Terps Trampled by Herd, 31-20
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Maryland Terrapins had just completed the drive of their season, going 17 plays and 99 yards to take their first lead against Marshall, 20-17, in the Military Bowl Dec. 27 at Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium. Junior quarterback C.J. Brown hummed, running back Brandon Ross hauled and tight end Dave Stinebaugh put the icing on the cake as the Terps swung the momentum early in the fourth quarter.
It was all downhill after that.
Military Bowl MVP Rakeem Cato, Marshall's wily signal caller, extending drives and coming up clutch, immediately directed a nine-play, 63-yard drive as the Herd regained the lead -- for good this time. Marshall would go on to claim a 31-20 victory, denying Maryland (7-6) its eighth victory in its final season as an ACC member.
"That [Marshall drive] kind of sunk the ship right there," said Brown, who threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns. "It's a game of momentum. We had it, they got it back and scored right there and answered. It's football, it's going to happen, but they answered."
Marshall's response served as a microcosm for the entire game, played in front of 30,163 fans. The Herd's top-10 offense ransacked Maryland's defense to the tune of 475 yards and 31 first downs, including 6-of-15 on third down. Though Maryland kept it close until the fourth quarter, Marshall came up with key plays when it had to, while the Terps (literally) dropped the ball.
But while UMD was none too pleased with the effort, it still felt they made progress in 2013.
"When it's all said and done we had a great year. We had a winning season, extend to the postseason, had a great time at the Military Bowl," said Brown, who now owns the single-season rushing record for a UMD quarterback with 576 yards. "I'm proud of the effort, disappointed in the outcome. We'll have a great offseason and come back and prepare for the future."
Defensive tackle Andre Monroe echoed his quarterback:
"We plan on building off of what we have now -- the sky is the limit. As long as we're on the same page, we're going to make it happen."
The season didn't end the way Maryland would have liked, but after winning six games combined during the last two campaigns, a 7-6 year is hardly an embarrassment. On top of that, the Terps had to overcome a rash of injuries to key performers like receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and cornerbacks J.J. Johnson and Dexter McDougle, and still managed to stay afloat.
"There's no question. What these young men fought through all year long with the adversity, the injuries we had, for them to battle and go out and play… and today we put ourselves in position to get ahead and weren't able to hold it," head coach Randy Edsall said. "This is a very special group, and now they …believe in the themselves and believe no matter who is out there they can win -- and we're gonna win. So I'm very proud of our guys, and I believe this season really helped us as we move forward from the ACC into the Big Ten."
Marshall's quick-strike offense caught Maryland off-guard in the first half as junior gunslinger Rakeem Cato torched the secondary for 193 yards and two scores during the initial 30 minutes. Cato, running the West Coast at a Chip-Kellyesque pace, released the ball in rapid-fire fashion, rendering Maryland's pass rush ineffective. Meanwhile, Marshall's receivers found holes in-between the Terps' corners and safeties, while Cato threaded the needle and spread the ball around to eight different wideouts.
When the final whistle sounded, Cato had rolled up 337 yards on 28-of-44 passing and three touchdowns. Nine different receivers pulled in his throws, led by wideout Tommy Shuler's nine catches for 68 yards and one score and tight end Gator Hoskins' six for 104 and two.
"We had some errors where we gave up some big plays," Edsall said. "We probably could have played better technically against them. And we had some injuries that didn't allow us to play the packages we'd like to. But [Cato is] very good and he made the plays when he had to.
"The issue when you're defending Marshall is … they have a lot of different weapons. They have a 1,000 yard rusher, a 97 pass catcher, a tight end with 44 catches coming in, the quarterback is very good. There's certain matchups you like, ones you don't."
Though Marshall didn't hit on any backbreaking 50-yard bombs, the Herd finished with 12 plays of 14 yards or more, six of them coming on third down. Maryland's secondary looked lost on certain plays, and had obvious communication errors on others.
During one 26-yard pass to Marshall's Davonte Allen, Terps corner Isaac Goins was left flat-footed as the receiver got behind him by 10 yards. Freshman corner Will Likely, meanwhile, played aggressive in coverage but was flagged twice for pass interference, both of which led directly to a Herd touchdowns. Following the first penalty, safety Sean Davis surrendered Marshall's first score when Shuler came open in the back of the end zone.
One drive later, two plays after Likely's second pass interference, UMD linebacker Cole Farrand failed to pick up Hoskins, who streaked down the seam for a 7-yard score, making it 14-0.
Likely wasn't the only culprit, however. Maryland linebacker Matt Robinson was flagged for interference as well, and after Cato hit a wide-open Hoskins for 27 yards down the heart of the defense, Marshall took a 17-10 lead with a 27-yard field goal.
Cato and the offense were rather silent in the third quarter, but after Maryland charged ahead, 20-17, the Herd responded with a vengeance. Marshall immediately took to the air as Cato exposed both Davis and safety Anthony Nixon on passes of 23 and 19 yards, respectively. The latter pass to Hoskins came on a 3rd-and-12 and allowed Marshall to extend an already impressive possession.
"The tight end really hurt us … it was 3rd-and-12 on that one drive and we had a young man stop, the quarterback scrambled and he left his guy on the sideline," Edsall said. "We just had some breakdowns, and you can't have those against the kind of athletes Marshall has."
That conversion set up running back Essray Taliaferro (19 rushes, 83 yards, two scores), who capped the 10-play drive with a 7-yard rush, giving Marshall a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Maryland still only trailed 24-20 at that point and had chances to answer back. But the offense sputtered and the Herd responded with one last scoring drive, which ended in an 8-yard strike to none other than Hoskins.
