RALEIGH, N.C. – As bowl eligibility crept closer and closer toward reality this season, every Maryland football player maintained the same public outlook. Reaching six wins was fine, but they steadfastly refused to peek into the future, lest it cloud their ability to finish the season.
After a 41-21 win over North Carolina State, which gave the Terrapins (7-5, 3-5 ACC) a winning record for the first time under Coach Randy Edsall, all bets were off. They couldn’t wait to board the team bus, tap their phones and see where national analysts were projecting them to go.
“I’ll probably get on right now and see where we’re about to go,” linebacker Matt Robinson said.
“Yeah, I’m going to look at it now,” wide receiver Nigel King said.
Added defensive lineman Andre Monroe: “Yeah, I’m going to pay attention now. We took care of what we needed to take care of.”
Business was indeed handled here at Carter-Finely Stadium, the site of Maryland’s 27-point collapse during the regular season finale two years ago. Memories of that miserable day crept onto the sideline as the Wolfpack got within 41-21 and a once-listless crowd woke up, but three straight failed fourth-down conversions kept the hosts winless during ACC play and sent Maryland into December on a winning note.
“Well, that was a great team victory for our program, for our players,” Edsall said to begin his postgame news conference. “Couldn’t be happier for our guys and how they fought through adversity all year long. Never backed down. We hit a little spot there that wasn’t good for us, but we turned it around, then to come down here and finish it like we did today I think puts an exclamation point on who these kids are and what they are all about.”
Quarterback C.J. Brown was primarily responsible for racking up Maryland’s highest-scoring output during conference play, rushing for 138 yards on 15 carries, throwing for 259 yards on 13 completions and accounting for five touchdowns. He moved into second place on the program’s single-season quarterback rushing list, behind the 574 yards he had in 2011.
Brown spread the wealth around to his three starting wideouts, each of whom had at least 60 receiving yards. Nigel King caught a 53-yard touchdown pass in the first half, and Amba Etta-Tawo reached the century mark for the second time since Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffered season-ending injuries.
When the offense sputtered in the second half – the Terrapins’ only score came on their first drive, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brown to running back Albert Reid — and N.C. State began to threaten, the defense ratcheted up the pressure, sacking quarterback Brandon Mitchell five times and dropping the Wolfpack for 13 tackles for a loss. Monroe led the charge with two sacks, while linebackers Marcus Whitfield and Shawn Petty had one apiece. Petty’s sack, a 15-yard loss with four minutes left, officially ended the last of N.C. State’s comeback attempts, and with it secured the victory.
“It’s not a question of the heart, but when it’s time to really bow up, that’s when the heart gets even bigger,” Monroe said. “That’s when you say okay, we need to put our foot down even more, we’re not doing something right so we have to do it harder, we have to execute better. That’s what helps us get those when we really need to capitalize on those fourth downs.”
Now that the Terps can allow themselves to peek at the bowl projections, they will see a once-muddled ACC landscape become increasingly clear even though there are 11 bowl-eligible teams for just eight slots. It all could come down to the the Military Bowl, which will choose between Maryland (3-5 in ACC play), North Carolina (4-4), Boston College (4-4), Syracuse (3-5) and Pittsburgh (3-5). It’s only logical that the game’s organizers would want a Washington area team for the game, to be played Dec. 27 in Annapolis.
Other projections have the Terps filling another conference’s unused spot, like in either the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. Both of those games will have spots that will not be filled by the Big Ten.
Edsall and his coaching staff will begin an intensive recruiting period on Sunday, but planned to gather the players at Gossett Team House around 4:15 p.m. to discuss matters and aimed to “maybe start practicing at the end of next week.” The postseason is now closer than ever, but Edsall still distanced himself from speculation, preferring to bask in the aftermath of just his second win in November since arriving at Maryland.
“Wherever we go we’re going to be pleased and we’re going to be happy,” Edsall said. “The thing I’m so proud of with these guys is we knew probably, but there was no guarantee, that we’d go somewhere with six wins. I know we’ll go somewhere with seven and it enhances what we’re doing.
“This is huge for us. It’s huge for the program, huge that we’re going to get extra practices for these young guys. It’s like an extra spring practice, but most importantly it’s for those guys in that room over there, because they’re the ones who got it done on the field today.”