(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Maryland’s 10-point halftime deficit to Syracuse felt far greater thanks to the calamitous manner in which the first half unfolded, with the Terrapins turning over the ball on three consecutive possessions. So Coach Randy Edsall gathered his players inside the locker room and issued an edict.

“This is a very simple game,” he later recalled telling the Terrapins.

In many ways, what happened at Byrd Stadium was indeed simple. Maryland played its worst game of the season, precisely at the point in the season when such an outing could not be afforded. In a 20-3 loss to Syracuse, what the Terps faced in their ACC Atlantic Division foe was also rather elementary. The Orange rammed the football down their throats, generated points when necessary and turned Gossett Team House into a building filled with blank faces, themselves fully to blame.

“Obviously we were disappointed,” linebacker Abner Logan said. “It’s hard to beat a team when you don’t play up to your full potential.”

Said center Sal Conaboy: “When you lose a game there’s always frustration. You can’t let that overtake what’s important. I feel like we might have lacked that. Guys just have to step up. Individually we have to look in the mirror to get ourselves better. As a team we have to keep pushing.”

After Maryland (5-4, 1-4) lost its third straight game and again failed to attain bowl eligibility, the central message focused on the future. What else could the players reasonably preach? Folding with three games left, each against teams that have struggled at times this season? Giving up on the postseason, when all it takes is one victory to get over the hump? Not, the players said, when they so blatantly gave the latest one away.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we should have won the game,” defensive lineman Darius Kilgo said.

Four straight drives ended in turnovers (Maryland also began the second half with a giveaway), including three from quarterback C.J. Brown, who despite a healthy body continues to struggle in conference games. A dormant rushing attack managed 2.2 yards per carry, including just five yards by Brown. Several dropped passes stifled drives and, even though Amba Etta-Tawo had a career-high 109 yards, his own fumble turned into a Syracuse field goal and the ultimately insurmountable 10-0 lead before halftime.

Maryland had its chances. Brad Craddock yanked a 42-yard field goal attempt so far wide left that it struck the American flagpole. Two more drives that reached Syracuse territory ended in Brown throwing interceptions, first on a deep ball into double coverage then on an overthrow to tight end Dave Stinebaugh.

“I didn’t execute to my potential,” said Brown, who assumed “full responsibility” for Maryland’s shortcomings. “I put our team in tough situations. It falls back on me, because it’s hard to get the guys going when I’m the problem.”

And in the second half, when Syracuse punted four times in five possessions, Maryland managed little more than a field goal. It turned it over on downs three straight times to end the game.

During his press conference, Edsall blamed not having “guys make the plays when they needed to make plays.”

“Execute your assignment, run the proper route, tackle, don’t wrap guys up, don’t try to body-block somebody, those sort of things,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s very simple. You have one job to do. You have a technique that you have to do. All you have to do is go out and do that to the best of your ability at each play.”

Of course, Maryland did little of that. Syracuse running back Jerome Smith rumbled to 118 yards on 28 carries, shedding several tackles en route to a game-clinching 22-yard touchdown. Quarterback Terrel Hunt also ripped off a 29-yard gain and averaged 9.6 yards on his seven carries, while change-of-pace back George Morris gobbled 50 yards on the same number of rushes.

In past games this season, injuries could be blamed for Maryland’s s struggles. Missing leading tackler Cole Farrand certainly hurt the second level, but backup Abner Logan finished second on the team with 10 tackles. The Terps had an entire bye week to practice with this current group, yet again emerged as if they had been a deep hibernation, much like the 63-0 loss to Florida State that began this tumultuous conference stretch.

Next Saturday’s trip to Virginia Tech (which, at time of publication, was winning at No. 14 Miami), will bring another stiff test for a suddenly desperate Maryland team. After that comes Boston College’s visit to Byrd Stadium, then a season-ending road trip to North Carolina State. The opportunities are there, but the Terps need a win.

It’s that simple.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Brown said. “ACC’s a tough league. We’ve been playing in this league for a long time. We understand each week’s going to be a grind, it’s going to be a battle. … but you have to go in with the mindset that you have to play four quarters, 60 minutes. We still have three games to go. We’ll be alright.”