Terps Ready on Eve of Military Bowl
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In less than 24 hours, the Maryland Terrapins (7-5) will know whether their final game as an ACC member ends in triumph or defeat; whether they'll rise to the occasion against Marshall, three years after dismantling East Carolina in this very same Military Bowl; whether their 16 seniors end their careers on a high note, securing win No. 8 for a program that had won six games total the last two seasons.
"It's definitely nice to go out the way we're going out, with a bowl game and being able to play in it," said one of those seniors, tight end Dave Stinebaugh, whose Terps career had been injury marred up until 2013. "I'm looking forward to it, maybe more than anyone else on this team with the things I've been through. But just as a team, we're looking forward to getting that eighth win and ending on top."
While Stinebaugh offered up a rather big-picture reflection, most of the focus heading into Friday's 2:30 p.m. bout at Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium was on the small details needed to emerge with a win.
Head coach Randy Edsall said during the Dec. 26 media session at D.C.'s Renaissance Hotel there's been little talk about going out with a bang or trying to prove anything to anyone other than themselves. In fact, he and the staff have done their best to alleviate as much pressure as possible. Focus on the task at hand, but keep it loose, keep it fun -- that seems to be the mantra during the days leading up to game day.
This week, while at the Mayflower Hotel in D.C., the Terps had a chance to take in the nation's capital, tour the monuments, go bowling and even experience a hypnotist show. Not to mention the players all seemed to love the Military Bowl handouts, namely a PlayStation 4.
"When you come to a bowl game, it's a great experience for the players to come out and experience D.C., have some light moments, see the hypnotist show. What you do is you get your work done before you get here and then you allow your players to enjoy the festivities and also let them know they're here to play a game," Edsall said. "And anytime you play a game, you want to win. I think our guys have handled it very, very well. They've done a good job balancing the festivities and the work."
Stinebaugh admitted this week was a bit hectic, but at the same time the coaches kept the squad on point.
"It's a crazy week being away from home, the normal things you do on a daily basis. But luckily enough for us we practice at home [College Park], so that kept us at a normal level somewhat," said Stinebaugh, who noted how the team had a ‘very nice' Christmas dinner together after practice that afternoon. "But it's always good to be in the hotel, have some fun, be with the guys, do things you don't do every day."
Though no practices were open to the media, the players and coaches reported the Terps have made strides since ending the regular season with a resounding victory at N.C. State. Stinebaugh described the extra 15 practices like "going through spring ball" again, allowing younger players a chance to show what they can do while the squad as a whole could sharpen its skills. In addition, the Terps may throw in "a few new wrinkles" they've had a chance to work on for the last month.
Senior cornerback Dexter McDougle -- who has made plenty of progress since suffering a season-ending shoulder fracture and should be ready for a Pro Day in April -- said he's seen the defense take a step forward, especially the likes of cornerbacks Will Likely and Isaac Goins, who stepped in for the Terps' other injured corner, J.J. Johnson.
"We look good; man, we look amped," said McDougle, who mentioned that he's been through a ‘life-changing experience' with his injury but still believes he has a future in football. "There were a couple practices earlier on that were a little sluggish, probably because of finals. But this week we've been in the hotel with all our brothers… and every practice has been high energy, fun. Everybody wants to get eight wins."
Meanwhile, junior quarterback C.J. Brown said the offense is clicking, while he's continued to build chemistry with his receivers, who came on late during the year in the absence of hampered stars Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. Specifically the preseason Nos. 3 and 4 wideouts, Nigel King and Levern Jacobs, have stepped up and, at times, become threats defenses have had to account for.
Taking a broader approach, Edsall surmised what was perhaps most impressive about this season's team: how it responded to adversity. After suffering a rash of injuries to the four aforementioned players, not to mention nagging bugaboos that plagued everyone from stud linebacker Cole Farrand to Brown himself (plus left tackle Mike Madaras left the program), the Terps still had enough depth to hold the ship together -- and win a few games in the process.
Maryland did suffer through a three-game losing streak with defeats against Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse, but it scored an improbable road win against Virginia Tech Nov. 16 and made a statement in the finale against the Wolfpack.
"We had to believe in ourselves, that if somebody goes down, the person you put in is going to step in and do the job. That's always the biggest thing when you've had the number of injuries we've had over the last two years," Edsall said. "That's been the biggest thing – guys understood if a guy went down these guys are going to go in and do the job. They also understand it's not a one or two man deal – it's a team. The confidence factor was the biggest thing for these guys."
Though the likes of McDougle, Long and Diggs won't be available against Marshall, the Terps are relatively intact heading into Friday's game. Recently dismissed quarterback-turned-receiver Ricardo Young is suspended for the game, but Edsall said no other players are out with injuries or for disciplinary reasons.
But while there might not be anymore Terps missing, there was news this month that three current assistants are leaving the staff: offensive line coach Tom Brattan, defensive line coach Greg Gattuso and receivers coach Lee Hull. Brattan and Hull will be on the sidelines during the Military Bowl, but Gattuso, who took the head job at Albany, will not be, meaning Maryland needed to account for his absence during practice.
"If a player goes down, another player steps up. That's the way it is with the staff. Lyndon Johnson has been handling the [defensive line] duties, and our graduate assistants have been helping out. Then I've been down there working with them," Edsall said. "It's been a collective effort among the defensive coaches to make sure they know the game plan and getting down their technique."
Naturally, Edsall and his players expressed plenty of confidence during the final media session before the game. Marshall figures to be a challenging foe, what with a multiple defense that mostly stymied its Conference USA foes, while the offense, led by dynamic quarterback Rakeem Cato, ranked top 10 in the country.
"Some of the things[ Marshall] did against certain teams might not work against our offense. It's going to be a chess match," Edsall said. "[And] we know that [Cato] is a threat, and we have to be disciplined. … We played against some pretty good [quarterbacks], Jameis Winston, Tajh Boyd. We played against some athletic quarterbacks in the ACC."
The Herd are by no means a pushover, and in fact they're favored by almost a field goal, but Maryland is mainly concerned about what it can control. And for the staff, the main challenge has been dealing with the month off before kickoff. The Terps had those added practices leading into the Marshall bout, but those were interrupted by exam week two weeks ago, plus the holiday season that inevitably leads to wandering minds.
"You have to treat it almost like an opening game. Guys have had some time off, so you really have to prepare for a lot of things," Edsall said. "As a staff, there are a lot of ‘what ifs' you have to deal with."
By all accounts, UMD handled those ‘what ifs' fairly well. Now, finally, it's game day, and the Terps are more than ready to take the field one last time in 2013.
"The guys are tired of hitting each other. They're definitely eager to go after someone else for awhile," Stinebaugh said. "We're excited, and like I said, we want win No. 8."
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