- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

There are no time machines in college football, as Maryland quarterback Chris Turner colorfully reminded reporters a few weeks back.

But imagine, though, if there were - and a courier from the future arrived in College Park as September dawned to inform the Terrapins of the grim prognosis of a losing opening month.

“I would have told you that you were out of your mind,” linebacker Alex Wujciak said. “I didn’t think a team like this would be 1-3 right now.”

And yet it is after Saturday’s 34-13 loss to Rutgers - and facing a severe hole heading into conference play.

Maryland’s maladies are myriad at this stage - a wretched turnover margin (minus-10), a propensity for penalties (10 for 85 yards against the Scarlet Knights) and anticipated issues on both the offensive and defensive lines that have barely changed over four games.

The problems have meant the return of the Ron Vanderlinden-era parlor game of deciphering a path to the six victories needed for bowl eligibility. Should the Terps continue their self-destructive ways, they almost certainly would fall considerably short of that total.

Only one ranked team (No. 6 Virginia Tech) looms on the schedule, but it is difficult finding games the Terps would be favored to win now. Of Maryland’s eight conference opponents, only one (Virginia) is below .500.

“It’s frustrating, but we can’t - even though the loss is still fresh and we’re talking about it right now - you can’t look at that,” center Phil Costa said. “You have to be able to look forward and move past it.”

The needs of the future, though, are tinted by the mistakes of the past. The greatest question facing the Terps is basic: Can they rattle off a winning conference record, starting with Saturday’s date with Clemson at Byrd Stadium, and salvage a shaky season?

Maryland would point to a better defensive effort and its second-half leads the past two weeks. It would much rather avoid mentioning the 61 points off turnovers it surrendered this month - just seven shy of last year’s 13-game total.

“Besides the Cal game, we lost that game, but the Middle Tennessee game and this game, we should have won,” Wujciak said. “We had these games. We shot ourselves in the foot these past two weeks.”

Regardless of the viewpoint, the Terps remain hobbled. The problems started Saturday with Turner, who committed four of Maryland’s five turnovers, but it was an all-around sluggish outing from the entire offense.

The problems weren’t contained to a single miserable day. Even with tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) and safety Jamari McCollough (high-ankle sprain) back, the Terps lost another crucial component when punter Travis Baltz suffered a severe ankle sprain.

“I think everyone’s pretty down,” Turner said. “I know I’m pretty down. It’s hard to stay up in times like this. It’s hard as I’ve had it since I’ve been here. We’ve got to find some positives in our game, and we’ve got to find a way to come out fired up for Saturday. Whatever it is we have to do, and I don’t know what it is right now, but we’ve got to do something.”

Just four weeks ago, finding reason for optimism was not an issue. Maryland was coming off a camp that coach Ralph Friedgen praised as one of the best in his tenure, and a winning season seemed possible.

The last thing the Terps saw coming was a sluggish start.

“Truthfully, I didn’t think that at all,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “I was planning on going into the ACC undefeated. As far as where we are now, we’re about to start ACC [play] next week. We can’t worry about these first couple of games.”

Even if they’ve made Maryland’s task much more difficult.

Notes - Friedgen said he expects Baltz to miss at least two weeks. He was more optimistic about the availability of tackle Paul Pinegar, who Friedgen said “has a bruise on his butt.” …

Guards Bennett Fulper (neck) and Lamar Young (shoulder) are nursing injuries.

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