Continuing to get better. Whether in the wake of an opening week victory or the onslaught of losses against major-college opposition that’s followed, it remains a consistent mantra from Maryland coach Randy Edsall.
It resurfaced again Saturday less than an hour after a 31-13 loss to Virginia ensured a losing season for the Terrapins in Edsall’s first season. With three games left and little more than pride at stake, Edsall insisted the priority the rest of the month is continuing to get better.
Which prompts the question of whether the Terrapins actually are getting better.
“There were things that we did out there, but there were things we didn’t do,” Edsall said. “That’s kind of been the story of the season. Big plays against us on defense have hurt us all year long, and not being able to make some plays offensively is what has hurt us.”
Edsall has reiterated over the last month he sees progress. But the visual evidence is fleeting for a fanbase with a history of investing resources in response to results rather than faith —- and even then not always in an overwhelming manner.
The Terps (2-7, 1-5 ACC) have dropped four consecutive conference games by at least 10 points, their longest such streak since 1998 and two shy of an ignominious school record. The shoddy play of Maryland’s kickoff coverage, a glaring chronic problem in an autumn littered with lows, set up a Virginia touchdown in the opening minute. The injury-riddled defense surrendered 527 yards.
Quarterbacks Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown combined for four turnovers and the Terps had another giveaway on special teams. A vast majority of the announced crowd of 37,401 was long gone when time finally expired on Maryland’s latest loss.
“We’re getting better, yes and no,” O’Brien said. “Like I said, the most frustrating thing is making the same little mistakes each week. The factors for that, I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. I don’t know if we’re getting better or not. At the end of the day, you’ve got to say no because we keep losing. Until you get a win, I can’t confidently say we’re getting better.”
Whether the Terps are improving, stagnant or regressing, there isn’t much of tangible value they can salvage from the final quarter of the season. A bowl bid is already out of reach, this a year after Maryland went 9-4 and finished in the top 25 and jettisoned coach Ralph Friedgen after 10 years.
Edsall’s first season, then, qualifies as a severe disappointment based simply on wins and losses. With Notre Dame up next at FedEx Field, followed by dates with a pair of teams still in the hunt for bowl eligibility (Wake Forest and N.C. State), the rest of November does not set up favorably.
Fans voiced their displeasure Saturday with the Terps and Edsall, who was hired away from Connecticut in January. It was clear they didn’t believe Maryland was better than the bunch that upended Miami in the Labor Day season opener.
In more subtle ways, defensive tackle Maurice Hampton noted, there are still opportunities to improve even if the season won’t be extended into December.
“I feel like every game, every day has been a day to get better,” Hampton said. “Obviously, people’s mindsets were in the wrong way. [Edsall] talks about having a closed fist. Obviously, we have a lot of guys who it’s open fist. As soon as everybody gets on the same page and everybody realizes that and once we’re all on the same page we’ll all move in the same direction as a whole instead of as individuals.”
Hampton, a fifth-year senior, probably won’t be in College Park to see that scenario come to fruition. Neither will senior wideout Quintin McCree, who said he refuses to allow Maryland’s misery to date to influence the next three weeks.
Or, the Terps hope, prevent him from getting better.
“It’s not going to affect me at all,” McCree said. “I’m just going to keep playing until the end. Regardless of if we have one game or two games left and we’re not going to a bowl game, I’m still going to have the same mentality to come out and play my hardest because everybody is trying to go to the next level and have a chance. You can’t just let up because ‘Oh, you can’t [get into] bowl season.’”
—- Patrick Stevens