Resilient Terps Down Wolfpack, 41-21
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Back in 2011, when the University of Maryland traveled down to Carter-Finley Stadium, the Terps suffered one of the program's most devastating losses as they watched a 41-14 third-quarter lead evaporate in an eventual 56-41 N.C. State triumph.
Two years later, an eerily similar situation transpired as Maryland led N.C. State by the exact same score at almost the same point during the third quarter. Once again, the Wolfpack mounted a charge, drawing to within three scores, but this time the Terps clamped down. Playing their final Atlantic Coast Conference game on the final day of the regular season, Maryland (7-5, 3-5 ACC) remained resilient, claiming a 41-21 road victory in front of 43,023 Wolfpack fans.
"I didn't remember the score, but I remembered the situation. It definitely flashed through my mind," quarterback C.J. Brown said of the 2011 game. "But we weren't going to be denied. We definitely wanted to protect the ball, just be smart and make sure we didn't kill ourselves with penalties and turnovers. And that's what we did."
Head coach Randy Edsall basically said he suffered from selective amnesia, effectively putting those 2011 N.C. State memories out of his mind. Instead, he was more focused on what this 2013 win meant for Maryland.
"It was a great team victory for our program. The kids did a great job this week being mentally focused coming down here, getting a seventh win and winning our last ACC game," Edsall said. "I couldn't be more proud of the kids and how they prepared this week. We put together all three phases today. It ensures us of a winning season and hands us our bowl opportunity.
"We knew we needed to get to seven [wins] to control our own destiny, and we did that."
Though N.C. State racked up 351 yards and three touchdowns, many of those yards came late in the game, with the Pack already trailing by four scores. Save for one stretch between the third and fourth quarters, Maryland's defense owned the day, dominating up front to the tune of six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. During the first half, N.C. State managed just 160 yards and never got its running game going.
While the defense did its part, the offense rolled for 432 yards, including 259 through the air and 173 on the ground. Maryland converted seven of its 13 third-down chances and scored on all four red-zone possessions. The 41 points were the most the Terps had put up against an ACC foe all season and the highest total since beating Old Dominion in Week 2, 47-10.
"It's a great feeling to see our brothers [on offense] going to work and knowing they got out back when we [the defense] do our thing," said junior Andre Monroe, who had six tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. "I like to think of it like art. We go out there and put the canvas on there for them, and they go out there and just stroke the pen brush and make it look beautiful."
Junior quarterback C.J. Brown anchored the offensive effort, totaling 397 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 138 yards and three scores and passed for 259 and two more touchdowns.
After the game, Brown said it was an emotional day, especially for the seniors.
"The last regular season game, the last ACC game, the last time besides the bowl game we'll suit up together," Brown said. "It was definitely an emotional day, but it felt good to go out there and get a win like that."
Before the team left the field, the Terps gathered together in the corner of the end zone and belted out the fight song. It was a poignant moment for Edsall and his players, clawing back from three straight defeats to win two of their last three and finishing with seven victories -- all but assuring a postseason bowl berth.
"We've been through a lot here, so to see us push through, go through a whirlwind season, to finish on top, that's just great," said junior Matt Robinson, who tallied a game-high 17 tackles, 0.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs. "Everybody was so joyous. The [fight song], that was great – we counted up to seven. Everyone was just so excited."
Eight Possessions, Seven Scores
By the end of the first quarter, hardly anyone remembered N.C. State had actually scored first. And it didn't take the Pack long at all to get on the board, taking the opening kickoff and methodically moving 80 yards in 10 plays for the game's initial touchdown. After a series of runs and a 54-yard crossing pattern from quarterback Brandon Mitchell (21-of-31 for 200 yards and two touchdowns) to Quinton Payton, the State signal caller converted a fourth-and-1 from the Terps' 3-yard line by selling a play-action and hitting a wide-open Tyler Purvis in the end zone.
But that was quickly forgotten as Maryland answered on each of its next six possessions, effectively expunging the deficit to take a commanding five-score lead.
During the Terps' first drive, sophomore Albert Reid, helped along by a 15-yard face-mask, returned the kickoff to the State 30. Seven plays later, kicker Brad Craddock nailed a 33-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 with 7:37 left in the quarter.
