There's no real way to soften what happened to the University of Maryland football team here today. For the first time in four seasons under Coach Bobby Ross, the Terrapins failed to score a touchdown, and for the first time since 1979 they were shut out, this time by Michigan in a 20-0 humiliation before 105,282.
Indeed, 12th-ranked Michigan (3-0) is powerful, especially on defense, where the Wolverines haven't given up a touchdown this season. But Maryland's proud offense committed five turnovers, including a goal-line interception and a fumble at its own two.
"We took a licking," Ross said. "We just plain got whupped."
The loss may not ruin the season for 17th-ranked Maryland (2-2), but it probably means the Terrapins cannot achieve the greatness some predicted for them only four weeks ago.
"This is a bigger disappointment than (the 20-18 loss to) Penn State," senior guard Len Lynch said. "We wanted to get a snowball effect going. But this kinda halts that . . . "
There's no question that Michigan played well, maybe even well enough to win no matter what Maryland did.
Quarterback Jim Harbaugh completed 16 of 20 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Kattus in the second quarter made it 10-0, and a three-yard pass to Kattus in the third made it 17-0. And Harbaugh's passing set up Mike Gillette's field goal from 25 yards, which finished the scoring early in the fourth.
One of Harbaugh's incompletions was a heave at the end of the first half and another was an intentional throwaway when everyone was covered in the end zone.
By contrast, Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh threw four interceptions and was sacked three times.
The Michigan defense, which Ross noted was exceptionally quick, didn't appear to allow a broken tackle all afternoon. Ross uttered the three words that best described what Michigan did defensively: "They stopped us."
Even so, Maryland had chances to be competitive, but blew them all.
Ramon Paredes missed a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter that would have tied the game. The attempt wasn't even close to being good.
"He didn't hit it good at all," Ross said. "We've got to get better at that. It's a chip shot and that thing has gotta be put through the uprights. That's all there is to it."
Even before that, Maryland was putting together a pretty impressive drive. But it was aborted on third-and-six when tight end Ferrell Edmunds caught a pass across midfield and tried to go outside instead of just taking one step forward to pick up the first down. Michigan cornerback Garland Rivers made a fine open-field tackle to force a fourth down at the Michigan 48.
"Ferrell should have stuck it up in there and got a first down," Ross said. "I thought about going for it (on fourth down), but it was only 3-0 at that point, and I figured we'd pin 'em back on their goal line."
Maryland would have pinned back Michigan, except that O'Brien Alston's toe touched the end line when he was attempting to down the Maryland punt at the one, enabling Michigan to start at the 20 instead.
Even the Maryland defense, which did a good job of essentially holding Michigan to 13 points -- the offense all but handed over the second touchdown -- had its blunderous moment.
On third and one from his 29, Harbaugh fooled the gambling Terrapins defense -- which overplayed the run -- by throwing a play-fake pass 33 yards to Kattus.
"We knew it was a gamble, but we felt like we had to do it," Ross said. "And it didn't pay off."
That play set up Harbaugh's first touchdown pass to Kattus, as the Wolverines took a 10-0 lead with three minutes left in the half.
The third quarter started with Maryland going for a fourth and four at the Michigan 29, after a third and three had resulted in Tommy Neal (12 carries for 82 yards) losing a yard. Maryland converted only one third down in nine attempts today.
Ross said he told his coaches not to worry too much about third down, because with the ball inside the Michigan 30, the team had two chances to continue the drive.
Neal gained only two yards on fourth and four, and Maryland had nothing. That brings up a question: Why didn't fullback Rick Badanjek, who has successfully picked up third- and fourth-down yardage so many times in four years, get the call?
Badanjek carried only five times for 28 yards.
Many of the Maryland players said that at that point they continued to believe something would change their fortune.
"I've always felt that there's something special about our team," defensive tackle Scott Tye said, perhaps thinking back to Maryland's historic comeback against Miami last year and a subsequent come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. "I kept thinking something really good would happen."
It apparently did when Maryland popped Michigan tailback Thomas Wilcher and forced him to fumble as he prepared to leap two yards into the end zone with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Maryland sideline fairly shook with anticipation. "We just needed that one break, just one play," Ross said.
All Maryland got from that opportunity was one more play, because Badanjek -- with numerous family members having come from nearby Ohio -- fumbled on the next play at his two.
The Maryland defense held for one play, but Harbaugh found Kattus for the touchdown that made it 17-0 late in the third quarter.
Harbaugh read that situation the way he had many others: If the Maryland outside linebackers lined up outside looking for the pass, he would call for a run, he said. If the linebackers lined up inside looking for the run, he passed. Sounds simple. Apparently it worked.
Maryland did move downfield quickly on its next possession. Neal and Alvin Blount each had a carry of 14 yards and Gelbaugh hit James Milling for 19 yards. But on third and goal from the six, Gelbaugh looked in the end zone, where two receivers (including tight end Chris Knight) were surrounded by at least four Michigan defenders.
Interception, Doug Mallory, at the end of the third quarter. Game over.
Even on the last play of the game, when Maryland sought some consolation, what might have been a touchdown pass to Blount was ruled incomplete.
Clearly, this was an afternoon and a setting that Maryland would like to forget as soon as possible.