Playing with the Maryland state flag print on helmets and portions of jerseys, the Terrapins unleashed an offense that racked up 499 total yards and looked unrelenting everywhere except inside the red zone, where an interception, dropped touchdown pass and missed field goal prevented the Terrapins from piling up more points.
A raucous and wet crowd of 52,875 — the seventh-largest home crowd in school history — and a national television audience saw place kicker Nick Ferrara boot a 32-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, for the game-winning points and cornerback Cameron Chism’s 54-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute build on the lead.
After the game, Edsall appeared energized, even as the midnight hour approached, but deflected all credit to his players and praised an explosive offense that he tried his best to keep under wraps during preseason camp. The offensive style of play was a departure for Edsall, whose Connecticut team last season averaged just 151 yards passing per game.
“We’ve got some weapons,” Edsall said. “I told you guys now.”
Quarterback Danny O’Brien, last season’s ACC freshman of the year, completed 31 of 44 passes for 348 yards. Six players caught at least two passes, including Kevin Dorsey, who had eight receptions for 124 yards. None was bigger than the 52-yard reception down the right sideline that set up Ferrara’s go-ahead kick.
On the long reception, Miami played Maryland in man-to-man coverage, and O’Brien felt Dorsey could win his battle. So he fired the ball deep without looking up to spot Dorsey, he said, until nearly releasing the pass.
“That tempo is pretty serious,” said O’Brien, who threw for 300 yards for the third time in his career. “I think it wore [Miami] down. We had 49 plays in the first half. That was three quarters last season.”
It was a valiant effort by the Hurricanes, who were without eight players who were suspended for accepting extra benefits, including three defensive linemen, star linebacker Sean Spence and standout safety Ray-Ray Armstrong.
But the Hurricanes’ defense could not slow Maryland’s offense. The Terrapins had seven drives of at least 60 yards. They reached the Miami 20-yard line on seven of eight drives. Unfortunately for Maryland, it scored a touchdown in just one of those red-zone opportunities, a 10-yard pass from O’Brien to Ronnie Tyler on the game’s opening drive.
The Terrapins drove inside the Miami 20 four times in the first half, only to come away with 13 points. It took Maryland’s opportunistic defense to make a play for the Terrapins to close the first half with a precarious 20-14 lead. In the final minute of the half, Chism jarred the ball loose from Miami running back Mike James. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano caught the ball in midair and rumbled 30 yards for the go-ahead score that stirred the crowd.
“I haven’t scored a touchdown since eighth grade,” said Vellano, one of four team captains.
The Terrapins began the game looking as if they may be on their way to a rout against the depleted Miami defense. On the game’s first drive, Maryland displayed its new offense by aggressively marching down the field in 11 plays. O’Brien completed 6 of 7 pass attempts; the only incompletion was a dropped pass by running back Davin Meggett.
Edsall showed no hesitation about going for it on fourth and eight from the Miami 36, when O’Brien completed a 10-yard pass to Meggett to keep the drive alive. O’Brien capped the drive with a quick pass to receiver Ronnie Tyler, who sneaked the ball across the goal line before going out of bounds.
The Terrapins were on the move again on their next drive, bringing the ball to the Miami 2-yard line with a series of quick passes from O’Brien. But then O’Brien got a little too fancy. He rolled to his right and, instead of running in the open field toward the goal line, tried to squeeze a pass into the back of the end zone to tight end Matt Furstenburg. Miami free safety Vaughn Telemaque intercepted the pass.
“I should have run it,” O’Brien said. “That’s the play I am thinking about right now.”
The interception was just the second bad pass thrown by O’Brien in his first 15 attempts in the game. In the first quarter alone, O’Brien completed 13 passes for 137 yards but had only seven points to show for it.
The Terrapins had another opportunity to build on their lead at the start of the second quarter. Maryland moved the ball inside the Miami 10 for the third time in the game but had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Ferrara, his first since the 2009 season finale.
Maryland then penetrated the Miami 20 late in the quarter but again walked away with just three points — a 29-yard field goal by Ferrara — after wide receiver Kerry Boykins dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the end zone.
In any event, red-zone work is something Edsall said the Terrapins can work on in the lead up to the West Virginia game on Sept. 17. For now, players are still talking enthusiastically about the uniforms — which were unveiled to the team in a video during a Monday meeting at the hotel — and about avenging last season’s loss to Miami, something they have been eyeing for quite some time.
“We had the countdown clock in here, 189 days since the spring,” Vellano said. “Looking at it every day. This is huge.”