A smattering of patrons —- many huddled beneath the protection of overhangs —- found their way into Byrd Stadium on Saturday for what on paper was Maryland’s most winnable remaining game.
They were not rewarded for their decision.
In near-freezing temperatures and a mix of rain and snow, Boston College dealt the Terrapins a 28-17 loss in front of the smallest crowd at Byrd in nearly 11 seasons.
It was another low mark in coach Randy Edsall’s first year in College Park, which now sits upon the brink of a losing season less than a year after the Terps won nine games and a bowl and finished 2010 in the top 25.
“We had that conversation that you just mentioned,” Edsall said. “We do have no margin for error.”
Edsall made eight mentions of reviewing film or tape in the aftermath of his team’s fourth straight defeat. Maryland (2-6, 1-4 ACC), though, won’t have much fun looking back on the loss to Boston College (2-6, 1-4), which had not defeated a major-college opponent this season.
It happened in front of an announced crowd of 29,945, a gathering that probably never reached a third of that total and was the smallest at Byrd since former coach Ron Vanderlinden’s final game in 2000. And with a 35-degree temperature at kickoff and two teams almost out of bowl contention on the field, it was hard to blame anyone for remaining at home.
Those who braved the elements weren’t pleased at Boston College building a 21-3 lead at the break, showering boos upon the Terps as they left the field at halftime.
Salvaging something in the next month will be quite the task for Edsall, whose team must win its final four games simply to become bowl eligible. In the wake of Maryland’s first four-loss October since 1998, it will be especially challenging.
This defeat was different than Maryland’s previous three in conference play. Those all came against foes either ranked or not far removed from spending time in the polls. The Eagles limped into College Park on the verge of bowl elimination themselves and little star power beyond linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Enter Rolandan Finch.
The 5-foot-10 sophomore tailback rumbled for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries, grinding up Maryland in conditions perfectly suited for his skillset.
Boston College scored three touchdowns in its first four possessions, then simply held on to secure its first conference victory.
“It’s the fundamental mistakes,” defensive tackle Joe Vellano said. “It’s not big mistakes, it’s missed tackles, it’s dropped balls. It’s the secret to losing; that’s what will get you beat is little things like that, and I think that’s any team, really.”
Yet even with injuries, this has turned into an unexpected implosion for a program that’s endured its share of good and bad times in the last five years. After an 8-5 season in 2008, the Terps regressed to 2-10 the next year. An autumn so difficult wasn’t entirely expected that year, but a losing season seemed possible thanks to a green offensive line.
Maryland bounced back to 9-4 in 2010, but the departure of coach-in-waiting James Franklin led athletic director Kevin Anderson to fire former coach Ralph Friedgen and lure Edsall away from Connecticut.
Edsall was granted a six-year, $12 million guaranteed contract, and in July declared of his first season, “There’s going to be no excuses. We’re just going to go play.”
With a month to go, no wiggle room remains for even a bowl bid and the Terps’ ACC title hopes are already shot.
“Ultimately, I’m the guy that’s responsible for this,” Edsall said.
That includes Saturday’s low tide, when few bothered to come and even fewer remained until the end of Maryland’s latest setback. And with that, a once-promising season has led to an obvious on-field regression even despite other factors.
Maryland still harbors fleeting bowl aspirations. It’s that short-term future, rather than an upbeat past the Terps saw fizzle over the last seven Saturdays, Edsall must rivet his team’s attention upon.
“We had high expectations for this year, but we can’t get caught looking back at what could have been because we still have four games left,” quarterback Danny O’Brien said.
—- Patrick Stevens