PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Down its starting quarterback having already frittered away an 11-point lead, the Maryland football team did what it could not only seven days earlier — grind out a meaningful road victory.
A week after a jarring overtime loss at Wake Forest, the Terrapins responded with a stirring 34-24 upset of No. 10 Rutgers before 43,803, the second-largest crowd in Rutgers Stadium history.
It was Maryland’s first road victory over a top-10 team since an upset of Virginia in 1990, and the first defeat of a top-10 nonconference foe anywhere since the memorable 42-40 comeback at Miami in 1984.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Turner went 14-for-20 for 149 yards in relief of concussed starter Jordan Steffy, who also injured his shoulder and did not return.
“There’s a lot of ways these guys could have chucked it and said it”s not our day. …,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I went right in [at halftime] and told them ‘What do you think, it’s going to be easy? Before the game, if you said it was 17-14, we’d feel pretty good about ourselves. Wins don’t come easily. You have to work for them.’ ”
Wins never seem to come easily for the Terps (3-2), but rarely are they quite so satisfying, either. Maryland’s meltdown at Wake Forest created questions far greater than whether the defense could hold up against Rutgers tailback Ray Rice or whether the offense could generate a balanced attack.
Simply put, it was fair to wonder just how Maryland would recover. Certainly Steffy’s injury suffered when safety Joe Lefeged drilled the junior on an unhindered blitz didn’t help. And off the field, the Terps were shaken a night earlier when left guard Jaimie Thomas’ father, Jerome, suffered a seizure while delivering a team devotional and was hospitalized.
Much of that uncertainty evaporated after the Terps pulled away from the Scarlet Knights (3-1) in the fourth quarter.
Help came from the veteran rushing tandem of Keon Lattimore (124 yards and a touchdown) and Lance Ball (90 yards and two scores). Turner played a vital role as well, deftly guiding the offense to 20 points in the second half in the first extended action of his career.
“I was definitely nervous,” Turner said. “I’m not going to lie. I definitely had butterflies, but once the game started moving on, that all went away and it was just real exciting.”
It was Turner’s 27-yard strike to LaQuan Williams that led to Lattimore’s 2-yard touchdown run with 7:42 left that extended the Terps lead to 27-17.
The revitalized offense was the payoff of a rushing and passing game that effectively complemented each other. Maryland avoided third-and-longs for most of the night, permitting Friedgen the luxury of playing to his strengths rather than trying to hide glaring weaknesses, an approach that helped send the Terps to a loss a week earlier.
“I just wanted to play it loose,” Friedgen said. “Of course, it helps to play it loose when you hit some people down the field. That encourages me a little bit, and we’re not getting sacked. I don’t like playing that way. When you’re losing 10 yards every time you throw the ball, it doesn’t encourage you to throw it.”
But Maryland’s surge only awakened a Rutgers offense that was rendered inert when it wasn’t trying to carry out its two-minute offense.
Rutgers had managed little aside from the pair of rapid-strike drives late in the first half that turned a 14-3 deficit into a 17-14 edge. Those lightning-quick scores had the potential to deflate a Maryland defense that was just starting to effectively contain Rice.
The Terps stiffened, but Rutgers returned to a quicker pace down 10 points in the final quarter. The Scarlet Knights closed within 27-24 when Rice finally punched in a score with 4:41 to cap an 11-play drive, the highlight of an otherwise frustrating night.
Rice ran for 62 yards in the first quarter and 35 yards the rest of the way, a reversal of the Terps’ typical erosion as a game progresses.
“That’s a pretty good day for saying he’s a Heisman candidate,” said linebacker Erin Henderson, who helped limit Rutgers to 82 yards rushing.
The Terps’ first chance to put away the Scarlet Knights went awry when Lattimore was stuffed in the backfield on a fourth-and-1. But Rutgers couldn’t manage anything in four plays, the last a sack of Teel that handed it back to Maryland.
Given another opportunity, Maryland quickly capitalized. Ball, a New Jersey native, finished off his home-state team with a 14-yard touchdown gallop with 2:04 left and gave the Terps their highest-scoring outing in 23 games, a stretch dating back to a 38-point outburst against Temple in 2005.
“It was a great win, and it’s going to be interesting to see where we go from here,” Friedgen said. “I told them ‘This has kind of run the gamut in two weeks. You’ve been as down as you possibly can be and as high as you possibly can be. Which do you like the best?”
After the misery of a week easier, there’s little question how the Terps will answer that.