The Terps needed just two plays to score again. Following a short N.C. State punt to the UMD 45 and a 2-yard Brandon Ross run, Brown floated a perfect pass to Nigel King (two catches, 63 yards) down the right sideline. The North Carolina native, with a step on cornerback Jack Tocho, pulled the ball in right over his outside shoulder before strutting into the end zone for a career-long 53-yard score. After a Craddock extra point, the Terps had a 10-7 lead late in the first frame.
"I was just running, I was even with the corner, I saw the ball and knew I had to go up and get it. It was a 50-50 ball and I had to make the play," King said. "With Deon [Long] out (and Stefon Diggs) Coach [Edsall] said I have to step up and make more plays, and that's the role I'm trying to play.
"And it was a good feeling because I was playing against people I played with and against in high school. After I scored I was like, ‘This is my city.'"
Maryland's third straight scoring possession took just a play longer than the previous drive. This time, Brown used his legs to get the job done. Effectively employing the zone read, the dual-threat started the series with a 16-yard gain before scampering 55 yards up the middle two plays later. Three plays, 67 yards, 43 seconds off the clock, and suddenly the Terps were up 17-7.
The Terps' next 10 points came courtesy of N.C. State special teams gaffes. Taking advantage of a muffed punt and a bad snap, Maryland, with a large dose of C.J. Brown, went up 27-7.
UMD actually had to work a bit for its next seven points. After an N.C. State punt sailed into the end zone, the Terps were forced to drive 80 yards to go up 34-7. Once again, though, Brown did the heavy lifting. Using both the zone read while also delivering a 44-yard down-the-seam bomb to Amba Etta-Tawo (four catches, 101 yards), who outmuscled the State defensive back to come down with the jump ball, Brown anchored a nine-play series. He capped it with a three-yard touchdown run, his fourth score on the day.
The Terps failed to score on their last possession of the first half, but they continued to ransack State's defense during their initial third-quarter drive. After Will Likely took the kickoff back 51 yards to the Wolfpack 44, Maryland needed just three plays to reach the end zone. Following two decent runs, Brown connected with Reid in the flat for a 27-yard catch-and-run, giving UMD a 41-14 lead less than two minutes into the second half.
"We're really starting to click," Brown said. "With guys going down and other guys stepping in, to put up points like that, it's a big confidence booster going into the bowl game."
Front Seven Gets After It
N.C. State's offensive line had been struggling coming into the game, and Maryland took full advantage. The Terps recorded a season-high six sacks, tallying three each during the two halves. On top of that, they had 13 TFLs and numerous quarterback hurries.
In the first half, the Terps received a quarterback takedown each from Andre Monroe and Marcus Whitfield, and a half-sack apiece for Matt Robinson and Yannik Ngakoue (who also had a quarterback hurry). Interestingly, all three sacks came on third-down plays, and the Terps scored on each of the ensuing possessions.
The theme continued into the latter frames. Monroe came back with another sack, and again it occurred on third down. Maryland's final two sacks did not force punts, though they did result in key turnovers inside UMD's own 10-yard line.
With the Wolfpack threatening, down 41-21, Whitfield and Quinton Jefferson knifed into the backfield on fourth-and-1 to pummel Mitchell. Then, late during the fourth quarter, on fourth-and-4 at the UMD 8, Shawn Petty stuck Mitchell with a 15-yard loss, effectively sealing the victory.
"When it's time to really bow up, that's when the heart gets even bigger, that's when we say, ‘OK, we gotta put our foot down even more,'" Monroe said. "Obviously we aren't doing something right so we need to do it harder, execute better, and I think that's what helps us get those sacks when we really need to capitalize on those fourth downs."
Matt Robinson said the last two fourth-down sacks were huge because State was primed to seize the momentum. He said the Terps knew the Pack wasn't going to settle for field goals, so it was up to the defense to make the stop, get the ball back and allow the offense to drain clock.
"Our defense is predicated on turnovers, tackles for loss, sacks, pressure defense," Robinson said. "It was nice to get back to that, having a lot of negative plays for them, especially in the red zone."
