ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 8: Tony Zenon #9 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets carries the ball against the Maryland Terrapins at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
For the second time this season, Maryland made an improbable, incredible fourth-quarter comeback to put themselves in a game in which it didn't look like they belonged, only to come up painfully short in the final minutes. Weeks after their disappointing loss to West Virginia, the Terrapins scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull to within five points of #13 Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but a stalled drive with a minute to go ensured the Jackets would escape with their sixth win of the season, 21-16.
The Yellow Jackets are now 6-0 and the first bowl-eligible team in the country, while the Terrapins fall to 2-3 with another ranked (and undefeated) opponent on the horizon with Clemson next Saturday. But don't let the scoreline fool you: Tech looked very beatable in this game, putting up only 368 total yards (as opposed to the 600+ they normally have) and 21 points (as opposed to the 60 or so that they're averaging), and that was against the ACC's worst defense. Which, by the way, I have enormous respect for after their performance; the defense, in fact, was outstanding and deserves any number of plaudits.
Oh, and reigning ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien was pulled in favor of backup QB C.J. Brown, who led the comeback effort. Thought that was worth mentioning.
After a quick three-and-out for Maryland to start the game, Georgia Tech and Tevin Washington put their impressive offense on show with a long touchdown drive. Maryland answered with a Nick Ferrara field goal, which gave way to another Georgia Tech touchdown. Maryland's next two drives amounted to a three-and-out followed by a terrible O'Brien interception, and their defense twice bailed them out after Tech was given a short field.
It was at that point when Brown came in the game, and, at the time, it was really the only option. He wasn't particularly impressive initially, and only Maryland's impressive defensive showing kept the Terrapins within striking distance. Brown showed some signs of life with two drives into Georgia Tech territory, even though they had nothing to show for it after a Brown interception and a turnover on downs inside the ten.
But things weren't over, as Brown took Maryland's first snap of the fourth quarter 77 yards for a touchdown on a zone-read option. After another Georgia Tech three-and-out, Brown captained a 53-yard touchdown drive, topped off with a 1-yard Davin Meggett touchdown. That left Maryland within only five points with more than seven minutes left. Maryland's defense had another stop, but the Terrapins' ensuing drive ended with a turnover on downs at midfield.
The crazy thing about this game is that Maryland actually played Georgia Tech's unstoppable offense better than anyone else has all season. Todd Bradford (yes, his Ds are back, at least for a week) and his crew held Tech to just 21 points, their lowest total all year and 40 points lower than their average, a shocking display given the previous struggles of the defense. It's even more incredible when you remember that Tech started inside Maryland territory three times, including on two of their three touchdown drives.
In other words, Maryland's defense gave them a shot at it, and it was one that they would've capitalized on if their offense was anything other than disgustingly, horrifyingly inept for 75% of the game. And the blame gets shared here. O'Brien's interception and missed passes were worthy of the hook that he got. Although his receivers also dropped three passes, it should be mentioned. And then another two, including a potential touchdown, for C.J. Brown. Who, by the way, can't pass the ball: he was 4/17 on the day. Not that Gary Crowton knew that, though, given that he called four pass plays when the Terrapins had a first and goal in the third quarter.
To recap: the quarterbacks, the wide receivers, and the coaching staff - especially the coaching staff - were miles off their game today, and that's why Maryland lost. Simple as that. The defense finally showed up today, and give them (and Bradford) credit. They get the helmet stickers; the offense doesn't.
We also have to talk about the emerging QB controversy between O'Brien and Brown. Honestly, Brown is not a very good quarterback in the traditional definition, in that he's not very good at throwing the ball. Again, he was 4-17 and started out 0-10 before finally getting a (controversial) completion to Ronnie Tyler. But he also unleashed that breathtaking 77-yarder that gave Maryland a chance and is one of Maryland's most dangerous players. Remember, too, that he hasn't had any practice time with the first-stringers.
That'll leave Randy Edsall with a decision to make. O'Brien, of course, has the track record and is almost certainly the better traditional QB, but he's not been playing well in Crowton's system. Brown is painful to watch at QB, but he fits Crowton's system. And, truthfully, if they made it a more running-oriented offense, Brown's presence could make it a very difficult defense to defend. Taylor Martinez at Nebraska (or perhaps a poor man's Colin Kaepernick) is what I keep imagining.
Which, I suppose, leads to the incredible ineptitude displayed by both Randy Edsall and Gary Crowton. I'll expand on all this more in the stock report, but the idea that they should pass the ball four times with the ball at the 8-yard-line despite having completed exactly two passes all day - one from Tony Logan - is so mind-boggling insane that I don't even know what to say about it. Maryland needed to run, run, and run some today; instead, they found themselves passing, despite having no passing attack, at the worst times. As a rule: when the staff went away from the run, they found their drives stalling. Running is the future of this iteration of this team.
I leave you with this: I don't have faith in this coaching staff, per se, but the fact of the matter is that Maryland went to play the best offense in the country, an undefeated, top-15 team on the road. And they came thisclose to winning. This is not the first time, either. This team is tough, both mentally and physically, and these comebacks will help at some point, even that point is next season. Be honest: this was a better result than you expected.
[Oh, and almost forgot to mention: if Edsall doesn't go for it in the 3rd quarter and instead kicks a FG, Maryland ties the game at 21 instead of being down 16. Same thing that happened against West Virginia. I would've done the same thing Edsall did in both of those situations, but that's why I'm not getting paid $2mil a year. (Oh, and he is.) One time is maybe okay, but twice .. isn't.]
More tomorrow, as always, and perhaps some tonight.