Maryland guard Andrew Crummey didn’t want to hear about moral victories after Thursday’s 31-14 loss to No. 4 West Virginia. He scoffed at a question of whether staying close for a half could be a springboard for bigger things.
And he was uninterested in elevating the Mountaineers to anything more than a team that just an hour earlier played hard against the Terrapins.
Still, there were reasons Maryland dropped its fourth straight game to its border rival in the teams’ last meeting before a two-year hiatus. And while the defense surrendered 353 yards rushing — the most since coach Ralph Friedgen arrived in 2001 — it was not quickly eviscerated at the hands of the Mountaineers like a season ago.
The questions, as it turned out, circulated around the Terps’ offense, a unit kindly described as inert throughout the second and third quarters and one that didn’t dominate in the team’s first two games against less-than-stellar competition.
More glaring still was the inability to involve tailback Keon Lattimore and wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey more frequently as the Mountaineers gradually built their lead.
“When I look back on it with hindsight, maybe I should have played loosey-goosey and let it go. …” Friedgen said. “We pretty much executed the game plan pretty well on the first drive. We got off some things. We have a chance to be a good football team and we’re going to have a chance to find that out the next couple weeks.”
The Terps (2-1) have trips to Wake Forest and No. 13 Rutgers preceding a visit from No. 15 Georgia Tech in the coming weeks. And if there is one thing Maryland must do more frequently, it is find ways to keep Lattimore and Heyward-Bey involved.
Lattimore, who has matched his career total with six touchdown runs in the first three games, touched the ball 12 times in the first quarter as Maryland forged a 7-7 tie. The rest of the game he had 14 touches as the Terps’ rushing game stagnated.
Part of the reason it didn’t flourish was because Heyward-Bey dealt with frequent double coverage and was never a serious factor. The charismatic sophomore was targeted only twice in the first three quarters as quarterback Jordan Steffy settled for less explosive options.
The offense, panned for not opening up in the first two games, remained mostly in play-it-safe mode in the middle of the game. Steffy finished a serviceable 16-for-23 for 180 yards despite an aching shoulder, but was 5-for-11 for 14 yards in the second and third quarters.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of ability. We have a lot of size and a lot of speed,” Crummey said. “If we’re not utilizing that in every game plan, we’re not going to be as good as we could be. We need to get the ball in playmakers’ hands and make sure we’re sticking with the plays that are working and doing a good job of finding plays that will work.”
There is accountability to go around. Heyward-Bey remains the only legitimate deep threat, although slot receiver Danny Oquendo collected two medium-length passes Thursday. The Terps’ line surrendered five sacks, and a pair of penalties derailed an offense that struggled to only three first downs in the middle two quarters.
So while Steffy didn’t enjoy the finest of nights in his first true spotlight game, Friedgen remains patient with the junior as he navigates a season as a starter and tries to improve.
“I believe that will happen,” Friedgen said. “I would like it to happen in the next five minutes, but I know it’s not. I don’t let that frustrate me. … He’s doing some better things. It’s a work in progress. It’s not going to be Mona Lisa overnight.”
Nor will the Terps, who certainly haven’t looked worse than they did a season ago. It seems illogical to press the panic button after a loss to a top-five team, especially since it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster like last year’s trip to West Virginia.
Still, the time for a fair evaluation is arriving in the next few weeks, even if the first three games have shed little light on how good the Terps could wind up being this season.
“We’re not in a hole right now,” Lattimore said. “We’re right where we want to be, but we wish we could have got this game. We’re not going to give up, though.”