MORGANTOWN, WV — The trip to Morgantown is a bit different than a visit from Morgan State.
The Maryland Terrapins (2-1) were completely dominated by the West Virginia Mountaineers (3-0) Saturday, 31-17 at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. The game was not quite as close as the score would indicate, as Maryland trailed 28-0 early in the 2nd half.
Maryland was outplayed in every aspect of the game, with the only exception being a solid performance by punter Travis Baltz-who also kicked a field goal in defeat. The Terps briefly made things interesting in the 2nd half thanks largely to two long Torrey Smith TD grabs, but the ‘Eers easily snuffed out the potential Maryland rally.
The loss isn’t particularly devastating from a football perspective for Maryland, as West Virginia is a very good team (ranked #21st in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll) and the game was played on the road. Should Maryland knock off Florida International next Saturday at Byrd Stadium (as they are expected to do), they would improve to 3-1 and need just three ACC wins to get bowl eligible this season. With Duke coming to College Park the following week, Maryland still has a realistic chance to start the season 4-1. They also showed improvement over the team’s last visit to WVU; a 45-24 beatdown suffered in 2006.
But for other reasons that may be slightly less tangible, this loss was particularly devastating for this Maryland team.
With a last second win over Navy in Baltimore to open the season and a blowout win over Morgan State in College Park, the Terps had already matched their 2009 season total in wins through just two weeks. With the Navy thriller being seen by a national TV (ESPN) audience on Labor Day, there was a measure of positive karma surrounding Head Coach Ralph Friedgen’s squad that was desperately needed.
The decision to retain Friedgen (and Offensive coordinator/Head Coach in waiting James Franklin) following the disastrous 2-10 season was not met with any level of real excitement. Interim Athletic Director Randy Eaton told the Baltimore Sun before the Labor Day battle at M&T Bank Stadium that the program had sold less than 19,000 season tickets this season. Two wins over in-state programs weren’t going to suddenly spike ticket sales, but they did offer hope that a foundation could be laid for a turnaround season.
That foundation didn’t crumble entirely, but it certainly wasn’t built open in Morgantown. It wasn’t just that Maryland lost the game; but also that they put together a completely woeful performance in the process.
Maryland was bad in (almost) every aspect of the game. They allowed eight sacks offensively, a record for the Friedgen era. In the process, QB Jamarr Robinson injured his shoulder (not believed to be serious-he stayed in for the entire 2nd half) and QB Danny O’Brien re-aggravated an ankle injury with forced him out of the game. OT Justin Gilbert was also hurt in the process. Maryland doesn’t know the full details of the injury, but Friedgen said Gilbert “heard a pop”, and the team believes the injury to be significant.
The Terps were not able to get anything going on the ground, finishing the game with -10 net rushing yards. They put together 227 yards via the air; but 140 of them came on the two long TD passes to Smith.
Defensively, Maryland was unimpressive throughout. The Terps allowed West Virginia to amass 469 yards of total offense, 24 first downs and 11 of 18 third down conversions. The first two TD passes from Geno Smith to Tavon Austin (Dunbar) were particularly ugly, as Friedgen admitted defenders “blew some assignments” to help the ‘Eers establish an early 14-0 lead.
Even more disheartening was the lack of discipline the Terrapins showed. Maryland committed 10 penalties for a total of 77 yards, including three delay of game penalties on their initial possession. Offensive coordinator James Franklin said the penalties occurred because the team “couldn’t hear the cadence” from Robinson; but that certainly doesn’t excuse such a poor drive.
Things could very well turn around for this Maryland football team this season. They won’t play many opponents who will be as difficult as West Virginia (only Miami jumps out as a similarly dangerous opponent), and the mistakes they made Saturday afternoon are correctable. The bigger issues will come off the field. Instead of igniting support within a fanbase that is anything but passionate; this performance will likely ignite responses like “Friedgen can’t do it” or “Franklin isn’t good enough.” What’s worse, this type of performance might not elicit any sort of response whatsoever.
Frankly, with the game on ESPNU and the outcome lopsided-the fanbase in the Old Line State might not even think about Maryland football.
That’s the biggest problem incoming Athletic Director Kevin Anderson faces with the football program.
The good karma from the first two wins is completely gone. Maryland football became Maryland football again Saturday in Morgantown.
For the program to survive under “The Fridge” past this season, performances in big games like Saturday’s cannot continue. Maryland can’t simply win games against the likes of FIU and Duke and hope to win over a fanbase, they must go out and perform like a team worthy of recognition against more significant opponents.
That didn’t happen Saturday.
Hear from Friedgen and Franklin following Saturday’s loss NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net.