Late in the third quarter Saturday, the Maryland football team’s offense gathered near its bench and listened to Coach Randy Edsall shriek. He jabbed his finger around the semi-circle of players, lacing into everyone for what had unfolded on the field. When Edsall was finished, offensive lineman Sal Conaboy brought everyone closer and yelled some more.
“Looking for a spark,” Conaboy said later. “We were shooting ourselves in the foot.”
With two weeks to prepare after its second bye week of the season, Maryland knew what was at stake: bowl eligibility. Momentum over its last four games, all winnable against struggling conference foes. Even the chance to impress several highly regarded recruits in attendance at Byrd Stadium. But nothing jolted the listless Terrapins from their midseason slumber. In a 20-3 loss to Syracuse, one of their more troubling defeats since Edsall arrived in College Park, Maryland reached its nadir.
Afterward, inside a somber Gossett Team House, both Edsall and his players insisted the Terps had emerged from their second bye week focused and prepared for the Orange. Aside from one unfamiliar blitz call, Syracuse never ran anything Maryland hadn’t seen on film.
“But the mistakes,” Edsall said. “That was the thing.”
Quarterback C.J. Brown threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He threw into double coverage, overshot tight end Dave Stinebaugh and, at a particularly shaky moment for the offense’s leader, allowed a snap to slip through his hands.
“It can’t happen,” Brown said. “I don’t let that happen. I don’t even know what to say about it.”
Bewilderment was a common postgame theme. How had the Terps (5-4, 1-4 ACC) squandered two forced turnovers and handcuffed their defense with giveaways on four straight possessions? How could they fail to take advantage of 12 Orange penalties for 115 yards, or begin the game by allowing an 80-yard scoring drive that lasted almost eight minutes?
Each mistake drove more and more fans from Byrd Stadium, until the supposed “blackout” promotion was transformed into the metallic color of empty bleachers. By the time Syracuse running back Jerome Smith trotted into the end zone from 21 yards out with 10 minutes 33 seconds left, cheers of “let’s go Orange” began to ring. Maryland was headed to a 0-16 record after Oct. 13 during the Edsall era.
“It’s hard to beat a team when you don’t play up to your full potential,” said linebacker Abner Logan, whose 10 tackles helped pace a defense playing without leading tackler Cole Farrand (head). “There’s no doubt in my mind that if we play up to our full potential, we can beat anyone we play against. Yeah, we’re down, but everyone realizes we have our goals in perspective. They’re still tangible.”
To open the second half, Maryland teased its way into Syracuse territory with consecutive first downs, including a 19-yard reception to Amba Etta-Tawo, who finished with a game-high 109 receiving yards yet also lot a fumble. But on the sixth play of the drive, Brown muffed the snap. Syracuse recovered and the Orange turned it into a 30-yard field goal by Ryan Norton. Its lead, then 13-0, was safe. Maryland had turned over the ball on four consecutive drives.
That tumultuous stretch led to Edsall and Conaboy’s angry speeches. On its next possession, Maryland was helped by three Syracuse penalties and slowly reached the red zone for the first time, with Craddock eventually kicking a 23-yard field goal. As the kick tumbled through the uprights, fireworks exploded from behind the end zone, celebrating Maryland’s first points. At the time, given the circumstances, the explosion seemed almost sarcastic. All day, the Terps had no cause for celebration.