"On that play I expected the run, and they did play action," defensive tackle Andre Monroe said. "I shot through the line just playing ball and [Cato] just got it off. To be honest, I thought I hesitated and it cost me. … It's very frustrating. It's nothing we haven't been through before, but we had to keep fighting."
The secondary had its issues, but it wasn't the only culprit Friday afternoon. The Maryland pass rush managed just one sack and failed to rattle Rakeem Cato. Though the Marshall signal caller got the ball out quickly, he was altogether comfortable in the pocket and had time to go through his progressions. When he did have to scramble, more often then not he was able to extend the play and find an open man downfield.
"[Cato is] definitely a great quarterback. He was very shifty, that was one of his biggest assets," said Monroe, who finished with 10 tackles and a sack. "There was quite a few times where we got back there and he got it off just in time to get it down the field. He did what he had to do."
Edsall said he thought his Terps did generate pressure, but it just wasn't enough to actually reel Cato in. He praised the Marshall quarterback's athleticism and escapability when UMD disrupted the pocket.
"When we did get some pressure, we didn't keep him in the pocket and let him get to the edges," Edsall said. "We wanted to make sure if he was going to scramble he'd scramble up in the middle because he'd have more of a tendency to run and he might not hurt you as much. We did get some pressure, but we weren't able to get sacks because … he moves extremely well."
Maryland's best defense turned out to be a methodical, clock-eating offense. The Terps put together an epic 17-play, 99-yard drive that took 7:44 and in the process gave UMD its first lead of the night. It was arguably the Terps' most impressive possession of the season, the offense humming like it was expected to do before the season.
After Marshall punter Tyler Williams placed his third boot inside the 5-yard line, this one landing on the Maryland 1, the Terps proceeded to string together seven straight first downs.
The possession began ominously with Brandon Ross rushing for no gain, but he responded with a 12-yard scamper before Dave Stinebaugh hauled in a 14-yard pass. Jacquuille Veii then chipped in a 5-yard run, and Ross, sandwiched in-between two Brown scrambles, ran for 20 more.
Six plays later, on fourth-and-6 inside Marshall's red zone, Brown drilled Levern Jacobs on an inside post for a first down. One play after that, the savvy junior gunslinger nailed Nigel King for an 18-yard slant down to the Herd 3.
Finally, Brown sold a play-action fake that had the Marshall defense collapsing on Ross up the middle. But all the while Brown was rolling out and targeting a wide-open Stinebaugh for an easy touchdown pitch-and-catch. The score gave UMD a brief 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, and the 19-play drive set a Military Bowl record.
"We did drive 99 yards on 17 plays and swung the momentum," Brown said. "We did play well on offense, but obviously we didn't get the job done."
Obviously they didn't…
One 99-yard drive does not a game make. Fact is, Maryland converted just 2-of-14 third downs and settled for two first half field goals when they were knocking on Marshall's door. Edsall said coming into the game the offense knew it needed to cap drives with touchdowns, because the Herd could put up points in a hurry.
"The one thing that hurt us in the first half was ourselves," Brown said. "We kicked field goals. If we would have turned those into touchdowns it would have been a whole different ballgame. In the second half we were able to score, but when you get down in the red zone you want 7, not 3."
The third-down failures were arguably even more galling. Though no one was singled out, receiver Amba Etta-Tawo did drop a pair of potential drive-extenders, including one in the end zone during the second quarter. In addition, there were four occasions when UMD was faced with a third-and-9 or longer, and two others where the Terps had manageable third downs but Brown was brought down behind the line.
"We kicked ourselves in the foot, had a couple drops, a couple misreads. There were some things we weren't doing on first and second down that gave us an unmanageable third down," Brown said. "It wasn't anything we hadn't seen before [in the Marshall defense]. We were very well prepared -- we just didn't convert on third down."
Ross Regains Momentum
One bright spot in the Terps' offense was Ross, who eclipsed 100 yards for the first time since he ran for a career-high 149 yard in the second game of the season, with 116 rushing yards on 20 carries. In the first quarter, Maryland trailed 7-0 when Ross strung together three keys runs for 20 yards, including an 11-yard gain on third-and-1, that helped set up the Terps first score of the day.
The offensive line did a good job at the point of attack, sealing the edge and allowing Ross to break through for five runs of more than 10 yards, including a 20 yarder on third-and-2 to keep the seconds ticking off the clock during Maryland's 17-play, 99-yard drive that spanned 7:44 through the final two quarters.
"We wanted to establish the run," said Ross, who broke the century mark for the fourth time of his career. "Marshall is going to come in throwing, moving it downfield, so we wanted to keep our D off the field as long as we could. That was our goal."
Unable to stymie Marshall's fast-paced up tempo offense head coach Randy Edsall opted for a different approach.
"We thought we'd be able to run the football and do some of those things. We wanted to be able to control the clock," Edsall said. "The problem we had is we got down there in the red zone and kicked field goals instead of getting touchdowns, and that was the difference in the first half."
Losing the field position battle
Major props went out to Marshall punter Tyler Williams, who placed four of his seven punts inside the Maryland 10-yard line. Even more impressive, two of those four were downed at the 1.
"One of the biggest things was their punter. He did a tremendous job, gave us tough field position all day long and we weren't able to overcome that," Edsall said. "We had a tough time changing field position, especially in the first half. Then the second half we go 99 yards to get ahead. But the further you have to drive the ball, your percentages go down in terms of scoring. That's something we could never get on top of."
In total, the Terps started four of their 13 drives inside their own 20 yard line, and only twice began over their 30. Marshall, on the other hand, started every possession except four beyond their 30.
"[Driving the length of the field], it's definitely tough. It put us in a tough position," Brown said. "But we practice that, being backed up and changing field position."
Rachel Klein also contributed to this article.
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