After the Terrapins football team’s spring game in April, Randy Edsall stood on the Byrd Stadium turf, excitedly ticking off a list of players to reporters.
In all, the coach listed 10 names that made up his newly established leadership council — which grew to 11 after cornerback Isaac Goins was added in August — designed to increase and enhance communication between the coaching staff and the players.
For some veteran players, such as quarterback C.J. Brown, placement on the leadership council was the expected result of time spent around the program. For younger players, such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs, it was an opportunity to step up and take on a new and different role on the team.
After a perfect 4-0 start to the season and subsequent slide, the leadership council is being tested for the first time — at least publicly. During his press conference Tuesday, Edsall called on the players on the council to take on a more significant role, while some players this week said it’s time for the Terps to get back to their early season form and attitude.
“I think we have to look at ourselves as a team now and see what we’re doing, especially after last week,” inside linebacker Cole Farrand said Wednesday. “I feel that we’re letting a lot of people down.”
The Terps’ latest setback was last weekend’s 20-3 loss to Syracuse, a listless performance in which the Terps turned the ball over four times and managed a lone field goal despite driving into Orange territory eight times. Opportunities to clinch bowl eligibility are dwindling.
So the team’s leadership council met with players and coaches to try to figure out how the Terps can regain that early season form, when the points were plentiful and offense was electric.
“I felt like we’re not together the way we were at the start of the season,” running back Albert Reid said. “So the leadership council, we got together and just talked about how we need to get the team back together and finish the season strong.”
Reid, who along with Farrand and fullback Kenneth Goins Jr. will be a captain tomorrow at Virginia Tech, said the results were present at Tuesday’s practice, when the team showed some of the energy it had earlier in the season.
But the key is for that energy to transfer over to Lane Stadium tomorrow. The Terps have had two bye weeks this season, opportunities to reset, recover and prepare for opponents. By all accounts, the team practiced well during the byes, but the results weren’t there on the field. In two games after bye weeks this season, the Terps were outscored 83-3, including their 63-0 shellacking at the hands of Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston and Florida State on Oct. 5.
“We have been discussing with the team that we are not accepting what has happened as a team the last couple weeks,” Farrand said. “We have to get back to where we started. Myself [included], we are very unhappy with what we are producing. There’s a lot of things we need to change, but we still feel we can play to the best of our abilities with the team we have right now.”
Frustration culminated in the loss to Syracuse. Miscues and mistakes thwarted numerous opportunities for the Terps, who couldn’t find the big plays they needed to make a difference in the game. After allowing a touchdown drive on the Orange’s opening possession, the Terps defense stiffened, but the offense still failed to come through.
Frustration with Edsall and the Terps on social media was palpable even before the end of the loss to Syracuse. Washington Post columnist John Feinstein wrote a column criticizing Edsall, and PostTV had a panel debate Edsall’s job security in College Park.
“I think everybody felt after the Syracuse game that the Maryland football team wasn’t that into it,” Farrand said. “It’s a terrible thing to say, but I think maybe we need to pick up the intensity, and we need to show everybody that we are still in this 110 percent and we’re going to do our best to win this weekend.”
Much like last season, the injuries mounted as time wore on. In tomorrow’s game, the Terps will be missing eight players who have started games this season, plus some notable reserves such as outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. The team’s ballyhooed wide receiving corps has been hit the hardest, with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the season and Levern Jacobs and DeAndre Lane out tomorrow.
The Terps will enter Lane Stadium with three healthy receivers who have caught passes this season in Nigel King, Amba Etta-Tawo and Malcolm Culmer. Daniel Adams has played this year, and Edsall said Tuesday that athletic backup quarterback Ricardo Young has moved to wide receiver.
The loss of Diggs, arguably one of the nation’s top young talents, to a broken leg at Wake Forest on Oct. 19 not only hurt the Terps offensively — he was averaging 17.3 yards per catch and had caught three touchdowns at the time of his injury — but also in terms of leadership, as Edsall said the sophomore was a leader from an “emotional standpoint.”
“We’ve got to get these other guys to be more active in terms of their role,” Edsall said. “They’re going to do that, and they will do that. When you go through some of the things emotionally that our team has gone through again this year, there’s things that you want to do and things that you’re doing, but sometimes people don’t react as quickly as you need to. And that’s where I’ve got to make sure I’m doing the best job possible to get everybody out away from those emotions.”
While Edsall has talked repeatedly about the “process” of building a program and shoring up the team’s thin depth, backups have still thrived at times this year. Jacobs, who replaced Diggs as the Terps’ slot receiver, made his first career start against Clemson on Oct. 26 and caught eight passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. Etta-Tawo had a 109-yard game against Syracuse.
The Terps just need to get that kind of production across the board.
“I feel like the coaches are doing their job getting us a good enough game plan, the players haven’t been executing,” Farrand said. “It doesn’t matter than we’re missing Stefon Diggs or we’re missing Deon Long. We showed against Clemson that we can play with the team right now. We have the talent, we have the depth, we have what we need to get the job done.”
The opportunity to salvage the season continues tomorrow in Blacksburg, Va. Lane Stadium is renowned as a hostile environment, and it’s the Hokies’ Senior Day. The Terps also have never won a game after Oct. 13 under Edsall and closed the past two years on losing streaks of six and eight games.
To avoid a similar fate — the Terps are on a three-game losing streak with three games left — the Terps know things must change starting tomorrow. The team is aware of the circumstances.
“I feel like the way the leadership council expressed how we’re feeling, the team feels the same way,” Farrand said. “We all feel like we have slack to pick up and just bringing ourselves together as a team.”
So far, Edsall is impressed with the team’s response and the leadership council’s activeness behind the scenes. He said earlier this year that he wanted the team to be comfortable with approaching him about changes within the program. Neither Edsall nor the players provided specifics of things that have changed, but Edsall did say there is more of a dialogue between the two sides, and players have addressed things this year they might not have previously.
“If they recognize something, it’s for them to address it,” Edsall said Thursday. “So I’m happy that they did that, and that’s part of the building process of what we’re doing with our program is working to create leadership and for the leadership to lead. I’m happy that our leadership council is doing the job that’s expected of them from a leadership standpoint. That’s why we created that. It’s good to see that’s why they decided to address things that they are not happy with.”
The season isn’t lost yet. The Terps’ five wins are the most in their three years under Edsall, and at least one win in any of the team’s final three games would equal the Terps’ number of wins under Edsall in his first two years combined. A .500 record and bowl eligibility are still in play.
And it starts at the top with the team’s leadership council.
“We’ve got some very meaningful games here to play in November,” Edsall said. “We’re in a good situation. And now what we’ve got to do collectively as coaches and players is collectively, we’ve got to go and seize this time and do everything that we possibly can to earn a victory this weekend and then we’ll worry about next weekend, next week.”