WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Maryland football team started its slide early Saturday afternoon, long before fractured leg bones ended the seasons of star wide receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs, injuries that will overshadow a calamitous road trip for the Terrapins. On the very first play from scrimmage, Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock burst through the offensive line mostly untouched and sacked Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown for a 15-yard loss.
The Terrapins summoned little fight in a 34-10 blowout loss to the Demon Deacons, the hurt suffered at BB&T Field compounded by the devastating news learned in the aftermath. But even had Long and Diggs not both been carted from the field, the Terps experienced another miserable ACC road trip. As the players later said, they started flat and left flattened.
“Knowing they had a week off, we knew we were going to get their best game, especially on a homecoming game,” defensive lineman Darius Kilgo said. “They just came out well prepared. They got up early on us. We just dug ourselves in a deeper hole.”
After Maryland lost six net yards on its first drive, backing punter Nate Renfro into his own end zone, the Demon Deacons converted their short field into a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Josh Harris. The long Terps drive that followed ended with kicker Brad Craddock helicoptering a 35-yard attempt wide left, his first miss from within 50 yards this season.
The next several hours blurred together. First Long was loaded into an ambulance and driven to Wake Forest Baptist Hospital four miles south of the stadium, where X-rays later determined he had broken his tibia and fibula. Then Brown was intercepted for just the second time this season, overthrowing tight end Dave Stinebaugh as he absorbed a punishing hit from middle linebacker Brandon Chubb. The offensive line’s struggles have been a recurring theme this season, one that contributed to Brown’s concussion in a 63-0 loss to Florida State, and Whitlock had two sacks and three hurries, all in the first half.
“I’m not really sure what was going on,” running back Albert Reid said. “Wake Forest had a pretty good game. I take my hats off to them. Their D-line had a good game. We kind of game out flat at the beginning of the game. We can’t do that when every team’s going to give us their best effort. We got to come out pumped up and ready to go, just like they were.”
After quarterback Tanner Price converted Brown’s first turnover into a four-yard rushing touchdown, Brown again misfired. He tried to find Diggs in double coverage but was intercepted by free safety A.J. Marshall. Two Terps drives later, Coach Randy Edsall yanked Brown and subbed in backup Caleb Rowe.
“I just felt like things that I saw, it was the best thing for our team to do to try to move the ball in the second half,” Edsall said, by way of explanation.
Rowe immediately marched Maryland 73 yards on two plays, hooking up with Levern Jacobs for the wideout’s first career touchdown that briefly breathed life back into a Maryland team hunting bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. But Rowe wound up completing just 44 percent of his passes, and twice threw four straight incompletions inside Wake Forest territory.
The defense, despite holding Wake Forest to 76 fewer yards than Maryland gained, failed to force a turnover for the third straight game and ceded four touchdowns in four Demon Deacons red-zone trips. Wake Forest wide receiver Michael Campanaro even threw two passes on the same drive, including a four-yard touchdown to Price that swelled the lead to 24-3.
“It’s just hard,” safety Sean Davis said. “Looking at the stats, we had better stats than them. It’s just one of those tough things. Campanaro was a good guy, give him his credit. The quarterback Tanner Price is a good guy, too. We just have to do better, regroup, correct the mistakes and come back.”
What other option does Maryland have? With No. 3 Clemson visiting Byrd Stadium next Saturday and a bye after that, the Terps may not reach six wins until November. And once again, after traveling to Tobacco Road missing five key defensive contributors, the players are forced to strike the tricky balance between caring for fallen friends and forgetting about teammates they must replace.
But maybe another week of preparation can help move beyond Diggs and Long and the dumpster fire that burned bright at Wake Forest. Edsall loves preaching the importance of normalcy, and this upcoming week will test that sermon more than ever.
“You can’t really say a game will be hard to get over, because you have other big games coming up,” Reid said. “We’re trying to focus on something else and get somewhere with this season. We’re trying to have a good season. We just have to put those two losses behind us and work on Clemson. We have no choice.”