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The Byrd Feeder: Terps make return to Penn State after humiliation against Wisconsin

A weekly outlook on Maryland football, which lost to Wisconsin on Saturday and faces Penn State this week.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In Maryland's loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, most of what the Terps did was terrible. They turned the ball over, didn't take it away, didn't stop the run or carry the ball well themselves, didn't make big plays and didn't give themselves any semblance of a chance on offense or defense. C.J. Brown was about as bad as a quarterback can be, and with Caleb Rowe gone for the year, it isn't at all clear the Terps have a viable alternative if he doesn't improve, and quickly. So, on those counts, the Terps look like a mess.

On another hand, the team is 5-3 and 2-2 in conference play. While it's obviously an echelon (or two or three) below Wisconsin and Ohio State, it's demonstrated itself to be better than bottom-dweller Indiana and at least on par with a middling contender, Iowa. Programs don't publicly set wins goals other than to win every game they play, but is there any scenario imaginable where a seven- or eight-win season would be out of line? Those remain reachable targets.

Randy Edsall has faced a public relations deficit for years, and games like last year's 63-0 brutalizing by Florida State and Saturday's midwestern abomination don't help it. There could be some marginal recruiting ramifications that result from such a wide margin of defeat, but most teams get crushed from time to time. The Terps were always unlikely to beat Wisconsin and Ohio State, and they didn't. They're also very unlikely to compete with Michigan State. The Terps aren't on that level yet, but if they can go 2-1 or 3-0 in their remaining games against Penn State, Michigan and Rutgers, will that be enough for you? Or for athletic director Kevin Anderson? It's an interesting question.

The answer starts in State College. When kickoff comes on Saturday, it will have been 22 years, one month and six days since the last time the Terps and Nittany Lions met at Beaver Stadium, on Sept. 26, 1992.

What we saw last week:

  • Carnage on offense. As alluded to above, different people will interpret the meaning of this loss differently. No one should ever question, though, just how bad Maryland's performance on Saturday was. Here goes: The Maryland offense averaged 3.07 yards per play. Three point zero seven yards per play. That is genuinely unconscionable and almost two yards worse than the next least efficient showing they've had (4.84 yards per play against Ohio State on Oct. 4). It only gets uglier when broken down: Brown averaged just 4.4 yards per pass attempt. On the ground, the Terps averaged 1.64 yards per rush. The Terps only ran 57 plays, their lowest total of the season. In a sense, that's a good thing, because small children weren't meant to watch that kind of offensive display on cable television.
  • Carnage on defense. Through turnovers and general offensive ineptitude, Maryland gave Wisconsin pretty great field position on several occasions. But anyone who suggests the defense somehow doesn't share fault for the blowout is spouting a fallacy. The Terps gave up 7.32 yards per play, did not get a takeaway and were equal-parts penetrable in both the passing and running game. Certainly, Wisconsin got the ball in good position, but let's not pretend the defense provided adequate resistance once the Badgers had it. When you're giving up 7 yards per play, you're part of the problem in a given game, not the solution.
What we're looking for this week:
  • A better Brown. The Maryland quarterback was across-the-board horrible against Wisconsin. He made a few plays the week before against Iowa but wasn't good overall then, either. He was pulled after the first half against Ohio State the game before that. Brown hasn't put together even a full half of good play since the first 30 minutes of Maryland's win over Indiana on Sept. 27, when he threw for 163 yards and operated an effective power option game before leaving with an injury. Fans have called for Brown to lose his job. If Rowe weren't hurt, maybe he would. But Rowe is hurt, and Maryland's coaches have given Brown an extraordinary amount of leash and support. If you expect to see Perry Hills or Shane Cockerille start at Beaver Stadium next week for any reason other than a Brown injury, don't bank on it. The Terps will almost definitely stick with Brown, and they need him to be passable.
  • A big crowd rebound. Diamondback football beat writer Daniel Popper had a really interesting observation about the last few years of Maryland football. A few caveats apply here: Maryland had a linebacker playing quarterback at Clemson in 2012, and Popper sent this tweet before each team scored another touchdown on Saturday. So what we've got, then, is a 160-17 margin in front of enormous crowds over three years. That's 143 points' worth of losses in three chances for big wins before big crowds on the road. They'll get another crack on Saturday in Happy Valley. Penn State can pack more than 100,000 fans into Beaver Stadium and should have a decent turnout over the weekend. It's possible there's something about hostile environs that throws Maryland players out of sync, but quality of opponent is a much bigger factor in their recent troubles. Penn State isn't as good as Clemson, Florida State or Wisconsin, so maybe the Terrapins can get over this particular hump. It won't be easy, though.
  • (Correction: Popper is The Diamondback's football beat writer, not columnist, as the above bullet previously stated.)