BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Maryland football team retreated to the sideline for the decision everyone knew was coming. Quarterback C.J. Brown’s soaring touchdown dive was under review, but as the Terrapins began to celebrate it became a mere formality. “There’s no way they can overturn it,” Coach Randy Edsall thought to himself as he stood near the right hashmark along the 35-yard line, his arms raised to the sky. “There’s no way.”
Many outside of College Park thought the same thing about Maryland’s chances against Virginia Tech entering Saturday afternoon’s game. The Hokies had rolled 11th-ranked Miami on the road the previous weekend and the Terps were losers of three straight. Bowl eligibility, the consensus went, would have to wait for another week while Edsall’s job security came under greater scrutiny and his team continued to sink deeper.
And yet there was Edsall, rearing back and pumping his fist and unleashing a guttural yell. There was Brown behind him, helmet propped up onto his forehead, with a more silent, subdued reaction. The roles were reversed after Maryland’s 27-24 victory at Lane Stadium, coach yelling like a player and player striding like a coach, but with a sixth win and bowl eligibility locked away for the first time the Edsall era, everyone celebrated as they well pleased.
“What can you say?” Edsall said. “We’re so proud of these young men and for what they did today here in Blacksburg. They had a resolve this week that they wanted to change things around, that things weren’t going the way we wanted them to go. All the credit goes to the players for getting it fixed and coming down here and just playing their hearts out with everybody contributing and everybody doing their job and taking care of each other’s back. Just a beautiful win for us. All the credit goes to the players. We couldn’t be more happy for them and what they got accomplished today.”
Only two regulars on this roster have ever appeared in a bowl game. Linebacker Matt Robinson, a converted safety whose five tackles and several passes defended help stifle Virginia Tech’s offense, came off the bench during Maryland’s 2010 Military Bowl win over East Carolina. Defensive lineman Zeke Riser has reached the postseason twice, but with his former school, Houston.
Two more games remain for the Terps to improve their profile – the home finale against Boston College (and running back Andre Williams, who rushed for 339 yards Saturday) next weekend and a season-ending trip to North Carolina State after that — but simply reaching this point was sweet enough.
“It definitely feels good to get number six,” Robinson said. “It’s been a long time coming. I think we played really hard. We’re happy. It’s a relief to get that off our chests. Now we’ve got two more in front of us.”
Everything came together here on the overcast, foggy afternoon. Brown returned to his nonconference self, accounting for three touchdowns and rushing for 122 yards. Freshman Will Likely broke off a 63-yard punt return touchdown, Maryland’s first special teams touchdown of the season. The defense, maligned after allowing an average of nearly 40 points through five ACC games and still missing some of its biggest contributors, allowed just 264 total yards and sacked Logan Thomas seven times.
“We were very excited in the locker room,” Brown said. “Anytime you get a big win on the road that makes you bowl eligible, that’s all we’re focused on. We’ve got that number six, now we’re focused on getting number seven. It was a huge win for us against a good team, and on the road.”
Ten minutes into Edsall’s postgame news conference, the topic of bowl eligibility hadn’t surfaced once. Instead, the conversation focused on Brown’s career day, one that came after five weeks marred by injuries, turnovers and inconsistencies, or the defense that held the Hokies to an overtime field goal despite lining up at first and goal from the 9-yard line. But a 20-3 loss to Syracuse last weekend reinvigorated criticism of the third-year coach, with questions about Edsall’s job security falling from fans and media members alike, and here was his opportunity to revel.
“It’s outstanding that the players got this win today and got us to six,” Edsall said. “But if you talk to these young men, they’re not satisfied with getting to six. They want to get the next one, then we’ll worry about what happens after that. I’m just a firm believer that if you do what you’re supposed to do, things take care of themselves.”
Here the wheels began spinning inside Edsall’s mind. His eyes lit up and a smirk crossed his face, because he knew exactly how he wanted this answer to end.
“Like I said, this is a tremendous win for our players, for our program because there’s a ton of recruits who are here today,” Edsall said, standing up as he learned into the microphone and finished the thought. “And I’ll tell you what, if the Maryland pride wasn’t any more evident than today, you’ll never see it.”
Then he thanked the reporters and walked away. All that was missing was the microphone drop.