- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 7, 2008

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. | One by one, Maryland’s football players trudged to their buses and bid farewell to a town far removed from epicenter of the sport.

The Terrapins could not say goodbye quickly enough, not after a 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee on Saturday that ranks as the most embarrassing of Ralph Friedgen‘s eight-year tenure.

A change in quarterback — to Chris Turner over the injured Jordan Steffy — didn’t invigorate the offense. A meeting with a small offensive line did nothing to help the defense.

And rather than leave with a victory, even one that resembled the seven-point victory in the opener, the Terps (1-1) shuffled off with their first setback and a week to think about playing a California team that demolished Washington State 66-3 yesterday.

“We didn’t do a good job coaching, playing,” Friedgen said. “I didn’t do a very good job at all. I’m kind of embarrassed the way we performed tonight.”

As well he should be. Unlike Maryland’s loss five years ago to Northern Illinois, a quality team with a standout tailback (Michael Turner), this came against a nondescript opponent not expected to come close to contending in the weakest conference in college football’s highest division.

That didn’t matter last night. The Blue Raiders (1-1) thrived behind quarterback Joe Craddock, who picked apart Maryland on the way to a 28-for-40, 256-yard, two-touchdown night. It was an efficient and meticulous performance that eviscerated the Terps defense even when it played well.

Things were far worse on the other side of the ball.

Turner, elevated to the starting role after Steffy suffered a fractured thumb, was 13-for-28 for 207 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Two of the picks zapped drives in the fourth quarter as Maryland tried to erase its 10-point deficit.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Turner said. “I don’t think anyone did, obviously. You never expect to lose a game. This is a game we should have won and we’re going to look back in a few weeks and we’re going to regret it.”

While the Terps will feel remorse for some time — and this is certain to remain a stain on the program for even longer — it provided a moment of jubilation for the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee moved up to the former Division I-A in 1999, and had never defeated an opponent from a BCS conference at home.

It almost happened a season ago when Virginia escaped with a 23-21 victory. But the 22,605 who gathered to create the sixth-largest crowd in Floyd Stadium history were clearly gleeful the wait was over as fans flooded the field.

“It was a great win for our players, our school and our fans, everybody involved,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “I thought it was an awesome win.”

And one Maryland never had any claim to. Besides a pair of long touchdowns (a Da’Rel Scott 63-yard run and Turner’s 80-yard bubble screen to Darrius Heyward-Bey), the Terps could barely sustain anything.

Certainly, Turner’s performance will muster scrutiny. The junior, who started the final eight games in 2007, hardly looked like the guy who helped Maryland upend Rutgers and Boston College.

But he had help in creating this debacle. The Terps held the ball for only 20:11, the second-lowest figure in Friedgen’s tenure, and couldn’t rely on of a running game. Scott ran for 123 yards on 11 carries, but half of his production was on a single carry early in the first quarter.

When his offensive line wasn’t being shredded, it was committing a penalty. Reserve quarterback Josh Portis ran for 31 yards on six carries, but was immediately swarmed on a fourth-down scamper to end a fourth-quarter drive.

“It was too many mistakes,” Friedgen said. “We’d get a play and then we’d have a mistake, we’d have a holding, we’d have a dropped ball, we had a missed read, we had a poor throw. We did everything. We had problems communicating on defense, the same kind of thing.”

Heyward-Bey’s touchdown — and tiptoe down the sideline — pulled Maryland within 17-14 late in the fourth quarter. But four plays later, Craddock connected with Malcolm Beyah on short pass. The freshman lost his right shoe but still shook off a couple would-be tacklers for a 53-yard score to make it 24-14 in the closing seconds of the quarter.

Beyah left his footwear behind on the clinching burst, but he managed to take away some of Maryland’s security while he was at it.

A veteran team that talked of contending for a conference title seemed sluggish in its opener, bumbled through its Thursday practice and Friday walk-through and was downright narcoleptic last night.

And while there is time for the Terps to reverse an unpromising start, they are clearly not playing like the team they believed they could be only a few weeks ago.

“This is very embarrassing,” defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said. “We have to start getting this going right away. We didn’t practice well this week and that’s our fault. We have to get going. We keep telling each other we’re an old team and a senior team, but we didn’t get the job done today. You still have to work. Experience only goes so far.”

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