It may not be time for a red-alert crisis at Maryland, but it is not far away. There is considerable concern for a season slipping away following one of the program’s worst losses ever, a 59-7 trouncing by now-top-ranked Florida State last week.
The season could reach the critical stage after a brutal two-week stretch beginning Saturday at Virginia (3-2, 2-1 ACC) and concluding the following weekend at No. 5 Clemson (5-0, 3-0). The Terps (2-2, 0-1) must find a way to plug some major holes, or they may as well be riding on Firestone tires the rest of the season.
“It’s either now or never,” said Guilian Gary, Maryland’s leading receiver. “If we plan to go to a bowl game, we have to start winning now.”
Terps cornerback Tony Okanlawon went as far as calling it a “must-win” game. Maryland, which has eight straight losses against Virginia, is a heavy underdog. The Terps have the nation’s lowest-rated defense (114th) and an offense that mustered only one first down in the opening half against the Seminoles.
Maryland has plenty of incentive against Virginia, which defeated the Terps 34-30 in their regular-season finale a year ago on a last-minute touchdown pass. The dramatic defeat put a halt to the Terps’ bid for a winning season and likely bowl berth. The Cavaliers’ win also negated a school-record 306-yard rushing performance by LaMont Jordan, as Maryland finished the season with a 5-6 record.
While that loss was a driving force in the offseason, the Terps are currently trying to shake off their latest piece of devastation a demoralizing and potential season-crushing defeat to Florida State.
“After a loss like that, the younger guys start looking at other things, they start looking forward to next year,” said Terps linebacker Aaron Thompson, of the program’s worst mauling since a 70-7 rout by Penn State in 1993. “As older guys, we just can’t allow that to happen. We have seven games left to play. We have to come out to practice and keep it loose and tell some jokes so the younger guys don’t think it’s a grind.”
The Terps have adopted a businesslike approach in practice as they prepare for the Cavaliers, who have struggled against a relatively light schedule.
The Terps have been badly beaten in the passing game and are ranked last nationally in that category, allowing 300 yards a game. Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden would not speculate on personnel changes. However, converted tailback Bruce Perry continues working at cornerback, and could see action for the first time this week.
“We need to play the ball better when it is in the air,” Vanderlinden said. “We need to play with more confidence.”
That is the Terps’ biggest battle these days, as they search for ways to stay upbeat and turn around the season that could easily see them with a 2-4 record before they play another home game. That scenario would cast a dour outlook on a season that began with expectations of a winning record and a bowl berth.
Those are two perceptions Terps coaches and veterans are desperately trying to keep alive.
“After the game, some of the younger guys in the program were in awe of what happened,” said Gary, a junior who has made a point of speaking up. “Most of them come from winning [high school] programs. I have never been beat like that. They have never been beat like that. Some of them don’t understand this is a long season.”
And it could become even longer.
Note Quarterback Shaun Hill took repetitions for one of the few times since suffering a slightly separated shoulder in the season opener against Temple. Vanderlinden said he is unlikely to play. Latrez Harrison, who has not played this season, is listed as Calvin McCall’s back-up, but the Terps would prefer not to play him and have the option to redshirt him this season.