“It kind of felt like I was in a bad dream,” linebacker Cole Farrand said. “I wouldn’t have expected this to happen in the slightest.”
Maryland will never learn what could have been had Brown not left the game just before halftime following a punishing helmet-to-chest blow from Florida State defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel. Not that it likely would have mattered. The Terps’ defense had no answer for Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, who picked apart a thin Maryland secondary missing its two starting cornerbacks for 393 yards, five touchdowns and more escape artistry to add to an already overflowing highlight vault.
“We knew coming in the game that he was capable of doing that,” nose tackle Darius Kilgo said. “We weren’t prepared at some times and moments, so he got the best of us.”
Brown’s injury opened the floodgates. Down 14-0 late in the first half, he sidestepped one blitzer and weaved into the pocket. After he uncorked his pass, linebacker Christian Jones wrapped up Brown’s waist from behind. Then came McDaniel, helmet first, bulldozing into Brown’s sternum, just below the throat.
Brown tumbled backward and removed his mouthpiece. Team trainers rushed onto the field. Coach Randy Edsall stomped his feet and pounded his temple, screaming at the referees over what he saw as an uncalled targeting penalty. Nearby, the Terps gathered in silence. They have watched quarterbacks writhe in pain before. It happened when Brown tore his ACL during preseason practice last August, and when Perry Hills suffered the same injury late last October, and when it happened to Caleb Rowe the week after that.
“It was tough to see a friend down on the ground like that,” center Sal Conaboy said.
Said Kilgo: “I think it changed the game. When your quarterback goes down, it hits a place in everybody’s heart. We didn’t respond like we needed to. We needed to bounce back quickly and just move on. I don’t think that’s one thing we did.”
Behind the clump of blank stares, a voice piped through Rowe’s headset. Maryland’s backup was watching Brown’s throw and didn’t see the hit, but he knew it was bad. “Caleb, you’re up,” the voice said, so the sophomore began to throw. Summoned into an unwinnable situation, Rowe would finish with 119 passing yards on 17 attempts. Maryland never resuscitated itself and tied for the worst loss ever by a ranked team.
“Going through summer with these guys, all the workouts we’ve had to go through, I know their heart,” Rowe said. “It’s a tough loss and it’s something we have to overcome. We’ve experienced overcoming things from last year. I’m not worried about it.”
The Terps had arrived in Tallahassee on a four-game winning streak that swelled hope in College Park. Classmates and cafeteria workers congratulated the players for the hot start, which earned the Terps their first national ranking since 2010. Maybe a strong performance, in a place where Maryland had never won in 11 tries, could provide further validation.
Not a chance. As the third quarter neared its end, the halftime score had doubled to 42-0 and a bored crowd of 74,909 began filtering into the streets. As a team, Florida State rolled up 614 yards, the most surrendered by Maryland in one game since its Orange Bowl loss to Florida at the end of the 2001 season. The Terps managed just 33 net rushing yards, converted on 13 percent of third downs and punted 11 times.
It was the worst loss of Edsall’s career.
“Not really much to say,” he said afterwards. “We weren’t very good.”
Virginia and Wake Forest lie ahead, so the Terps (4-1, 0-1) will have good chances to right the ship and gain bowl eligibility before October’s end. But with an opportunity to further impress the nation, reality bit Maryland in the face. Against a national-caliber prizefighter inside an opponent’s ring, the Terps were rendered utterly punchless. The canyon still exists. It just may have gotten wider.