- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nearly an entire afternoon hinted Maryland was headed for a repeat showing. A back-and-forth game, a late field goal and potentially a last-second ending much like the Terrapins’ home opener was in the offing.

The sense of deja vu was warranted - just not for the semi-happy ending Maryland seemed ticketed for.

Instead, four turnovers and a crumbling defense in the final minute and a half conspired to leave Maryland seeking any understanding of the troubles it clearly faces this season. Much like last year, the Terps lost to Middle Tennessee.

This time - a 32-31 loss Saturday, Maryland’s second in as many years to the Blue Raiders - hurt even more.

This time, in the aftermath of Alan Gendreau’s 19-yard field goal as time expired, answers are more fleeting than before.

“I don’t have much to say,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “We lost the game. It’s a game we definitely should have won. I’d have bet a million dollars on that last drive that we were going to win the game.”

But the Terps (1-2) did not and are instead left to pick up the wreckage from a disastrous opening stretch to a season that threatens to devolve into the ugliest autumn of coach Ralph Friedgen’s career.

The opening blowout loss at California, while unpleasant, was forgivable. The late rally against James Madison meant doubts emerged even as the Terps could savor a tight victory.

But Saturday’s breakdowns in the gloaming amplified Maryland’s greatest weaknesses - its inexperience, its limited personnel, its inability to create separation from opponents under favorable circumstances.

Oh, and its penchant for self-inflicted mistakes. Backup quarterback Jamarr Robinson fumbled. A Turner pass went off reserve tailback Davin Meggett’s hands and into safety Derrick Crumpton’s. And starting tailback Da’Rel Scott earned two extended trips to the bench after losing a pair of fumbles.

The four miscues morphed into 16 points for the Blue Raiders (2-1), more than enough to allow them to remain close deep into the game.

“We’re not good enough to beat ourselves,” Friedgen said. “If we beat ourselves, we don’t have a chance. Give credit to the kids who kept fighting [for it] to be a close game, because if you turn the ball over four times, you usually get blown out. You can’t do that. You just cannot do that. That can’t happen.”

In this case, the Terps just lost as intermittent cascades of boos poured down for a variety of reasons. Yet for Maryland’s many foibles, it still maintained a 31-29 lead on the strength of a pair of long touchdown passes from Turner to Torrey Smith and freshman Nick Ferrara’s 42-yard field goal with 6:14 left.

It would not be enough, even though Maryland nearly put the game away minutes later. After Cameron Chism recorded his second interception, the Terps picked up a first down. Then offensive coordinator James Franklin called a naked bootleg as a run, and Turner was sacked for a loss of 10 with 2:37 left.

It was a call Franklin rued, since Maryland needed the next two plays just to get back into field goal range. But when the Terps did, Ferrara pushed another 42-yarder to the right.

“We just have to be more consistent with everything we’re doing,” Franklin said. “This is as bad of a loss [for] me personally I’ve ever been involved with, possibly because I feel the blame.”

Middle Tennessee quickly dissected the Terps’ weary defense, getting out of bounds on two plays before slipping past Chism on a 35-yard pass to the Maryland 10. Four plays later, Gendreau flicked in the chip shot and the Blue Raiders celebrated.

Friedgen, all-too-familiar with the frustrating scene, seemed uninterested in Maryland’s myriad potential excuses afterward.

“I’m going to start getting real tough,” Friedgen said. “We’re going to start doing things the right way. We’re going to play better next week, I’m going to promise you. I’m not going to be worried about guys’ legs or what they feel like. They need to start worrying about how I feel.”

Neither the coach nor his players could possibly feel chipper at this stage. The Terps could easily be 0-3, and next week’s visit from Rutgers (2-1) precedes an eight-game ACC schedule that looks more daunting after each Maryland performance.

“We honestly have nowhere to go but up,” Smith said.

If that sounds familiar, well, it’s because such similar sentiments were common after last season’s debacle against Middle Tennessee. But ultimately that setback correlated to little else in the up-and-down Boise-bound bunch’s 13-game journey.

The problem facing Terps in the present is their latest troubles didn’t seem remotely out of place with the rest of the first quarter of the season.

“We need to change something,” Turner said. “I don’t know what it’s going to be, but we have to change something.”

Otherwise, it will be deja vu all over again - and again and again - in the next nine games.

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