On a season-defining Saturday, Maryland severely undercut its hopes of reaching a fourth straight bowl game with an offensive performance that rivaled the previous week's futility.
Again humbled on its home field, Maryland lost to North Carolina State, 13-3, in a game littered with penalties and spoiled by offensive ineptitude. A smattering of boos cascaded from what remained of the 52,179 at Byrd Stadium in the waning moments.
Afterward, an emotionally shaken Ralph Friedgen lacked answers. He called the past two weeks the most difficult period not just in his four-year Maryland tenure, but in his entire football career. Players said they have never seen their coach so downtrodden.
"Very embarrassing for me," said Friedgen, who questioned whether he is reaching the players. Asked how his team can rebound against the likes of Clemson and Florida State in the coming weeks, Friedgen conceded, "I don't know."
One week after totaling 81 yards in the Georgia Tech loss, Maryland compiled 91 yards, 51 of which came on the game's opening drive. The Terps' quarterbacks, starter Joel Statham and backup Jordan Steffy, managed 24 yards through the air.
With the sophomore Statham and freshman Steffy both ineffective, where does Friedgen turn?
"That's all I got," Friedgen said. "What do you want? You want me to manufacture one? I don't have one. I have two kids that are growing."
The postgame "soul-searching," as defensive end Shawne Merriman called it, is a foreign act in College Park, where Friedgen has led his alma mater to three straight 10-win seasons. This season is different, confounding for coaches, and quarterback play is only a slice of the problem.
The line protection was so poor that Wolfpack linemen nearly intercepted one of Steffy's handoffs to running back Josh Allen in the backfield. The offense was so feeble that Friedgen said he chose to punt on fourth and five late in the game because he figured the punt could gain more yardage than his offense ever could.
"It feels like every yard we're getting out there," center Kyle Schmitt said, "we're working like hell to get."
Maryland (3-3, 1-2 ACC) lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 1998. The Terps lost to N.C. State (4-2, 3-1) for the first time since 1999.
Throughout the week, as Friedgen addressed his first quarterback controversy in College Park, he implored the media and fans to "trust" him, and said he felt confident in the offensive plan he crafted to attack the nation's top-ranked pass defense.
But N.C. State's press man-to-man defense proved too formidable. Defensive backs silenced Maryland's receivers with their physical play. Linemen, often five players, blitzed with ease, battering an already bruised Maryland offensive line.
Late in the third quarter, on a play that epitomized the offensive struggles, Maryland declined to punt on fourth and one from its 34-yard line. Instead, several Wolfpack linemen stuffed running back Sam Maldonado for a one-yard loss.
Statham, who completed 6 of 11 passes for 18 yards, addressed the media for the first time in weeks. Asked if his self-confidence has been shaken, Statham said, "It has a little bit," adding that the coaches "have to do what they have to do" in determining who will play.
Steffy, who completed 1 of 7 passes for six yards, took responsibility for his poor performance, saying, "It seemed like every time we had a chance to make a big play, they guessed right on the blitz."
On their opening drive, the Terps drove 51 yards, relying heavily on Allen. But Nick Novak's successful 32-yard field goal attempt was nullified because of an illegal procedure penalty. Novak then missed the 37-yard attempt, a bitter end to a strong drive.
Maryland, never the same, was fortunate N.C. State did not have a healthy T.A. McLendon, who carried the ball just once before leaving with a hamstring pull.
The Terps' offensive line also has injuries. Two backups sat. Right tackle Lou Lombardo played with a cracked kneecap. Left tackle Stephon Heyer dislocated his kneecap Saturday, but returned to the game. And Schmitt played despite not practicing most of the week because of effects from a concussion.
"I've got a headache," Schmitt said, "but I'm not sure it's from a concussion."