Fear the turtle? Not so much these days. The image of a menacing Terrapin with striated muscles is farcical. After Saturday’s embarrassing consecutive season loss to Middle Tennessee State of the little-known Sun Belt conference, the Terps are only one game away from beginning ACC play.
That’s a bit scary considering how competitive the ACC contends to be this season. Four teams in the ACC are currently taking residence in the AP Top 25. If Maryland desires to keep pace with the best in the conference, then the Terps need to act quickly. If not, they’ll be wallowing in self-pity along with Duke and Virginia.
The first few weeks of college football for most teams is a chance to build confidence. Many teams play surely winnable games against mid-major, small conference, or FCS (Div. I-AA) opponents with the belief that it's more beneficial to amass the wins before beginning conference play.
This belief has not benefited Maryland.
Week One was a disaster by all means. Going to Berkeley to play Cal was not a smart move by coach Ralph Friedgen, but I’m aware that these games are scheduled a season or more in advance. I can only presume that he believed Maryland had a chance; the 52-13 score proved otherwise.
Weeks Two and Three have just been short of disasters. While a loss to the now No. 6-ranked Bears is understandable, slipping by James Madison (FCS) in OT and losing to Middle Tennessee State is not.
All three games point to the markedly poor play of the defense. Cal finished with a whopping 542 yards of offense behind the arm of quarterback Kevin Riley, who finished with four touchdown passes, and the legs of Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best, who scampered to 137 yards and two touchdowns.
No need to harp on this loss. Cal is a real BCS contender this season and will challenge USC for Pac-10 supremacy.
However, the defensive woes didn’t cease in the land of Birkenstocks and hemp bracelets. They were carried back across the coast and settled in College Park. The Terps defense rolled over to JMU, allowing 417 total yards to an FCS team. Between the second and third quarter, Maryland yielded 22 straight points.
Maryland escaped with a field goal in overtime, but if JMU didn’t rack up 105 yards in penalties, the result could’ve been different.
Maryland’s second home game of the season fared worse. Against Middle Tennessee State, the Terps offense played well. Quarterback Chris Turner led the way with nearly 300 yards passing, and Da’Rel Scott resembled the 1,000-yard-plus back he was last season with 117 rushing yards and a touchdown. However, he did fumble twice, part of Maryland’s four costly turnovers.
The defense was bad once again, giving up 438 total yards, including 351 passing yards. While the defense did force three turnovers and shut down the run, the porous secondary allowed quarterback Dwight Dasher to move the ball at will, including on the eight-play, 73-yard winning drive.
With shaky confidence, the Terps face Rutgers next before delving into ACC play. That makes this game an early must win for the season.
Rutgers has won two straight after its televised drubbing by No. 14 Cincinnati in their season opener. They’re by no means the revitalized Scarlet Knights of the past few seasons, but their offense, led by freshman quarterback Tom Savage, has proved effective, and wide receiver Tim Brown is poised for a big year after a good start.
For Maryland to win, the defense must pressure Savage early and often. If Savage and Brown get going, it will be a long day for the secondary.
Savage is a freshman and bound for mistakes. Maryland must take advantage and force turnovers. The best way to rattle a frosh quarterback is to coerce him into second-guessing his throws and himself.
Maryland’s run defense has played decently enough, and the Scarlet Knights should not pose too many problems in that department.
It is also crucial that Maryland limits its turnovers. The four turnovers against MTSU are essentially what led to defeat. Maryland’s offense needs to protect the ball and commit to the run. Scott is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and Friedgen needs to utilize backup running back Davin Meggett more. Meggett is a powerful back who can grind out the tough yards.
If Maryland can effectively run the ball, pressure is taken of Turner, which will hopefully limit his mistakes.
The offensive line must play better as well. Turner has already been sacked 11 times this season, nearly half as many times as he was sacked all of last season.
If Maryland can shake off the early season rust and the defense can find some grit, the Terps can beat Rutgers. A loss would drop Maryland to a 1-3 record and essentially break their spirits before the Clemson Tigers claw into town with the smell of blood permeating the air.
A win against a Big East team will improve the confidence of the young defense and help to erase the pain of surviving against JMU and losing to Middle Tennessee State. It’s also important because it’s a home game, and Maryland needs to win the fans back before taking on Clemson the week after.