The seconds ticked away, an eternity to those fans hoping for a Terrapins comeback, yet moving “a thousand miles an hour,” as receiver Kevin Dorsey put it, for those on the field.
The Maryland football team has struggled at the two-minute drill in practice, Coach Randy Edsall said. That weakness came to the fore Saturday.
After a punt gave Maryland the ball with 3:37 left in the fourth quarter, down 24-21, just eight yards outside of Connecticut territory, the Terps had a shot to escape with another win after trailing the entire game. Instead, they left with a 24-21 loss.
“At that point in time, the game on the line, no matter how tired you are, no matter how many plays you may have made or missed before, you have to focus and put it all into two minutes,” Dorsey said. “It seems like the shortest thing in the world to anybody. But we just have to push through and finish.”
A third-and-10 completion to Stefon Diggs, who bounced around tacklers and stretched his way to the first-down marker, brought Maryland to the Connecticut 32-yard line. Freshman Brad Craddock’s longest field goal this season, one of two he’s hit, was a 45-yarder against Temple. Had the Terps held position, Craddock could have lined up to tie the game.
Instead, Hills took a four-yard loss on first down. Nineteen seconds burned off the clock as the Terps lined up for their next play. The crowd seemed exasperated, even more so when Hills checked to the sidelines with the play clock winding down for a potential audible, something he normally does every play in Maryland’s new pro-style offense. “I never did think about taking a timeout there,” Edsall said. The Terps had two remaining.
“Honestly, when you’re down there, everything is flying,” Dorsey said. “You look at the clock, and you want it to move slow but it’s moving a lot faster than you want to. Just trying to get up, get the line calls, all the receivers know what they’re doing, it’s a lot. We have to execute a little faster, those seconds that were wasted, we have to narrow that down to maybe 10 or 15.”
Once he finally snapped the ball, Hills had Dorsey open near the first-down marker on the sideline. Dorsey, a surefire senior captain who had a crucial, fourth-quarter reception in each of Maryland’s opening wins, dropped the pass.
“I think sometimes guys try to do too much and make something happen,” Edsall said. “We had a receiver on the sideline and if he catches the ball we don’t need to worry about time because we still had two timeouts. That’s where we as coaches need to continually teach, coach and instruct these guys to understand those situations. If we catch that ball and burn a timeout, we still might have the opportunity to try a field goal.”
Said Dorsey: “Really, just trying to get it as close as possible. If I had caught the one I missed, we would have been in field-goal range regardless.”
A misdirection bubble screen on third down to Dorsey on the near sideline got blown up for negative-four yards. Hills’s fourth-down prayer to Kerry Boykins sailed far out of the end zone. One kneel later, the game was over.
“For the offense, it’s a tough drill,” offensive lineman Justin Gilbert said of the two-minute attack. “You have to get down the field, especially in practice when our defense knows our stuff so they know what’s coming every play. But at the end of the day we have to get better because we had it on the field today, and we couldn’t score. It’s something we definitely have to get better at practice.”
Given the inherent pressure of such situations, duplicating the intensity can be difficult in a practice environment. The Terps do two-minute drills at the end of practice, to approach the real thing as much as possible.
“It’s kind of hard to simulate,” Dorsey said. “That’s why we do it at the end, simulate the same thing of going through the first, second and third quarter. Now, here you are in the fourth, with a few seconds left on the clock, and you still have to be able to push through and finish the game.”
Edsall praised his team’s ability to close out the win over Temple, a finishing touch that the Terps found missing throughout his inaugural season in College Park. But against Connecticut, they came up just short of another fourth-quarter win.