COLLEGE PARK, Md. — On a day in which 16 seniors were honored in their final game at Byrd Stadium, it was a junior and freshman who stole the show for the Terps.
Maryland crushed North Carolina State’s Atlantic Division title hopes behind four touchdown passes from Danny O’Brien to Torrey Smith in a record-breaking performance in a 38-31 victory Saturday night.
O’Brien finished with a career-high 417 yards passing, the first 400-yard game by a Maryland quarterback since Scott Milanovich in 1993. The redshirt freshman finished the regular season having thrown 21 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.
“I think we did a good job taking what they gave us,” O’Brien said. “Early on, we had the underneath stuff and then we made some plays downfield late. I think we wore them down a little bit. It was just a great team win.”
O’Brien’s most impressive throw came in the third quarter when he rolled to his left — the more difficult direction from which to throw as a right-handed quarterback — and found a double-covered Torrey Smith in the end zone in what amounted to be a six-inch window to throw, according to the Maryland coach.
“I see this kid growing and learning fast,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “If he keeps his head on straight and keeps working hard, I think he could be something special.”
While O’Brien has three years of eligibility left in College Park, the future of Smith remains clouded as the receiver is set to graduate in December. Smith finished with a career-high 14 catches and 224 yards. His four touchdown receptions set a new school record.
“Danny’s a great quarterback,” said Smith, who admitted his ankle felt better Saturday than it had in weeks. “I have the easy job just to get open and make it happen once I get the ball. [O’Brien] was just following his reads.”
Despite his modest stature — a listed height of 6-foot-1 — Smith has the ability to beat a defender with his blazing speed or by out-leaping an opponent in a jump-ball situation. It was fitting for the receiver to have such a strong performance on Senior Day should this prove to be Smith’s last game at Byrd Stadium.
Smith also became just the second player to post more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season (1,045), joining Marcus Badgett (1,240 in 1992).
He passed Darrius Heyward-Bey into third place on the career receptions list at Maryland. Smith (150) only trails Geroy Simon (185; 1993-96) and Jermaine Lewis (193; 1992-95). The junior also moved up to second in career receiving yards with 2,205, trailing only Lewis (2,932).
“Torrey epitomizes what I want in a Maryland football player,” said Friedgen, who hopes Smith will return for another season but will fully support his decision. “He’s just an unbelievable kid who seems to have it all together.”
Slow start, scary finish
After the first 15 minutes of play and holding a 14-0 lead, NC State appeared on its way to a blowout victory and a date with Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game next Saturday. However, the Terps responded with 24 unanswered points as O’Brien and Smith began their incredible day against the Wolfpack secondary.
Friedgen was concerned with the way his defense began the game, surrendering touchdowns on NC State’s first two possessions before he shared some animated thoughts with Don Brown’s unit.
“Whether they got upset, or they got ready to play, that’s a good thing,” said Friedgen, who acknowledged some players didn’t react kindly to his harsh words.
The defense responded by allowing just three Wolfpack points in the second and third quarter as the Terps built a 38-17 lead late into the fourth quarter.
However, upon building a 21-point advantage, the defense began resembling the suspect first-quarter group, allowing two late touchdown to turn a comfortable final quarter into an unsettling finish. Russell Wilson scored from the 1 with 2:39 to play, and the Wolfpack then recovered an onside kick, setting up a Wilson touchdown pass to James Washington that made it a one-possession game with 1:16 to play.
Despite Maryland recovering a second onside attempt by the Wolfpack, the Terps were faced with an uncomfortable fourth-and-1 from the NC State 32 when D.J. Adams narrowly picked up the first down. The measurement — which required a close examination from referee Tom Cherry — showed just how close Maryland came to turning it back over to the Wolfpack with under a minute to play.
“You don’t even want to know what I was thinking [during that measurement],” Friedgen said. “[The offense] did a wonderful job.”
Running nowhere fast
Despite accumulating over 400 yards of total offense, it was far from a banner day for a Maryland ground attack that rushed for a grotesque -9 yards on 20 rushing attempts, making O’Brien’s passing day even more remarkable.
While the offensive line failed to open running lanes for Davin Meggett (four carries, 11 yards), Da’Rel Scott (four carries, -10 yards), and D.J. Adams (seven carries, -1 yards), the group did a fine job protecting O’Brien on his record-setting day, no easy task considering the Terps all but abandoned the run early in the game.
“We struggled running the ball [Saturday], but I thought we did a pretty good job of pass protecting,” Friedgen said. “Any time we throw the ball 47 times and they had [three] sacks, that’s not bad with a line that hasn’t been playing together a whole lot.”
NOTES: Maryland finished the regular season 8-4 and 5-3 in the ACC as the Terps earned five conference wins for the first time since 2006. … O’Brien’s 417 yards ranked fourth on the single-game list at Maryland. Milanovich has the top two games of all time for the Terps, going for 498 against Virginia Tech in 1993 and 451 against West Virginia that same season. … Eric Franklin’s interception of Wilson in the second quarter was the 17th of the season for the Terps, their most since 2002 when Maryland had 18. … Travis Baltz connected on a 52-yard field goal with 12 seconds left in the first half. It was the longest field goal of his career. … Maryland’s defense had four sacks on the day, none bigger than Drew Gloster’s on fourth-and-goal from the 8 with 6:36 remaining in the game. The defensive play turned away the Wolfpack’s attempt to make it a one-possession game. … The Terps scored on four of five trips to the red zone.