PHILADELPHIA — The burst of excitement, promise and expectation that engulfed the Maryland football program lasted less than a week. It could, of course, return as the season progresses, but Saturday’s matchup against Temple became a four-hour deflation of the enthusiasm that surrounded the new era at Maryland under Coach Michael Locksley.
The Terrapins’ offense had multiple opportunities to prove itself late in the fourth quarter but twice failed on fourth down just shy of the goal line, handing the Owls a 20-17 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Thanks to Temple’s shanked punt from the end zone — one of a litany of special teams errors in the game — Maryland had a chance to embark on a game-winning drive from the Temple 10-yard line with a little more than three minutes remaining. But in the offense’s most important moments of the day, quarterback Josh Jackson and Co. mustered an incompletion on an overthrown pass, a three-yard run from Anthony McFarland, a false-start penalty and another overthrown ball. Finally, on fourth and goal from the 12, Jackson threw under pressure to DJ Turner, who grabbed the ball but with his foot clearly out of bounds. The Owls let the clock run down with three rushes and then an intentional safety as time expired.
“It’s very frustrating. Obviously I missed the touchdown,” Jackson said, referencing his first incompletion on the final possession, a ball intended for open tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo that sailed high. “… I will think about that one for a while. We’ve just got to execute better. That all comes back to me.”
On their previous possession, the Terps (2-1) missed on an even closer opportunity to leap ahead.
With Maryland down by five after the offense failed to string together a productive series, Turner broke free from numerous defenders on a 55-yard punt return that brought the Terps four yards from the end zone with less than five minutes left. But on fourth and goal from the 1, Temple’s defense overwhelmed McFarland in the backfield.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in our ability to run the football down inside the goal line area,” Locksley said. “Any team that I coach, we’re going to be a team that has the ability, that has to have the ability, to punch it in.”
On those two unsuccessful fourth downs, the Terrapins lost the game. But they doomed themselves much earlier. A squad that had accumulated 142 points over its first two games to break into the Associated Press top 25 for the first time in six years flopped in Philadelphia with an offense that couldn’t establish much of anything in the first half or deliver in the fourth quarter.
Jackson missed his receivers. The offensive line had a troubling performance and lost starting right guard Terrance Davis to a knee injury in the second quarter. Maryland converted just 5 of 21 third downs and 1 of 6 fourth downs. Four possessions inside the Temple 20 ended without producing a point. The Terps’ only points of the first half were a gift — a safety courtesy of a bad snap when the Owls (2-0) attempted to punt from their own end zone.
Under pressure through much of the game, Jackson showed “some hesitancy” and made predetermined decisions, Locksley said. The quarterback completed just 15 of 38 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“At the end of day, we’re not going to point fingers,” said McFarland, who finished with 26 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown. “We just didn’t get it done as a team.”
The Terps had to rely on defense, which kept them afloat through the first half and forced turnovers on consecutive possessions in the third quarter.
Chance Campbell’s interception halted a promising Temple drive and led to Tyler Mabry’s touchdown catch for a 15-13 fourth-quarter lead (the extra point attempt was blocked). On the Owls’ following possession, the Terps regained possession after Jordan Mosley forced a fumble and Marcus Lewis recovered after multiple other Maryland players tried to control the ball.
But the Terps’ subsequent drive sputtered, and the Owls took the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter. The 14-play, 76-yard touchdown drive was aided by a pass interference call that pushed Temple 15 yards down the field and a holding penalty by Maryland on third and 14 that gave the Owls a first down inside the 10.
After failing to score an offensive touchdown in a 35-14 home loss to Temple last year, the Terps didn’t get into the end zone until the third quarter of the rematch. McFarland scored to give Maryland a 9-7 lead on a four-yard run when he converted the Terps’ first fourth down of the game after three failed attempts. Temple had stopped the standout running back short of the goal line in a similar situation in the first quarter.
The advantage lasted just 19 seconds. Temple responded with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Jadan Blue. Maryland safety Antoine Brooks Jr. missed the tackle and Mosley slipped to give the Temple receiver an open path to the end zone. Temple led 13-9 after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.
Maryland’s first half quickly unraveled into a sloppy showing that made the previous two prolific offensive outings seem as if they came from a different team. Just throw a dart at the play-by-play to find your evidence.
The Terps didn’t convert a third down until their final drive of the half. Ayinde Eley grabbed an interception, but it was wiped out because Maryland had 12 men on the field. Kicker Joseph Petrino missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter before he left the game with an injury. That contributed to the fourth-down struggles, which included a fake field goal that never had a chance. After a dream start to the season, reality was hitting hard as the Terps headed to the locker room at the half.
Once they returned, they showed some improvement and put themselves in position to win. Instead, they left Philadelphia with the first blemish on their résumé and a handful of errors to correct.
“As I told our team,” Locksley said, “our journey is not going to be defined by one win or one loss.”