The Terrapins football team’s 27-24 overtime win at Virginia Tech on Nov. 16 didn’t quite define its season. No, the Terps’ 7-6 campaign that culminated in their first bowl appearance since 2010 featured too many peaks and valleys to be entirely summed up in a single afternoon.
But that upset victory in Blacksburg, Va., did serve to flip the narrative of the 2013 Terps. Entering Lane Stadium on that overcast fall afternoon, the Terps had lost four of five games after a 4-0 start, coach Randy Edsall received widespread criticism and the team appeared headed toward a troubling collapse.
After beating the Hokies, though, the Terps were bowl eligible for the first time in Edsall’s tenure and the third-year coach finally earned a marquee win. So despite falling to Marshall in the Military Bowl, 31-20, last week, the Terps provided reasons to believe they can find success in the Big Ten conference next fall.
“We took a step this year,” running back Brandon Ross said.
There’s no doubt that embarrassing losses to No. 1 Florida State, Wake Forest and Syracuse fueled the Terps’ critics. But the team’s ability to respond from an ugly stretch to knock off Virginia Tech and finish the season strong proved that the Terps have some key pieces in place for a promising future.
Next season the Terps will return a capable defense, a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown who is an ideal leader for program and a coaching staff that continues to build the program and prove the team's potency.
The defense, of course, had its struggles — allowing 63 points to Florida State comes to mind rather quickly. But in four of their final five games, the Terps held their opponents below their scoring average and covered up for an offense plagued with injuries.
All but two of the Terps’ bowl game starters on defense are expected to return to College Park next season, so why shouldn’t they be confident that they can slow down Ohio State and Michigan?
The Terps offense, however, didn’t finish the season as strong. Despite topping the 30-point mark in each game during their 4-0 start to the season, the Terps finished the season averaging barely more than 20 points per game, which ranked 107th out of 119 Division I FBS teams.
The Terp played two games without Brown, and they lost their top two playmakers — wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long — for the season when the both suffered broken legs in a loss at Wake Forest on Oct. 19.
And yet, they still earned their season-altering victory over Virginia Tech and bested N.C. State, 41-21, two weeks later as Brown returned to form after his midseason injuries. The dual-threat signal caller had 122 rushing yards and the game winning score in the victory over the Hokies and when healthy, the Terps fed off of his leadership.
“That’s part of a quarterback and being a leader,” Edsall said after the Virginia Tech game. “When you’re leader is out there doing those type of things it gets you to play a little bit harder, to do a little bit more.“
Brown’s returning for a sixth year, and he’ll have a revamped group of skill players around him come the fall, so perhaps the Terps can sustain the offense explosiveness that the showcased early in 2013 when they hit the field in 2014.
Most importantly, though, the Terps have a coach who the players believe in, a necessity for a program embarking on a new era. And it was the trip to Blacksburg that made that clear.
A week earlier, the Terps had lost 20-3 to Syracuse and pundits lambasted Edsall for failing to properly prepare his team coming off a bye week. The Terps came to Edsall’s defense and responded the next week with their best game of the year at Virginia Tech to snap a three-game losing streak.
“We’re so proud of these young men and for what they did today here in Blacksburg,” Edsall said. “They had a resolve this week that they wanted to change things around. That thing weren’t going the way we wanted them to go. And all the credit goes to the players for getting it fixed.”
There were numerous positives and negatives to the Terps season and they certainly have a long way to go before gaining national relevance. But if the team can win at Virginia Tech to halt an intensely discouraging downfall, it should be able to handle whatever adversity the Big Ten throws at them without disintegrating.
No, the Terps aren’t a top tier team yet, but they do enter a new league with a proven resiliency that they’ll need to get there.