Riding a four-game winning streak to open the season, the Maryland Terrapins football team had high hopes going into their matchup against Penn State last weekend. They were one of just 16 FBS schools that had not yet lost, they had just crushed Purdue, 50-7, and they were one more solid win away from a Top 25 ranking.
In recent years, games with Penn State were competitive, as Maryland lost 31-30 last year but were 20-19 victors on the road in 2014. So there was a reason for optimism as the Terps took the trip up to State College.
All of this crumbled following their 38-14 loss to the Nittany Lions Saturday.
They held their own through much of the first 30 minutes, cutting the deficit to just a field goal at one point before falling behind by 10 going into the half. The second half was all Penn State, as they shut Maryland out while exposing weaknesses in both their run defense and passing game. After allowing 10 rushing yards to Purdue, they gave up 372 yards Saturday. The loss of Terps’ quarterback Perry Hills late in the first half didn’t help their cause, but the bottom line is the Terps were outmatched by their Pennsylvanian rivals.
“Not having Hills hurt, but a more systematic problem seems to be the defense,” junior music and communication major Matt Miller said. “The secondary has improved this year but we had trouble stopping the run sometimes against lesser opponents, and against an All-American type running back those struggles really showed.”
Now, with the undefeated season gone by the wayside, the Terps play back-to-back home games against Minnesota and Michigan State, respectively, in the next two weeks.
One fan thinks that being back in Maryland Stadium for the next two contests gives the Terps an edge.
“Playing at home should give the team a boost that they didn’t have at Penn State, just from the home field advantage,” sophomore computer science major Matt Burns said.
Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) won their first three games, but has since lost their two conference games to Penn State and Iowa. This week, they are without their starting quarterback Mitch Leidner (1006 passing yards, 5 TD this season), who is listed out after suffering a concussion last week against Iowa. Meanwhile, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin expects Hills to be ready to play this week.
So can the Terps rebound against the Golden Gophers? Or are the weaknesses that Penn State exposed too much for them to overcome this season?
“They have to play smarter this week and control the big plays,” junior civil engineering major Cameron Spruill said. “There were a lot of dumb penalties that hurt last week, but they’ve showed mental toughness throughout this season which gives them a chance to win.”
At 4-1 (1-1 Big Ten), the Terps are now two wins away from being bowl eligible for the third time in four years. The road there is not easy, however, as three of their remaining seven games are against ranked opponents: No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 Nebraska on the road, and No. 2 Ohio State at home. They also play Indiana on the road and Rutgers at home to complete their schedule.
“I can’t see them giving Michigan or Ohio State a game, but if this team can beat a combination of the other teams and get to six wins, that is no doubt a successful year,” Miller said. “It would be a big step in the right direction, particularly with the headway Durkin has made in recruiting.”
First, though, the Terps need to get win number five. Their next chance is Saturday against Minnesota at 12 p.m.