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Maryland Fends Off Collapse, Tops Temple 36-27 in Sloppy Affair

Sep 08, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls quarterback Chris Coyer (10) looses a fumble during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 08, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls quarterback Chris Coyer (10) looses a fumble during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Say what you will about Maryland football, but you can't accuse them of being boring. In today's away game to heavily-favored Temple, the Terrapins scored 23 points in the second quarter, forced 3 turnovers, had another 4 of their own, and nearly blew a 23-point halftime lead, only for true freshman Perry Hills to lead a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to seal a victory. It's tough to keep track of so many ups and downs.

That the win came over Temple, who embarrassed the Terrapins last season in College Park, and that MD has now equalled the Terps' win total of all of last season, is almost forgotten given all the action that happened in Philly. But it shouldn't be. Maryland seemed to try to give this one away in their second-half collapse, but, unlike so many times last year, they didn't. Against the odds and the run of play, they held on. It may not seem like a 36-27 win over Temple is all that much of a scalp, but it carries some real symbolic significance.

But before we get into sappy positivity, let's note just how horrific a second-half showing Maryland had. It went more or less like this: fumble, field goal (in off the upright), punt, punt, and another fumble, all leading up to that final game-sealing drive. And their defense? Allowed 24 points in the second half and were bailed out of another three when A.J. Francis blocked a short field goal. Were it not for Temple's hilariously bad offensive execution, with bad snaps and fumbles galore, I doubt they would've held on.

And that hurts all the more, because Maryland was truly good in the first half. Not great, and more than a little lucky, but good nonetheless. It seemed, at least for the first half-hour, that the Terrapins had turned a corner, that this team had the potential to really be something. The second half robbed us of that illusion, but it doesn't undo entirely the positive signs shown early in the game. There's a base here if the consistency can come later.

Taken in totality, the game raises some significant questions and big concerns. But a win's a win, and there's just enough positivity early in the game that you can still get away with being optimistic about this team's future.

Usually at this point I'd give a quick recap of the action of the day, but that's a fool's errand. I'll let some intern at ESPN handle describing the absolute chaos that transpired in south Philly this afternoon. It was never pretty, but always exciting, and occasionally heart-wrenching. It was a barn-burner, strangely both unironically and ironically. Huh.

But I'll hit on some of the high (and low) points here, including the performance of Perry Hills. You can see at times how obviously he's a true freshman and probably not really ready to be on this stage. He occasionally panics under pressure, he floats balls that are screaming out to be intercepted, his reads on options are a bit off. But it's no secret why the staff likes him., and you could see that, too. This is twice in two games he's been asked to lead a long drive in the fourth quarter when Maryland needed points, and twice he's come through. The same float that scares the hell out of you in intermediate routes is a boon for deep balls and always gives receivers a shot to catch it. (And twice Stefon Diggs and Marcus Leak did, in fact, win those jump balls, saving Hills' skin in the process.) And his 11-yard rushing touchdown, coming off a bad snap and busted play, showcased his mobility and level-headedness.

There were more than a few times I wondered about how long his leash would be, but Maryland continues to stick with him and continues to be glad that they do. Once again, he'll go into next week as the undisputed starter, and every week that happens I get a little more confident in him.

We also saw the best and the worst of the true freshmen, with Stefon Diggs enjoying a coming-out party - 137 total yards and an average of 15 per touch, including a massive reception on the final touchdown drive. It looks like Maryland's figured out that he's a feature player and their best shot at scoring points on offense this year, and I'd expect him to continue to get a lot of touches in the offense. But we also saw that, no matter how electrifying he may be, he's still a freshman: a muffed punt set up Temple with wonderful field position right in the middle of the Terrapins' collapse, only bailed out by Francis' block on the kick.

(I could talk about Justus Pickett and Wes Brown here, but I'll save that for the stock report.)

And then there's the defense, which managed to improbably shut down Temple's potent ground game - 1.3 yards per carry! - but get torched by their heretofore nonexistent passing game. The good news is that the Terrapins' front seven looks like it'll be a match for any offensive line in the country. Brian Stewart dialed up some nice blitz packages and the line completely controlled the point of attack, which is largely why Temple was so awful in the first half. They didn't trust their passing game, so they kept banging their heads against the brick wall that was Maryland's 3-4 front. We knew this was Maryland's strength, and they confirmed it today.

The bad news is that the secondary is a shambles. Temple decided to finally air it out in the second half, and a team that had no faith in its passing game started to look like Leach-era Texas Tech. Blown coverages all over the place. Hopefully the passing defense will improve when Matt Robinson and A.J. Hendy are healthy again, especially if that spurs on Dexter McDougle to be his old self. If not, Geno Smith and the ACC's passing offenses will pick this group apart.

We'll have more later, but a quick note on some of the symbolic significance. Last year, this game was the first sign that Maryland might not be as good as everyone expected. This season's game doesn't give us the opposite of that - there were enough second-half mistakes to kill that joy - but it does tell us that this isn't last year's Maryland. At least, not entirely. They're composed enough to stop a collapse and rebound from mistakes. It seemed like every time something went wrong last season, Maryland folded. Plenty went wrong today, much of it of their own doing, but fold they did not.

Who knows? Maybe Maryland can ride some good luck and resilient play to four or five - hell, maybe even six - wins. This has the look of a group that looks like they should lose every game they play, but somehow finds a way to win enough of them. This isn't the first time Maryland's seen that, and if that's how this bunch turns out, I won't complain.

At the end of the day, this is a game I expected Maryland to lose by double-digits. Instead, they won by two scores. No matter how they got there, that's something to celebrate.