ATLANTA | Maryland lost both a game and one of its best offensive linemen in its first road trip of the season.
It also gained a quarterback quandary along the way Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It was far from an ideal day for the Terrapins, even though their defense proved resilient in a 21-16 loss to No. 13 Georgia Tech. The setback only counts once, though the loss fermented plenty of uncertainty as Maryland continues a daunting stretch of coach Randy Edsall’s first season.
They’ll likely to do so without left guard Andrew Gonnella, who was taken to an Atlanta hospital after suffering what Edsall described as a knee injury. They might do so without linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, who was injured on the first possession of the second half and did not return.
And who the Terps will approach the season’s midpoint with at quarterback is entirely in question after reserve C.J. Brown replaced Danny O’Brien in the first half and played the rest of the way.
It was all enough to overshadow a commendable defensive performance against the potent Yellow Jackets (6-0, 3-0 ACC) that hinted Maryland could yet be competitive this season despite a month’s worth of shaky outings.
“We’re 2-3 overall but 1-1 in the ACC; that’s .500,” safety Eric Franklin said. “I think we’ll bounce back and be fine.”
For that to happen, Maryland could use a break and it hasn’t gotten many lately. It would help to enter the week with steady play in the passing game, something Maryland did not receive Saturday.
O’Brien was yanked after going 1-for-6 for 17 yards and an interception. Brown came in, and his passing numbers (4-for-17, 36 yards, one interception) weren’t much better. Through three quarters, the pair was a combined 1-for-15 for 17 yards and two picks —- a passer efficiency rating of minus-10.48.
But Brown did help the Terps narrow an 18-point deficit with a 77-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. He finished with 124 yards on nine carries.
“I just felt we needed a little bit of a spark, so I went with C.J.,” Edsall said. “We’ll just go back and watch the film and move forward from there.”
It was on Maryland’s next possession when Gonnella suffered his gruesome injury. He was placed on a stretcher and taken off the field in an ambulance after a delay of nearly 15 minutes in the fourth quarter. Before being placed in the ambulance, he gave Edsall a message to relay to teammates.
“He told coach ‘Make sure they get down there, make sure we punch this in,’” Brown said. “He wanted to be out there. Everybody knew that. He’s the kind of guy who would sacrifice his body for us. It was tough to see one of your leaders go down.”
The Terps indeed finished the touchdown drive, but couldn’t convert the two-point try and later sputtered short of midfield on their final offensive possession.
There wouldn’t have been any tension had the Maryland defense not played well after surrendering a touchdown drive on the Yellow Jackets’ first possession. Georgia Tech’s other two touchdown drives covered less than half the field and were set up by special teams.
The Yellow Jackets managed 272 rushing yards —- more than 100 yards below their average —- and fell 30 points shy of their season scoring average.
“It could have got bad and it could have got [that way] quick with the gap,” said defensive tackle Joe Vellano, who made a career-high 20 tackles. “I thought we hung in there pretty tough.”
The Terps did so with four freshmen starting on defense as linebacker Kenny Tate was sidelined with an undisclosed injury (his right leg was wrapped during pregame warmups). A fifth freshman, linebacker Alex Twine, played much of the second half after Hartsfield’s departure.
Georgia Tech had just 154 yards and seven points after halftime.
“I thought they did what they were coached to do,” said Edsall, who fell to 1-18 in his career against ranked teams. “That’s the one thing. They went out and executed the game plan the defensive coaches put together. And you do that, that’s what happens.”
The improvement of a much-maligned defense was the upshot as the Terps suffered their first conference loss. Certainly, it is welcome progress with Clemson coming to Byrd Stadium next weekend.
But the Terps are down an offensive lineman with 26 starts, and take quarterback uncertainty home to College Park with them.
Maryland lost only once Saturday, and played respectably on defense in the process. The ramifications from the defeat, however, could only just be starting to unfold.
—- Patrick Stevens