COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The Maryland Terrapins (4-1) are probably not as good as their record might indicate.
A 4-1 record can’t really reflect the fact that the Terps have played three of their five games (all wins) at Byrd Stadium against lesser opponents, including the Duke team they beat 21-16 Saturday night. It also can’t reflect the fact that the other win was a season opener in-state against a Navy team who has clearly not lived up to their preseason hype (they lost 14-6 at Air Force Saturday to fall to 2-2). The 4-1 record also can’t reflect that in their only marquee contest of the season (a showdown with West Virginia in Morgantown), the Terps were hammered 31-17.
Sometimes a record alone doesn’t tell the whole story.
Maryland’s win over Duke didn’t tell us too much more about the Terps than we already knew. QB Danny O’Brien didn’t match the effectiveness of his first career start seven days earlier against Florida International; but he certainly didn’t hurt his team at any point either. O’Brien finished the game a less than impressive 9/26 for 170 yards and a TD. His only TD came on a short swing pass that RB Da’Rel Scott turned upfield for a 71 yard score. Without that play, O’Brien would have finished the game 8/25 for 99 yards and no TD’s.
Defensively, Maryland wasn’t particularly impressive either. The Terps allowed the Blue Devils to march inside the 25 yard line on each of their first four offensive possessions. Maryland was fortunate to find themselves trailing just 9-0 after that stretch; as three possessions ended in field goals from Devils kicker Will Snyderwine, while the fourth ended thanks to a diving interception by Maryland safety Antwine Perez. Duke QB Sean Renfree seemed mostly unfazed by the Maryland defense, throwing for 351 yards in a losing effort.
Maryland’s victory Saturday had much more to do with a couple of big plays (including an 84 yard punt return TD from Tony Logan), some poor decisions by their opponent (Renfree ended up throwing two INT’s on the day), and a big stop in a crucial situation late in the fourth quarter (Duke had the ball in Maryland territory with 2 minutes to play). It reads almost as a repeat of their season-opening win over the Midshipmen.
It also makes you wonder just how much the Terps have grown since that time.
Maryland is certainly much better off at 4-1 (1-0 ACC) than they were last season, when they were 2-3 through five games. It would be stupid to suggest that there is anything wrong with starting the season 4-1.
At this point, it might be best that only 39,106 fans attended Saturday’s game and significantly fewer watched at home (the game was not seen on TV but instead streamed on ESPN3.com). Without having seen the game, fans might know only that the game was a win; and that the team improved to 4-1 overall.
Terps Head Coach Ralph Friedgen knew things weren’t pretty Saturday night, wrapping the game up by saying “it wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.” He’s said something along those lines after three of the team’s four victories this season.
Friedgen also knows that the team may not be quite as good as their record might indicate. “We’ve got our work cut out for us the last half of the year” said the coach. “We’re going to have to get better.”
But Friedgen was also quick to point right back to the record despite acknowledging the struggles of the team. “I know right know we’re 4-1. We take them one at a time.”
The schedule will be tougher for Maryland moving forward, as they visit Clemson in two weeks following a bye. After the trip to Clemson the Terps will head to Boston College. They won’t play at home again until October 30, when Wake Forest will visit College Park.
Maryland won’t just be able to rely on big plays and poor decisions from their opponents to get bowl eligible or compete for the ACC Atlantic Division title. They’ll have to be more consistent in all fazes of the game.
But at 4-1, they have a chance to do that.
Should Maryland have lost the season opener to Navy or fallen to the Devils Saturday, their goals would not be quite as attainable as they currently are, struggles or not. By struggling and winning, Maryland has the opportunity to both improve and yet still compete.
Thus far, that’s the biggest difference between this year’s team and the team that went on to finish the season 0-7 after their first five games last year.
“We’re learning how to finish a game” said Friedgen. “Whatever the situation is, we’re finding a way to make the play we’ve got to make at the end.”
If Maryland really has learned how to win close games and can match that with overall improvement for 60 minutes, they could still be a threat to reach the ACC Championship Game.
Of course, Maryland might just be a team that has taken advantage of a soft schedule and has a deceptive record. If that’s the case, they might bring back memories of the 2009 team.