COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As much as the West Virginia loss hurt loyal fans, it resonated even deeper in the Maryland locker room. The team had a long bus ride back Sept. 26 to stew over it some more.
On the morning of Sept. 30, some of the team leaders – Brad Craddock, Wes Brown, Quinton Jefferson and Caleb Rowe, among others -- convened a players’ only meeting before the Terrapins’ 6:45 a.m., practice.
“We were humiliated (in the 45-6 loss) but you can’t just roll over and quit,” said freshman tight end Avery Edwards. “The guys that become great (players) use that as motivation. Everyone is going to struggle at some point and I think we all pulled together at the meeting this morning.”
Leadership was a major theme at coach Randy Edsall’s weekly press luncheon and talk on technique, but obviously his players are paying more than lip service to the notion with Saturday’s huge home date with Michigan looming. The 22nd-ranked Wolverines (3-1) show up for an 8 p.m. Oct. 3 tilt at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium on the Big Ten Network.
“We came out ready to practice and I’m ready for this game,” said senior linebacker Jefferson Ashiru, barely able to contain his excitement. “I know it’s only Tuesday but you have to love this type of game and the kind of environment we’re going to have.”
That environment should include a packed Byrd Stadium, most Maryland mavens in black to support their team in their “Black Ops” alternate uniforms. The crowd will be loud, and possibly wet, and Saturday’s showing by the Terrapins will say a lot more about which direction the 2015 campaign is heading.
“This is not what we were expecting at all,” said Ashiru of the team’s 2-2 start. “No one goes into the season expecting to lose, especially with the amount of talent we have on this team. We’re going to come into this game with a chip on our shoulders.”
Ashiru had previously talked about stepping up his leadership after the first loss of the season to Bowling Green. He didn’t want to comment, though, on what was said in the locker room Saturday or Tuesday morning, preferring to let his actions and those of his teammates speak for the team.
Edwards, who is catching on quickly to the college game, in addition to catching a lot of passes, was more revealing. “We talked about this being the Big Ten opener, that there’s still a lot we can do to have a memorable season. The atmosphere around the locker room is all positive, and everybody is ready to play. The message was to not roll over, not to quit, not that anyone was doing that. We have a lot to play for with Big Ten just starting. That championship is still our goal.”
The Terrapins face a huge obstacle right out of the gate, though, in a Michigan team that has won three in a row, all by impressive margins, and is coming off a 31-0 dismantling of BYU, and the Cougars’ high-powered offense. The Wolverines are second in the nation in total defense (203.8 yards allowed) and fourth in scoring defense (9.5 points).
“They’re good, second in the country, allowing about 120 passing yards, about 80 rushing yards,” said Edwards. “They got seven seniors returning, mostly up front. They definitely have some experience. I think they have three juniors and one sophomore so they all have game experience. It’s a challenge but I think the offense is ready. That’s why you play football, these big games like this.”
The Terrapin offense struggled in Morgantown after an early drive that was stopped on downs. Maryland was down 45-0 before backup quarterback Daxx Garman connected with freshman wide receiver Jahrvis Davenport on a 46-yard scoring play.
Rowe, making his second consecutive start, had his worst day as a passer, hitting just 10-of-27 passes for 67 yards and four interceptions. Brandon Ross had some moments in the running game, churning out 130 yards on 15 carries but Terrapin frustration was typified by his 55-yard run, fumble near the goal line and the ball rolling out of the end zone for a touchback.
The offense’s inability to maintain possession and move the chains allowed West Virginia to ring up more than 13-minutes in extra time of possession and saw the Mountaineers amass 37 first downs.
Maryland can’t afford a repeat this week against Michigan, which has re-embraced Big Ten, smash-mouth football under alumnus coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines lead the conference in time of possession (34:20 average) and are fifth in rushing (202.2 yards).
That’s all bad news for a Maryland defense, last in the conference in rushing defense (200.2) and a Maryland offense last in TOP (26:29).
“They’re a well-coached team,” said Ashiru. “The offensive linemen have great footwork. The quarterback is smart and he doesn’t make many mistakes. They’re well-coached and that shows up on tape.”
Ashiru said the kind of running game Michigan brings is different from what the Terrapins have seen so far. “Those (previous opponents) were more zone schemes, this is a more downhill, pro-style offense. This is what a linebacker should live for. We have to match their intensity.”
