By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007
PISCATAWAY, N.J., Sept. 29 -- Maryland backup quarterback Chris Turner and quarterbacks coach John Donovan talked in the locker room at halftime Saturday, coach and player simply trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Starter Jordan Steffy had just suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion, making his return to the game questionable at best. As if that news wasn't daunting enough, the Terrapins had just allowed two touchdowns in 46 seconds, allowing No. 10 Rutgers to erase a deficit and seize the momentum right before intermission.
But as Turner and Donovan chatted -- mostly to go over pass protections, check-downs and other details that a quarterback facing a top 10 team should know -- an easy feeling pervaded.
Nobody quite knew what to expect when Turner took the field, which is why his heroics added another layer of mystique to Maryland's 34-24 upset of the Scarlet Knights. Turner finished 14 of 20 for 149 yards while helping the Terrapins secure the upset in the second half.
"I just wanted to make sure I could manage the game and execute the game plan," said Turner, whose only previous game experience was in the season opener, long after the outcome was decided. "It was oddly natural, a smooth transition. . . .
"It feels great. It's great for the whole team, great for the school. We needed this bad."
One week after wasting a 21-point lead before losing in overtime to Wake Forest, the Terrapins earned a long-elusive marquee victory by containing a powerful rushing attack led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Ray Rice, who finished with just 97 yards rushing.
"It was a tremendous win and a tremendous display of character by our players," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said.
In front of the second-largest crowd in Rutgers history, the Terrapins picked up their first victory over a top 10 opponent since beating No. 5 Florida State in 2004. The defense turned in one of its best performances in recent years, and the offense might have found a new field general. Friedgen said Steffy could play next week, though Turner may start.
"I'm going to look at the tape and see," Friedgen said. "We're going to play the best guy."
During the week, Friedgen warned that the Terrapins' pass protection deficiencies would serve as an invitation for opponents to send extra pass rushers. As Friedgen predicted, Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano called for a blitz on almost every Maryland passing down in the first half
One such blitz knocked Steffy out of the game just before halftime. Rutgers defensive back Joe Lefeged (Northwest High) came free before hammering Steffy as he released a pass. Steffy remained on the ground for several minutes. He walked off the field under his own power but did not return to the game
Turner made sure it didn't matter.
The sophomore shined in leading the Terrapins in the second half, remaining cool while facing constant blitzing by Rutgers. Friedgen said he made sight adjustments that led to major plays and showed poise that belied his relative inexperience.
With Turner at the controls, the ills that have plagued the Terrapins' offense seemed to melt away. The offensive line and running backs provided Turner plenty of time to direct the offense. With the extra time, he managed to get the ball downfield, and he had targets to hit because Maryland's wide receivers managed to get open.
After leading the Terrapins to two field goals, Turner made the biggest play of his young career, hitting a diving LaQuan Williams with a 27-yard strike to set up Keon Lattimore's two-yard touchdown run that made it 27-17 with 7:42 left.
The cushion was enough.
On the Scarlet Knights' next possession, Rice scored on a one-yard touchdown run to get Rutgers within a field goal. But the Terrapins' defense persisted.
Later, even as Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel tried to wriggle from the arms of Maryland defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre -- on a fourth-down play on Rutgers's last real chance to change the outcome -- the Terrapins' sideline knew it was over.
Defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo sprinted onto the field, arms waving so wildly he fell to the ground. He regained his composure in time and found Terrapins defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. They hugged, the rest of the Terrapins raised their arms and a scarlet-clad crowd began the slow shuffle toward the exits.
"It's going to be interesting to see where we can go from here," Friedgen said.