- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Maryland already demonstrated it wasn’t going to win when it commits four turnovers.

The Terrapins went ahead and showed Saturday an extra miscue would only add greater misery.

No Maryland, there is virtually no way to overcome five giveaways — even against an underwhelming outfit trotting out a limited quarterback.

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No matter. Rutgers scored two defensive touchdowns — one on the first play of the game — to secure a gift-wrapped 34-13 victory at rainy Byrd Stadium over the bumbling Terrapins (1-3).

In addition to the five turnovers, Maryland committed 85 yards in penalties. It’s the first time the Terps reached both plateaus in the same game since a blowout loss at Virginia Tech in 2004, and only the second time it’s happened in coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure.

“It is frustrating,” said quarterback Chris Turner, himself responsible for four turnovers. “We have to find some way to stop turning the ball over and stop getting penalties. We don’t have a choice. If we keep playing like this, we’re not going to win a game the rest of the year.”

It certainly wasn’t happening yesterday in front of 43,848, though en masse fleeing in the fourth quarter reduced the number of hardy patrons to a mere fraction of the announced crowd. By then, there was little reason to watch Maryland clinch its first losing September since 1997.

And while diagnosing the problem is easy, finding a fix has flummoxed Friedgen. Maryland has committed 13 turnovers in four games, with a ghastly -10 margin to show for it.

“That’s probably the thing that frustrates me the most because I think over the years that’s been a trademark of ours that we wouldn’t do things like that,” Friedgen said. “It seems like we can’t stop doing them this year. My plan for this year because I knew we had some limitations was to not beat ourselves. That was the goal from the first day of camp.”

Consider it unmet to date, especially after the Scarlet Knights (3-1) gleefully exploited their hosts never-ending generosity from the first play. Turner attempted to connect with Quintin McCree, but linebacker Antonio Lowery intercepted it and brought it back 36 yards for a touchdown.

Despite that miscue, the Terps led 13-10 well into the third quarter — at least until the turnover parade continued anew.

Turner tried a desperation shovel pass while under pressure in the end zone. Instead, safety Joe Lefeged — who knocked Jordan Steffy from the teams’ 2007 meeting — forced a fumble George Johnson recovered in the end zone. A possession later, Maryland tailback Da’Rel Scott surrendered his third fumble in two games, lead to San San Te’s 37-yard field goal and a 20-13 edge early in the fourth quarter.

“Our mistakes cost us the game,” wideout Torrey Smith said. “We scored [13] points. We gave away 14 points to them on the offensive end. When you take those out, it’s a completely different game. A lot of our turnovers, they didn’t have too far to go. Our defense did a great job today. It was our fault on the offensive end that we didn’t win this game.”

This wasn’t entirely a Maryland gaffe-fest, at least not for much of the day. The Scarlet Knights managed only two field goals out of six possessions that started in Terps territory — a credit both to a solid defensive performance for the Terps and some wretched Rutgers offense.

Rutgers bungled a fake field goal attempt with a feeble pass, and linebacker Adrian Moten and Alex Wujciak stuffed a fourth-and-goal run up the middle from the Maryland 1. Then there was the Scarlet Knights’ dubious quarterback situation; freshman starter Tom Savage (concussion) wasn’t cleared, leaving Dom Natale to author a 4-for-12, 42-yard night.

Trouble was, Turner completed nearly as many passes to Rutgers (three) as Natale. Though he threw for 271 yards and a second-quarter touchdown to LaQuan Williams, he was spraying several attempts all over the field — including a fourth-down throw over Adrian Cannon in the fourth quarter with the Terps only trailing by a touchdown.

Soon enough, it would triple. Joe Martinek uncorked touchdown runs of 29 and 61 yards, shredding a defense that gave up only 144 yards in the first 53 minutes.

There weren’t many fans left to watch the irrelevant end game. They’d already seen enough ugliness, including injuries to punter Travis Baltz (severe ankle sprain), tackle Paul Pinegar (back) and McCree (concussion).

Friedgen said Baltz could wind up on crutches for the next few weeks, and it’s an apt metaphor for the Terps’ situation. Hobbled with injuries, crippling errors and the increasingly tired talk of inexperience, Maryland limps into October struggling as much as at any point since the offense-deficient 2004 season.

“At this point, people are going to be off the bandwagon,” Turner said. “I understand how it works. Right now we’re going to find out who our friends out. We have to stay together. It’s very important. If we don’t, our season is going to go downhill pretty quick.”

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