Things went as expected in the first few minutes, as Danny O'Brien led a lightning-quick 7 play, 65-yard touchdown drive in a mere 1:35, capped off by a 15-yard D.J. Adams run into the end zone. It was first first-half touchdown that Towson had allowed all season, and looked as if the Terps would make quick work of their in-state opponent. Yet that turned out to be far from the truth. The touchdown was just about all of the offensive output Maryland would manage in the first 30 minutes of play.
It is no secret that the Terps have struggled in their first three games with their special teams play, and Saturday did nothing to help that. After overwhelming the Tigers' offense in their first possession, Maryland took over at the Towson 24 after an interference call on the punt gave them an extra 15 yards. After failing to get into the red zone, Nick Ferrara and the special teams unit came on to attempt a 43-yard field goal, which was promptly blocked.
I'm glad we came out the way that we did and scored right away and stopped [Towson], said Coach Randy Edsall. Then we go down and don't execute the field goal properly and could have gone up and built even more momentum. It's hard to get momentum going if you're not getting first downs and, plus, we weren't getting off the field on defense on third downs. So, offensively we didn't have the ball that much and then when we did some things it wasn't real good for us. Those are things that we always look at on film and try to figure out why [they didn't work] and get them corrected.
It's tough, said Danny O'Brien. It was similar to last week. With our offense going that fast and then not getting the ball back for a while, it's hard to get the train rolling again. That's on us. You can't go three and out in two-minute drives. With the speed that we play, we have to get the first downs. We are learning this first hand, so hopefully we can get back to the drawing board and eliminate that because when you give the ball up you never know when you'll get it back.
Maryland's defense was tested early with a pressing Towson attack, but managed to hold the Tigers off in a 4-down goal line stand, thanks in large part to junior standout Demetrius Hartsfield. It was really close to the goal line, said Hartsfield. When I hit him, it was probably on the first or second yard line. He was probably inches away. I'm glad Dexter [McDougle] and some of the other guys were able to come and push him away from it and a little further. They tried to run the same play again but we knew what they were trying to do.
Despite facing a 7-3 deficit at halftime, Towson had thoroughly dominated the Terps in just about every facet of the game except the score. A poorly managed final drive, left Towson out of timeouts and with not enough time to get off a quick field goal before time expired. The Terps only managed 111 first half yards on 22 plays to Towson's 225 yards on 40 plays. The Tigers had the ball for a whopping 21:30 in the first two quarters to Maryland's 8:30. Perhaps most impressive for Towson was the play of their young quarterback, Peter Athens, who went 10 of 15 in the first half for 142 yards compared to Danny O'Brien's 63 yards on 7 of 10 passing.
I came in and I just told the kids to not panic, said Edsall. I said, 'don't panic, we're fine.' It's a 7-3 game and I just said, 'don't panic, we'll go out and execute. Here are the mistakes we made defensively. Here are the mistakes we made offensively. And all we have to do is just execute the defense or offense called and we'll be fine.'
The Terps came out rejuvenated in the second half, forcing turnovers on Towson's first three possessions. An early interception by Kenny Tate gave Maryland the ball at the Tigers 45, and led to a Justus Pickett touchdown run. Pickett, a freshman, finished the day rushing for 82 yard on 14 carries. I was definitely excited going into this game; knowing I could probably get a couple more touches and some extra opportunities, said Pickett. [Scoring the touchdown] was probably one of the greatest experiences I've had. I wasn't thinking about it until I got up and was like, 'Wow, I just scored a touchdown.' I really felt it then.
With Justus it was just one of those things where we wanted to get him more repetitions, said Edsall. That's what we'll continue to do and when you get him in the flow I think it makes a difference. I think we always have to analyze to see if it's better just to play with two back or four backs based on the situation. [Pickett] showed that he deserves more playing time based on his productivity today.
Later on in the third quarter, another freshman, linebacker Lorne Goree, got in the mix with an interception of his own to stop a threatening Towson drive near the red zone. When I caught the interception I was reading the receiver and the quarterback, said Goree. The rest of the defense had everything covered and I was able to step in front of the play. I didn't expect him to throw the ball, but he did and I just jumped up and caught it. It's relieving because I need to start making big plays to contribute to our defense.
O'Brien hit Kevin Dorsey for a touchdown pass midway through the final period, his first touchdown toss since the 4th quarter of the West Virginia game. Quickly afterwards, on O'Brien's final drive before being pulled for C.J. Brown, the sophomore quarterback continued the underclassmen coming out party by hitting freshman fullback Tyler Cierski with a touchdown pass, bringing the game to its' eventual final of 28-3.
We just kept our composure in the locker room [at halftime], said O'Brien. We hung in there and stuck to the game plan. We'll take a win any way we can get it. It was not necessarily pretty or the easiest win, but we got it.
The Terps amassed 335 yards of total offense on the day to Towson's 378. O'Brien ended up going 14 of 21 passing for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. Towson's Peter Athens was 17 of 29 for 217 yards and 2 interceptions. Davin Meggett led all rushers on the day with 102 yard on 16 carries and Kevin Dorsey led the Maryland receivers with 4 catches for 44 yards and 1 TD.
The run defense was a problem again for the Terps on Saturday, allowing 161 yards on the ground. We still had some mistakes [on rushing defense], said Edsall. The biggest thing for us is we just have to get our guys lined up and fit things right. When we fit things right, we're pretty good and we make stops. But when we don't fit things up and we don't tackle well, it's not pretty. So, that's just something we're going to keep working on with the young men and practice it and just keep getting better. We're going to have to do that because as many people watch us on tape, they're going to see things and until we start taking those things away, we're going to continually give to our team.
One of the big stories of the afternoon was the return of senior receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree, who had been suspended the previous two weeks for an off the field incident. Despite their lack of productivity stats-wise, there was a sense of relief having them back on the field. I'm glad they got back in this week to get ready for ACC play, said O'Brien. But it was good to try and get back in the flow of things. It wasn't the prettiest passing game on my part and all around the game wasn't the prettiest.
It was nice, said receiver Kevin Dorsey. Overall, it felt like a sense of relief. It helped out Danny a little bit. I never really felt there was pressure. My job is simply to do my job, regardless of the situation. We're all expected to do the same thing.
The Terps (2-2, 1-0 ACC) can afford no time basking in their most recent win however, as they leave the comforts of Byrd Stadium next week for an ACC matchup against a Georgia Tech team that is ranked number one in the country in total offense (630.5), passing efficiency (283.69) and scoring offense (53.25).
We know what's ahead of us, but you have to take it one game at a time, said O'Brien. We have a tough schedule and it will be a tough eight more weeks. There are no gimmes. You can't swallow that all at once; we'll focus on one game at a time. Right now, we're focusing on Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech only. They're a great top-25 team and it's an ACC game. We'll have to execute at a high level to beat them, but we're looking forward to the challenge.
Four games into his first season at Maryland, Coach Randy Edsall is starting to see his team establish an identity. I think now after four games we have a pretty good feel as to exactly who we are and who we need to be going forward, he stated. When you're installing new systems it takes some time just to figure out your own kids and what they can do. The bottom line is we want [the players] to do the things that they do best, so I think that after looking at things today and the other three games, I think we have a much better feel as to what they can do now going forward. I think we have more continuity with what we need to get done.