Wake Forest 12
Maryland lugged a PowerPoint presentation worth of goals and objectives on its first road trip of the year: establish the running game, convert in the red zone, stop making mental mistakes, win the turnover battle and above all, rediscover a defense that, through three games, had looked nothing like its former self.
And while Saturday's 22-12 victory over Wake Forest before 26,022 left plenty of to-do boxes unchecked, the defense will at least not have to spend another week apologizing for its mistakes.
There were two sacks and two forced turnovers, a decided improvement for a defense that had come up with one turnover in its first three games. There was one bouncing ball in the first half that was scooped up by cornerback Josh Wilson and returned 20 yards for a touchdown, the first of the game for either team. There were three fourth-down stands, including two in the final quarter, the scene of Maryland's past collapses. And for the first time this year, there was a number less than 20 next to the opponent's name on the scoreboard.
"We finally backed up our words," said linebacker David Holloway, who had been one of the defense's strongest critics. "We wanted to go in the fourth quarter with a lead and sustain it on our shoulders, get the job done. And we finally did it."
Maryland now enters next Saturday's homecoming game against rival Virginia with a 2-2 record, 1-1 in the ACC, while Wake Forest fell to 1-3 in its ACC opener. And for the first time this year, the Terps played a game in which their offense wasn't asked to conjure up last-minute heroics.
"We weren't going back to College Park without a win," said safety Milton Harris, who had seven tackles and forced two fumbles. "Definitely, this is the best we've played as a collective unit."
The game's key matchup was the Wake Forest running offense -- eighth in the country -- against the Maryland running defense -- 105th in the country and last in the ACC. And against all expectations, that defense -- helped by a 10-point halftime lead that forced Wake Forest quarterback Benjamin Mauk into 23 second-half passes -- won that battle decisively.
All-ACC running back Chris Barclay gained 86 yards but could not help an offense that fumbled four times sustain its forward progress. His backfield mate Micah Andrews, who had been fourth in the nation in rushing, gained 23 yards on six carries. And a team that had averaged more than 270 yards on the ground was held to 111.
And thus, for the first time in six games dating from last season, the Terps outgained their opponents on the ground. Maryland's erstwhile starting running back, Mario Merrills, went nowhere, and in the late going the Terps turned to Keon Lattimore. In his most extensive work, the sophomore gained 76 yards on 15 carries; his three-yard touchdown run on a broken play early in the fourth quarter was Maryland's only offensive touchdown of the day.
Of course, the Terps were also helped by their fair share of good fortune. What would have been Wake Forest's longest run of the day -- a 26-yard first-half gallop by Cory Randolph -- was called back because of a holding penalty on Chris Davis. What would have been the Demon Deacons' longest pass play of the day -- a 73-yard catch and run to Davis -- was called back on a block in the back against Randolph.
Were there problems? Naturally. Maryland's Sam Hollenbach was steady at times, but the quarterback chosen for his decision-making continued to freeze at inopportune moments. He threw an interception at the Wake Forest 8-yard line in the first half, stopping Maryland's momentum when a blowout win seemed possible, and he failed to get rid of the ball from his end zone in the fourth quarter. The resulting safety drew Wake Forest within 10 points, although neither team would score again.
There were also galling penalties for a team that has worked on limiting mistakes. Wilson earned a 15-yard flag in the first half for charging into Willie Idlette before he had a chance to field a punt, giving the Deacons field position at the Maryland 40-yard line. And late in the third quarter, Maryland stopped Wake Forest on third and long, but a helmet-to-helmet 15-yard call on Christian Varner gave the Deacons a first down at the Maryland 22. They went on to score their only touchdown.
"We've got to play smarter than what we do," said Coach Ralph Friedgen, who was nevertheless in high spirits. "I'd rather have things to work on and win than have things to work on and lose. As long as we have more points than them, I'm happy."