As the losses mount and November drags on, each week bringing a new challenge against a new top-tier ACC foe, the Maryland football team knows that ousting No. 10 Florida State and earning another tombstone for the graveyard of fallen top 10 opponents means playing absolutely perfect.
Or, at least as close as humanly possible.
In any case, it means avoiding silly fumbles at the line of scrimmage, limiting missed tackles and avoiding the breakdowns that have contributed to the Terps’ four-game losing streak. The burden of pursuing perfection can often snowball into more mistakes, with anxiety manifesting through over-eagerness. “Trying to do too much,” it’s called.
And yet Maryland has no choice but to ignore the urges. These Terps are fully aware that nothing short of total execution will suffice from here on out. Even then, it’s a stretch.
“Of course there’s a burden, but you can’t think about it when you go out there,” offensive lineman Justin Gilbert said. “Play every play, don’t let the play before affect you and don’t let the next one affect you. Six seconds at a time, as hard as you can, like it’s the last you’ll ever play. Of course there’s a burden, knowing that if you screw up a couple times, it can affect the game. But you can’t have that mindset. Things are going to work out if that’s what you do.”
In Saturday’s 45-10 rout at Clemson, three lost fumbles by Shawn Petty put Maryland in an early hole. The true freshman quarterback attributed such mistakes to a loose grip on the football, saying after the game that he wasn’t holding it high enough or tight enough, but acknowledged that the Terps will only have a chance against the SEminoles if he erases turnovers from the script.
“Against a good team, you have to limit your mistakes,” Petty said. “You’re never going to go into a game and be 100 percent, but you have to go have as many small mistakes as you can. Against a good team, they’ll take advantage. Against Clemson, they took advantage of each one of my turnovers, turning them into points. You always work to be perfect, but it’s not always going to be there.
Granted, had Petty not lost three fumbles, one of which turned into a defensive touchdown for the Tigers, Maryland would still have suffered against Clemson’s high-powered offense. But the Terps once again lost the field position battle, putting themselves in a hole as the Tigers pounced to a 28-0 lead with 13:56 left in the second quarter.
“How do we have to beat Florida State? We can’t turn the ball over. That’s for sure,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is not turn it over and be efficient in what we’re doing, make sure we allow Shawn to be able to have time to throw the football, got to be able to run the ball.
“We can’t make mistakes. If we want a chance to win, we’ve got to play a perfect game and we’ve got to get some turnovers against them.”
Clearly, task gets even tougher against Seminoles, ranked first nationally in total defense. Maryland, meanwhile, sank to dead last nationally in total offense after mustering just 180 yards at Clemson. And so the Terps were relegated to taking moral victories, like Dexter McDougle’s inspiring run or Brandon Ross’s emergence in the backfield.
The timing of Maryland’s unbelievable list of injuries coupled with November’s schedule have put the Terps in a precarious position. If they’re not careful, games will keep slipping away early.
“We’ve been playing as hard as we can,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got the injury situation that has of course affected us. We’re trying to play as hard as we can for this team. That’s all you can ask for. We’ve fought, we haven’t given up in any game, and that’s what you want. Guys who will fight and not roll over and quit. That’s been the mindset at least the past couple weeks.”