Maryland’s first half Saturday unfolded like the two before it.
Sloppy. Erratic. And with the Terrapins being outplayed as they reached the game’s midpoint.
This time, Maryland led. It also managed to recover in time to collect a victory.
“I just told the kids ‘Don’t panic. We’re fine,’” coach Randy Edsall said.
And so they were, eventually pulling away from Towson for a 28-3 victory in the first meeting between the in-state schools.
The 35,573 who assembled at Byrd Stadium were probably not impressed as the Tigers held a 225-111 yardage advantage at the break. Even though the Terps led 7-3, Towson dictated pace and prevented Maryland’s offense from even stepping onto the field.
But there was a major problem: The Tigers (3-1) had three points to show for three trips into Maryland territory.
“Nobody was down,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “We were all like ‘We should be beating these guys. Let’s just go ahead and go do it.’”
Therein lies the story of Maryland’s season to date. The Terps, still less than a year removed from a nine-win season, believe they should be successful. Players repeatedly insist the talent is in place for Maryland to accomplish big things.
Then comes an erratic performance. In this case, the good (four forced turnovers) easily outweighed the bad. Quarterback Danny O’Brien, who struggled for three quarters and was spelled briefly by C.J. Brown in a pre-planned move, tossed a couple touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pad the Terps’ lead.
Such up-and-down play was survivable against Towson, a plucky visitor who proved to be an annoyance while taking a guarantee of about $250,000. The Tigers are much-improved over recent years, but still face a resource and talent deficit against a team with nearly 20 more scholarships to offer this season.
Maryland will be hard-pressed to do the same in the coming weeks, with Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State lined up in succession for a stretch certain to define the Terps’ season.
“I think we still have a long way to go,” Edsall said. “This is just factual. We’re a young team. We’ve had some young guys have to play because of injuries, which is part of the game.”
Indeed, Maryland started three freshmen on defense (defensive end Keith Bowers, linebacker Lorne Goree and safety Titus Till) for the first time since the 2000 season finale. It was Till’s first start, and he made 11 tackles in the victory.
He wasn’t the only newcomer to make a difference. Tailback Justus Pickett scored his first career touchdown and rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries. Fullback Tyler Cierski caught a touchdown pass. And Goree had one of the Terps’ two interceptions.
And so it went, a familiar start seguing into a successful second half. Two weeks of frustration were at least temporarily washed away, with Maryland evening its record and perhaps steadying itself entering a vital three weeks.
“I just felt we hung in there,” O’Brien said. “You take a win any way you can get it. It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest or easiest win, but we got it.”
—- Patrick Stevens