who is probable for today’s game. “Clemson seems so long ago. … After that, it just kind of blurs together.”
Still, the Terps tried to sort it out without success. They attempted to figure out just how they would be flirting with program ignominy rather than a postseason invitation on the eve of their final game of a season spoiled not by one massive problem, but rather a series of miscues that added up to a doomed autumn.
“Every practice, every day, [you ask] ‘How did we end up [2-9]?’” safety Terrell Skinner said. “My faith leads me to believe everything happens for a reason. Something good is going to come out of this. I don’t know [what]. I can’t tell you yet. But something good is going to come of this.”
—- Patrick Stevens