Ashiru talked about, for him, the welcome challenge of fighting off blocks and seeking out the ball-carrier to make big plays. The bigger challenge, though, would seem to be putting the bitter taste of last week’s game away and moving forward to a new, perhaps even bigger challenge.
“What you have to do is just leave that in the past and live for the moment,” said Ashiru, who made his first collegiate start two years ago against Michigan when he played at Connecticut. “The next moment is tomorrow’s practice, and the next after that is the next day’s practice. Soon enough the next moment will be the first play of the game against Michigan. And if you mess that moment up, you have to put that in the past and get ready for the next moment.”
“A loss is never good, it eats at you,” said Edsall. “The good thing about it in this arena that we’re in is that we have a chance to put it behind us and move forward. We have another one this week, and that’s what you have to do.”
Craddock’s Contributions to the Cause
When it comes to leadership on this particular football team, that topic usually turns to senior kicker Brad Craddock, which is an unusual situation, a kicker serving as a primary leader.
The tough Aussie kicker/punter might not even understand that feeling considering his background but he does understand motivating and moving on. “I think we’re just trying to forget about last week. It’s done. It’s over. We can’t change what’s in the past. All we can worry about is what we can do this week and staying positive, and I think the guys are doing a good job of that.”
Craddock said playing at night is always exciting and that playing before a big home crowd would help the team.
“It’s going to be great,” he said. “The guys are really excited to play again.”
Craddock, befitting the repetitious nature of his craft(s), often echoes the party line from Maryland coaches, as well, and a definite theme was moving on, and taking life lessons from the adversity brought town upon the Terrapins last Saturday.
“I think you face challenges in everything you do,” he said. “The best are the guys that can bounce back from that. It’s really just showing what we’re made of us, I guess.”
Craddock said he tries to keep things positive, “harping” on the things teammates do well, and making sure the team has made corrections where they need to. For him, that’s working mostly with specialists. Craddock was one of the team leaders, though, to step forward Tuesday morning and address the entire team.
“I just try to do my job and I think that’s the best anyone can do,” he said, uncomfortable with the attention he had kicked up Tuesday.
Craddock could certainly do more good if he gets a chance to put some points on the board, something he didn’t have at all last Saturday, and in fact, he hasn’t even had a field goal attempt in two games.
West Virginia also limited Maryland’s other multi-talented specialist, Will Likely, to no punt returns and a long kickoff return of just 20 yards. Maryland needs its big guns firing this Saturday to compete with Michigan.
Touchdowns for True Freshmen
So far, eight true freshmen have played this season for Maryland. They are wide receivers D.J. Moore and Jahrvis Davenport, running back Ty Johnson, cornerback Darnell Savage, linebackers Brett Zanotto and Mbi Tanyi, tight end Avery Edwards and punter Nicolas Pritchard.
Moore, Davenport and Pritchard have all become starters and Edwards, Johnson, Zanotto and Savage have played into prominent roles. In fact, with Edwards, Johnson, Moore and Davenport all scoring this season, it’s the first time in Maryland history four true freshmen have registered touchdowns.
Edwards even has two, and he would know because they’re all keeping score.
“We always joke around and talk about the touchdowns,” he said. “We’re definitely a close group. The whole team is pretty close but coming in as freshmen, we’re going through the same experiences. The first time doing something, you’ll kind of be looking at each other, and be like, ‘Wow, that was tough,’ or ‘How’d we get through that.’”
It’s not the same interacting with veteran players, Edwards continued. “They look at you, and you don’t want that vibe. We definitely have a great friendship among the freshmen.”
Edwards has nine receptions for 89 yards and the two scores, both against South Florida. Moore is next with six catches for 112 yards, and he had a 42-yard score against Bowling Green. Davenport’s first collegiate reception last Saturday at West Virginia went for a 46-yard touchdown.
Johnson, who has averaged 5.5 yards on his 24 rushes, scored from two yards in the season-opener against Richmond.
*Sophomore linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr., shares the Big Ten lead with 11.5 tackles per game after his 14-tackle effort at WVU.
Maryland is second in the nation with an average of 4.3 quarterback sacks per game, led by DE Yannick Ngakoue’s 5.5.
*The Terrapins have won seven straight regular season games when coming off a loss dating back to the 2013 season.
*Maryland has allowed just 0.75 sacks this season, second in the Big Ten.
*Brandon Ross’ 6.1-yards per carry average is fourth in the conference.
*Will Likely is still second in the nation with a 28.1-yard punt return average, and his two scores leads the country.