The Maryland football team routinely receives Mondays off, so focus often is an issue when the team returns to the practice field the next day. Their minds wander — to midterm exams, to personal matters, to anything but the immediate task at hand: another week of game preparation.
“Tuesdays are sometimes like pulling teeth,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said.
This week was different. After last Saturday’s humbling 63-0 loss at Florida State, the Terrapins needed to regroup for Saturday’s ACC home opener against Virginia. So they sat through a sobering film session Sunday morning, returned to the practice field that afternoon, took Monday off and, instead of laboring through Tuesday’s session, delivered their best practice yet.
“The focus was there,” Locksley said. “The energy level was there.. . . We’ll find out a lot about ourselves on Saturday.”
The 78th and final ACC matchup between the longtime border-state rivals should reveal plenty about both sides. Virginia (2-3) has lost two straight in increasingly disappointing fashion, with an offensively inept outing at Pittsburgh followed by a three-touchdown home loss to Ball State. Speculation has bubbled up about fourth-year Coach Mike London’s job security as fans have grown impatient about the team’s progress through five games.
“There’s a process to a lot of these things,” London told reporters this week. “Obviously we want to win. We want to win now. I believe in the coaches. I believe in the players. I believe in the young players that are playing.”
After four straight blowout wins against lesser opponents, the Terps left Doak Campbell Stadium last Saturday with their worst defeat in two decades. And while Maryland Coach Randy Edsall hasn’t felt his seat warm after the best start in his College Park tenure, he knows exactly how to halt any talk of job security.
“They just got to go out and win,” Edsall said. “Everybody knows what the deal is. Didn’t play well. Didn’t get it done. Now you get a chance to go out this Saturday and redeem yourself and get back on track. Each week is never easy. But you have to go out and get a win. Very simple.”
That seems easy on paper, perhaps, but hardly in practice. Virginia’s defense, which allowed just eight rushing yards against the Panthers, regressed against the Cardinals, committing 13 penalties and ceding 506 yards. It conjured memories of last season’s six-game losing streak, a tailspin that sank the Cavaliers following a 2-0 start.
Maryland is likely to proceed without starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who suffered a concussion against the Seminoles and is listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. Sophomore Caleb Rowe will play if Brown cannot, bringing a stronger arm but a more one-dimensional skill-set. If he doesn’t play, the Terps will miss Brown’s experience, huddle presence and 282.2 yards per game of total offense, third best in the ACC.
Forging on without its starting quarterback is nothing new for Maryland. Four quarterbacks took snaps in 12 games last season, which began with Brown tearing his ACL in a preseason practice. But this season’s 4-0 start created a buzz around campus and led to the program’s first Associated Press top 25 ranking under Edsall.
Then the Florida State game happened. As Maryland flew home last Saturday night, the storm clouds began to gather. Brown’s status remained in limbo after the 63-point loss, which tied for the biggest blowout ever of a ranked team. But a focused Sunday practice helped divert their attention, and Tuesday’s session helped them move on. Saturday’s game, then, will be a measure of the team’s resiliency.
“That’s really all it’s about: how you respond from adversity,” Terps running back Brandon Ross said. “It’s pretty much our first round of adversity we’ve faced all season. We’re going to bounce back. You can just see the want in everybody in the locker room, just how they want to get back on the winning track. Nobody wants to lose like that again.”