TALLAHASSEE, Fla. | Maryland has consistently produced losses and quarterback uncertainty this month.
Saturday was no different.
A slow start and a weary defense doomed the Terrapins to a 41-16 loss at Florida State, a game during which quarterback C.J. Brown was removed after absorbing a shot to the head in the third quarter.
The loss drops Maryland to 2-5, one setback more than last year’s Military Bowl winners suffered for the entire season. The Terps can afford to only lose once in their final five games or else they will miss the postseason.
“We just have to continue to get better,” first-year coach Randy Edsall said. “That’s all we have to do. We have to coach them better. Kids have to do their part. That’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re just going to keep getting better.”
Only so much progress could be made against the Seminoles (4-3, 2-2 ACC), who amassed 485 yards at Doak Campbell Stadium while effective extinguishing whatever division title hopes Maryland (1-3 in the conference) may have yet harbored. That number wasn’t an aberration; Maryland has yielded 1.35 miles in yardage in its five losses —- or 469.8 yards per game.
The Seminoles scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and its final two drives, in between demonstrating fluctuating interest as the Terps struggle to muster much offensively. Maryland pulled within 17-3 on the final play of the first half, only to lose Brown on its second possession when he slid into Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham (who in turn was called for a personal foul).
Brown returned to the locker room, where he said he passed a concussion test, and soon returned to the field. Danny O’Brien, benched two weeks earlier in a loss to Georgia Tech after making 15 straight starts, took over and threw for 180 yards and a touchdown.
Edsall said who would start Saturday against Boston College would be a game-time decision, just as he said it would be when he gave Brown the nod over O’Brien on Oct. 15 against Clemson. Yet at this stage, the Terps face far larger concerns about the direction of their season.
Namely how did things unravel to the point Maryland, which wrapped up last season in the top 25, has struggled so mightily.
“It’s disappointing —- flat-out,” O’Brien said. “We’ve underachieved this year and we know that.”
Injuries are one refrain. Maryland welcomed back linebacker Darin Drakeford, who missed four of the last five games, but has still lost 19 man-games from its opening week starting defense because of a variety of maladies. That includes linebacker Kenny Tate, who wore warmups and missed his third consecutive game.
Still, the results are the results. Maryland returned to its habit of stumbling early, and it never pulled within a possession after the Seminoles built their 14-0 edge.
“Fighting from behind makes it tough on everybody,” defensive tackle Joe Vellano said.
If there is a glimmer of hope for Maryland, it is a relative turn of the schedule. The Terps’ final four conference opponents are a combined 14-14 overall and 6-9 in the ACC. None of Maryland’s remaining foes is ranked, and just one (Notre Dame) has spent any time in the polls this year.
Perhaps most significantly, the Terps are unlikely to endure the same athleticism disadvantage as they’ve faced in consecutive losses.
“We’re just not doing enough positive things against these type of teams that we’ve just played these last two weeks with their speed and athleticism,” Edsall said. “We just don’t match up with the speed and athleticism of Clemson and Florida State. That’s what we’re going to have to do from a recruiting standpoint.”
Recruiting help won’t arrive soon enough to abet this year’s bowl hopes (and Maryland’s 2012 class is currently ranked 11th in the 12-team ACC by Rivals.com, anyway). And while players universally insisted a turnaround was possible, some of Maryland’s problems aren’t likely to fully dissipate.
Plenty of the injuries will linger. So will quarterback questions for another week. And not only will the Terps not match last year’s victory total, but the path to salvaging some success grows narrower by the week.
“We can win and we’re going to win,” said Edsall, who earlier this season insisted he had not inherited a rebuilding project. “I have no doubt about that. We’re going to win. It’s going to get done. I’m confident of it, the players are confident of it, the coaches are confident of it. We’re going to get it done.”
But will it happen this year? Not with the sort of consistency the Terps have displayed to date.
—- Patrick Stevens