For the game, N.C. State managed just 5.3 yards per play and 351 total yards. The Pack were 6-of-17 on third down and 2-of-6 on fourth down. The Terps did allow Mitchell to throw for 200 yards, while State's no-huddle baffled UMD down the stretch, but the defense held when it had to.
"Coach harped on how we hadn't been finishing down the stretch, especially last week [against BC]," Robinson said. "We knew we had to put them away. Even though they weren't going away, we just had to keep stopping them, keep stopping them. We let them score more than we would have liked, but we had to keep stopping them and get the ball back to our offense so they could use clock and get us out of here with the win."
Brown Busts Loose
For the second straight game, the zone-read was back in full force. With C.J. Brown healthy and his legs humming, the dual-threat signal caller ran rampant over the N.C. State defense. During the first half he carried the ball 10 times, gained 113 yards and scored three times.
Considering his season-high during a full game this year was 122 yards (accomplished twice), it wasn't a bad start. He finished the game with 138 rushing yards on 14 carries and the three touchdowns. Brown wasn't always accurate throwing the football, but he did complete 13-of-25 passes for 259 yards and two scores, including the aforementioned 53 yarder to King and 27 yarder to Reid.
"C.J. Brown played unbelievable," Edsall said. "He just did a great job. C.J. did a great job of moving his feet to get big plays on offense."
The zone-read started cranking during Maryland's third possession, after the Terps had already taken a 10-7 lead. C.J. Brown ran twice that series, first for 16 yards and then again for a 55-yard score to give UMD a 17-7 advantage. During the latter tote, the defense bit on a fake counter to Brandon Ross, giving Brown a truck-sized lane. The quarterback proceeded to gut the middle of the defense and run untouched into the end zone.
Two drives later, Brown converted a pair of third downs via the zone read, including a third-and-goal from the 2. His short scamper over right tackle gave the Terps a 27-7 advantage midway through the second quarter.
He turned the same trick five minutes later, directing a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run as UMD took a 34-7 lead.
"The [N.C. State defense] respected what Brandon and Albert were doing out there, and with the option pitches everyone was flowing with the pitch and I was able to knife it up and take it in for the score," said Brown, who is now tied for fifth all-time in school history with seven career 100-yard games. "Guys up front were covering and we were making the reads."
Terps Special on Special Teams … N.C. State, Not So Much
The Terps' superb special teams performance was key to Maryland's offensive success with big returns from return specialist Likely and Reid, setting UMD up with excellent field position. The Terps' average starting field position during the first half was right around midfield, helping the team to a 34-14 halftime lead.
"Special teams is the third phase of the game and it's just important as the first two phases. And if the other team isn't getting it done [on special teams], you have to take advantage of it," said Likely, who had two kickoff returns for 73 yards, including a 51-yarder to open up the second half. "[The kick returns], it was big; it's always good to get good field position because it makes it easier for Coach [Mike] Locksley to call plays and execute."
As Likely mentioned, the Wolfpack made plenty of special teams errors. After State scored first, Reid took the ensuing kickoff back 37 yards, but N.C. State kicker Niklas Sade, desperate to slow Reid down, grabbed his facemask, resulting in a 15-yard penalty, allowing the Terps to start their drive on the State 30. Maryland ended up settling for a 33-yard field goal.
Wolfpack punter Will Baumann then sent his first punt a mere 34 yards to set Maryland up just over midfield. Two plays later Brown floated a 53-yard pass to King as UMD took a 10-7 lead.
Later on, after Monroe sacked Mitchell, forcing N.C. State to punt from its own 41-yard line, junior long snapper Scott Thompson sent the ball soaring over Baumann's head. The result? A 27-yard loss. The Terps took over at the Wolfpack 14 and once again Craddock punched a 33-yard kick through the uprights, putting Maryland up 20-7.
On the ensuing drive, Baumann shanked a punt, giving the Terps the ball on the N.C. State 35. On third-and-goal, Brown punched in a 2-yard run for Maryland's fifth consecutive score, making it 27-7.
"Special teams is a big part of what we do," said King, who was on kick and punt coverage. "We preach all three phases, and we want to take advantage of whatever we can on special teams."
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