COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The final score failed to tell just how competitive Maryland was against Florida State Saturday night.
The Terps fell 30-16 to the Seminoles, ending their improbable dream of winning the Atlantic Division and advancing to the ACC championship game in two weeks. Maryland found itself in position to tie the game with under a minute left until Danny O’Brien threw a fourth-down interception at the 19 that was returned 96 yards by Nick Moody for a touchdown.
Maryland played much of the night like a team fully expecting to win and looked like they could do it through the game’s first three quarters. Despite losing three offensive linemen to injuries — a unit already decimated this season — the Terps compiled 432 yards, including 163 on the ground against one of the better run defenses in the nation. And despite allowing long touchdowns of 70 and 44 yards, the defense held Florida State to just four conversions on 14 third-down plays.
Misfortune also played a part in the fourth quarter when an O’Brien pass intercepted by Greg Reid appeared to hit the ground, but was upheld after official review. Even after the interception gave Florida State the ball on the Maryland 43, the defense held firm again, only to have the short punt hit defensive back Cameron Chism, leading to a Seminoles recovery and eventual field goal.
But when it came down to the crucial moments of the game, the Terps simply weren’t good enough, explaining why their ACC championship hopes ended Saturday and Florida State’s were still alive, needing a Maryland defeat over N.C. State next week.
The Terps committed four turnovers — half as many as their season total entering the game — and went just 5-for-16 on third down attempts. Despite 269 passing yards from O’Brien, the Maryland passing game lacked the ability — or the willingness — to throw downfield, allowing the Florida State defensive backs to play tight coverage much of the night.
Special teams breakdowns also hurt. In addition to the punt bouncing off Chism’s back (the safe return team was on the field to prevent a fake), the Seminoles ran a fake punt that led to a field goal late in the first half, tying the game at 13-13 as the teams went to halftime.
“You can’t turn the ball over four times, and I bet that they got 13 or 14 points off turnovers, maybe more (13 points was the total),” coach Ralph Friedgen said after the game. “We hadn’t been doing that, and I didn’t think we played well on special teams.”
When it counted most, the Terps were the antithesis of what had led to such an improbable turnaround from last season. All year long, Maryland had been careful with the football with O’Brien taking what the defense would give him.
“We were down,” said O’Brien, who tossed two interceptions and fumbled an option pitch to Davin Meggett that led to a first-quarter field goal. “It was a tough loss, just to lose down the stretch like that, it’s tough. We turned the ball over which hurts. When we win the turnover battle we seem to always win, but we didn’t do it tonight.”
Friedgen and the Terrapins will undoubtedly feel the sting of this one for awhile — especially if they manage to beat a tough N.C. State team next Saturday — but a heartbreaking loss to Florida State in no way diminishes what this group has accomplished in 2010.
Critics have maintained Maryland’s winning record is more a product of a soft schedule than a good football team, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While it’s clear the Terps have failed on several occasions to substantiate their record in games against quality opponents, you can’t take away what they’ve done after being picked to finish last in the Atlantic entering the season, even with their less-than-stellar schedule in mind.
The Maryland team we saw Saturday night wasn’t that far away from Florida State despite lacking the overall team speed of the Seminoles, which was apparent on Chris Thompson’s 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Bert Reed’s 44-yard touchdown catch from Christian Ponder late in the third.
“We made a lot of plays in space, but on those two, they just broke on us,” said safety Kenny Tate, who made seven tackles and intercepted Ponder in the second quarter. “They’re a team that’s known for their speed, so you just have to get them to the ground any way you can.”
On another night, the Terps may have bested the Seminoles had they played the type of game that fit their season-long profile, but it’s a message nobody in that locker room wanted to hear following the game. Instead, Maryland must now look to its regular-season finale against N.C. State, with bowl implications still in play for the Terps and an opportunity to dash the Wolfpack’s division title hopes.
“I will be disappointed if we aren’t ready for N.C. State,” Friedgen said. “It’s the last game of the season for some of our seniors and 8-4 is a pretty good season. I’m not so worried about that with this team. I think that they will be ready for the next game.”
NOTES: The Terps will host N.C. State next Saturday at 3:30 p.m., a game that will be televised on ESPN2. … Maryland dropped its first home game of the season and failed to win the turnover battle for just the third time this season. … The Terps had nine tackles for loss against the Seminoles, setting a season high. … Tight end Will Yeatman earned his first career touchdown catch on a 7-yard toss from O’Brien early in the second quarter. The senior set career highs in catches (four) and yards (42). … Maryland surrendered 13 points off turnovers after allowing only seven points after miscues all year entering Saturday. … Da’Rel Scott rushed 10 times for 87 yards despite a violent, penalized hit by Florida State safety Greg Reid that temporarily knocked him from the game. “[The hit] kind of really got me going [running the ball].” … Right guard Justin Lewis (knee), center Bennett Fulper (hand), and freshman tackle Max Garcia (leg) all suffered injuries, causing the Terps to reshuffle the offensive line. Fulper, however, returned to the game after an X-ray on his hand was negative.