COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When watching a University of Maryland football team attempt to rally from a fairly large deficit, it is rare to have someone ask the question “what’s the greatest comeback in Terps history?”
It’s of course rare because the answer is fairly common knowledge. On November 10, 1984 the Terrapins trailed the University of Miami 31-0 at halftime before then head coach Bobby Ross pulled starting quarterback Stan Gelbaugh in favor of Frank Reich. Reich went on to throw for three touchdowns (and run for another) as the Terps stunned the Hurricanes 42-40.
It’s a fairly well known story.
The Terps had an opportunity to write another amazing comeback chapter in their football history book Saturday after falling behind 34-10 in the second half to the 18th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Behind quarterback Danny O’Brien, the Terps trimmed the deficit all the way down to three points midway through the fourth quarter (34-31), and got the ball back with 4:36 to play trailing just 37-31.
Needing a touchdown (and of course an extra point) to likely punctuate an incredibly rally, the Terps methodically drove the ball down the WVU 35 yard line with under two minutes to play. Facing 3rd and 8, O’Brien (a redshirt sophomore) was on the cusp of offering a defining moment still early in his career.
Unfortunately for Maryland fans, that moment didn’t come.
O’Brien’s throw found the arms of Mountaineers safety Eain Smith, allowing West Virginia (3-0) to escape College Park with their sixth straight victory of the season. O’Brien (34/52 289 yards, TD, 3INT) and the Terps (1-1, 1-0 ACC) were instead forced to look back on a missed opportunity.
“You can’t turn the ball over three times at the quarterback position and expect to beat a ranked team” O’Brien said after the loss. “That’s really what it comes down to. I felt like the line did great, we ran the ball well, but you just can’t turn the ball over.”
O’Brien’s late interception was particularly tough to swallow because he appeared to have an open running late in front of him. Even if stopped short of a first down, the Terrapins would have had an opportunity to pick up another short 4th down conversion on the drive and continue their path to the end zone.
It wasn’t the first time in the young 2011 season that O’Brien was intercepted on a play where he likely should have decided to run the ball.
In the first quarter of the Terps’ 32-24 win over Miami Week 1, O’Brien dropped back to throw in a “second and goal” situation from the Canes’ one yard line. Instead of taking the open running lane into the endzone, O’Brien forced a throw that was intercepted by Vaughn Telemaque. Instead of taking a 14-0 lead and being able to build on it moving forward, the game remained a one possession differential and ultimately stayed close throughout.
After the loss Saturday, Head Coach Randy Edsall said he’d like to see O’Brien make more decisions to take off with the ball.
“I want to win the ballgame, and I think Danny wants to win the ballgame too” Edsall said. “I think as he sees that, he’s gotta understand that. People are going to drop off in coverage and there’s going to be times for him to be able to run the ball. If he does that, that’s going to open up some more things intermediate (and) long range in terms of the passing game. It’s just something he’ll have to see on film for himself. When he does, he’s gotta understand that. When the quarterback can run, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
O’Brien acknowledged that it was easy to point out the mistake in hindsight, but knew he needed to make a different decision moving forward.
“This offense gives me some opportunities to do that, just because we’re spread out more” O’Brien said. “I feel like I’m never going to make the same mistake twice. It’s kinda easy after the fact to see what you should have done. The game’s just played so fast and I make a lot of split second reactions all the time. That’s just one where looking back, if I get the exact same look I’ll run it.”
It would be irresponsible to place all blame for Saturday’s defeat on the shoulders of the team’s outstanding quarterback. While O’Brien also threw two costly first half interceptions, his guidance was vital in directing the Terrapins out of their mighty hole.
Responsibility for the defeat certainly is shared by the defense, particularly the secondary. The Terrapins allowed three West Virginia receivers (Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney) to all go over the 100 yard receiving mark and gave up a total of 388 passing yards from ‘Eers QB Geno Smith on the day.
LB Kenny Tate took some of that blame after the defeat. “We didn’t tackle as (well) as we could have” said the Terrapins senior. “Everybody missed tackles.”
Also deserving of blame was Edsall and his coaching staff. The group made a number of decisions (including attempts to convert 4th down scenarios late in the 2nd quarter and early in the 3rd quarter) that came back to haunt the team when the game was no longer in blowout territory. With more points on the board, O’Brien might not have felt the need to try to force a throw in late.
Despite all of that, team had the opportunity to win the game until O’Brien’s final interception.
O’Brien has already done a number of great things as quarterback, taking a team to the postseason and claiming a Military Bowl title in only his freshman campaign. If he stays healthy and continues progressing the way he has, he’ll do plenty more great things before leaving College Park. Some of those things are likely to come in the upcoming weeks and months of the 2011 season, even if the “dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate” talk over the last two weeks was a bit premature.
On Saturday, Maryland didn’t need a Heisman Trophy winning performance.
They just needed something a little more “Reich.”
NOTES: Maryland returns to action Saturday, September 24 against Temple (2-1). Kickoff is set for 12:30pm (ACC Network-WNUV 54 in Baltimore) at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Temple suffered a 14-10 setback to Penn State Saturday in Philadelphia…..Edsall declined comment on reports that Pittsburgh and Syracuse have applied to join the ACC in his postgame press conference……Edsall ended his press conference by making the defiant statement “I guarantee you everyday you’re gonna get the best effort out of this program. ‘Cause that’s what we should be doing and that’s what the people who support this program deserve, and that’s what we’ll get done.” He then abruptly walked off……Hear from Edsall, O’Brien and Tate in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net now