COLLEGE PARK, MD - SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drops back to pass against the Maryland Terrapins during the first half at Byrd Stadium on September 17, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
So close, yet so far away. Maryland gave up 24 consecutive first half points to the West Virginia Mountaineers, nearly giving away the game before they reached halftime. In the second half, they answered with 21 consecutive points of their own, cutting a massive 24-point deficit to 3 and giving themselves a chance to win the game in the final minutes.
A Danny O'Brien interception with a little over a minute to go thrashed those hopes, however, and robbed Maryland of an uplifting victory. Geno Smith's 388 passing yards won the day for the Mountaineers, which made a habit of long, methodical scoring drives in the face of Maryland's defense. The Terrapins came alive in the second half with three straight running touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to pull out the win. The 37-31 defeat is Maryland's sixth straight at the hands of the Mountaineers, which haven't fallen to the Terrapins since the 2003-04 Gator Bowl.
Things started poorly for Maryland, which showcased a stop-start offense and a poor defense early in the first quarter. A fumble on West Virginia's first drive bailed the Terrapins out and allowed them to kick off the scoring with a Nick Ferrara field goal. After that, things went downhill fast. West Virginia drove down the field and punched in a 9-yard Vernard Roberts touchdown, and then Terence Garvin intercepted a poorly-thrown Danny O'Brien pass and housed it for another score.
Maryland would punt on their next two possessions, and WVU answered both with scores: first a 35-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal, and then a 10-yard Andrew Buie touchdown run. The Terrapins were able to finally answer with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dorsey just before half, but the Mountaineers regained momentum with a quick drive and 34-yard field goal.
Things appeared to be over when West Virginia scored on their first drive of the second half, making the lead 34-10. But Maryland never gave up, scoring three straight touchdowns - all three of them on the ground, and two coming by way of D.J. Adams - to pull the game within three points with over ten minutes to go in the game, making possible an extraordinary comeback that had seemed impossible just minutes earlier.
West Virginia's ensuing drive, however, ate up over five minutes as the marched down the field with consummate ease, until Maryland was able to make a critical stand inside the five-yard-line and force the Mountaineers into a field goal, making the score 37-31 with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter, giving Maryland one shot at completing their monumental comeback.
And for a short while, it appeared that Maryland would do just that, picking up three first downs on the drive. But those hopes ended when Danny O'Brien's third down pass was intercepted - his third pick of the game.
It was a particularly painful loss, no two ways about it. Maryland was this close to an incredible comeback, and losing that hurts. But there was plenty in here about which fans can take heart, particularly the resiliency the Terrapins showed. It would've been very easy for Maryland to give up after WVU's touchdown in the third quarter, when the score was 34-10, but they didn't. It would've been even easier to give up after they failed to convert on 4th and goal inside the 5 on the ensuing drive. They kept fighting, and they were almost rewarded with a win. At some point, that resiliency - which I have a feeling will be a hallmark of a Randy Esall-coached team - will reward the Terrapins.
Really, the game was never as out of hand as the score may've made it seem. Maryland had stopped WVU on their first drive on a third down until Cameron Chism was called for a questionable pass interference. Another Chism PI call - this one pretty clearly less-than-questionable - allowed them to move Bitancurt into field goal range on the final drive before halftime. And a Lorne Goree facemask - this time 100% legitimate - sparked the Mountaineers' final touchdown of the day.
In other words: 17 of West Virginia's points came with thanks in large part to two questionable calls and a silly play. (And another 7 was the result of a pick six. Which is 24.) That isn't to say things aren't that bad, that the defense doesn't deserve blame, or that the referees are at fault, but only to put things in perspective. Maryland has defensive troubles, yes, but a few easy tweaks will go a long ways toward getting this unit up to speed. If, on three plays, players were just a little smarter about things, this game looks dramatically different.
Again, though, let's not ignore that things weren't as good as they should've been defensively. Even with those changes, Maryland's defensive effort wouldn't have been impressive, only competent. Geno Smith torched the secondary - Chism in particular struggled on an island, though Dexter McDougle was little better - and the Mountaineers had 3 100 yard receivers. WVU's rushing game, which had struggled so much earlier in the year, looked better against the Terrapins, though not particularly great. Really, 24 consecutive points is just plain bad, no matter the circumstances.
But as far as the offense goes, you have to be encouraged by what you saw in the second half, when they were nigh-unstoppable. Gary Crowton hopefully notices that, and will similarly make tweaks to keep things looking more like that unpredictable attack instead of the "screen-run-screen" attack seen in the first half. And don't do anything stupid, like write off Danny O'Brien after his three interceptions. He was bad, no doubt about it, but it's his second game in a new system against a good defense. Give him a chance to work out the kinks against Towson before the ACC schedule ramps out. He'll be better than he was today, and when he is the sky is the limit. The offense was miserable in the first half, but I don't think it'll stay miserable the rest of the year. If it takes a 24-point deficit to change things, though, it probably will.
And, last word here: Maryland's running back situation is ungodly. Davin Meggett was fantastic today, with 113 yards on 19 carries, and D.J. Adams is back just as you remember him: as a decisive, downhill power runner with good vision and a great nose for the end zone. He put up 64 yards on just 12 carries, and of course had the two TDs as well. Watch out for Maryland's rushing attack the rest of the year.
In summary: is it possible to be both depressed and optimistic at the same time? Because that's what I am. The loss hurts, particularly because a win could've done so much for Maryland's recruiting and buzz. But it's impossible to not feel at least a little good about the future of this team. So long as the coaching staff makes the necessary adjustments, there's a high ceiling for this bunch of guys.