Late in the first half on Saturday, the Maryland football team led by 25 points against Rutgers. A shade more than 30 minutes separated the Terps from an eight-win regular season. But Terps collapsed late and fell to Rutgers, 41-38, on Senior Day at Byrd Stadium, in one of their worst losses in years.
The Terps wasted a strong first half, when they led at one time by 25 points. What had been Maryland's best offensive effort of the season stalled almost completely in the second half, and the Maryland defense had no answer for quarterback Gary Nova and Rutgers's late offensive onslaught. What looked for a while like Maryland's best overall performance of 2014 devolved into an embarrassment that stands to hurt the Terps in postseason bowl placement.
Maryland's offense, stifled repeatedly for nearly two months against a string of elite defenses, had its way early on against an overmatched Rutgers unit. The Terrapins wound up with 476 total yards, but the vast majority of them came in the first half. In the last two quarters, Maryland could muster little – including just three points, on a 50-yard Brad Craddock field goal.
Rutgers trailed by 25 points late in the second quarter, but Maryland's offensive and defensive stagnancy let the Scarlet Knights take a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Craddock's second 50-plus yard attempt of the game sailed wide left in the game's final minutes. The Terps got one more chance after a fortunate fumble recovery inside midfield, but Brandon Ross – who averaged more than 20 yards per carry in the game's first half – was stacked up on fourth down and short, effectively ending the game.
Maryland looked to have the game fairly well in hand as the first half drew to a close. The Terps scored touchdowns on five of six first half drives, and their 333 yards of total offense by the break were by far a season-best. Many of those yards came in chunks; of the Terps' 32 plays in the half, 11 of them went for 15 yards or more. Amba-Etta Tawo caught a 71-yard touchdown on a crossing pattern, and Brandon Ross had a 40-yard scoring run.
Rutgers eked out a touchdown pass to end the half after Maryland offsides and roughing penalties twice extended the Scarlet Knights' drive. But even after Gary Nova found Andre Patton with nine seconds left in the half, Maryland's lead was three possessions. The outcome didn't truly come into doubt until a long kickoff return set up Rutgers for another touchdown immediately after halftime. Then the Knights scored again on an 8-yard Nova strike to Leonte Carroo, and the Terps' four-touchdown-plus lead had almost entirely dissipated. After a Craddock field goal pushed Maryland's lead from four points to seven, another Nova-to-Patton connection tied the game on the final quarter's first play. That set up the game's wild final few minutes.
The brutality of Maryland's second half was stunning, especially juxtaposed with the first. Maryland scored touchdowns on four of five first-half drives before coming up almost entirely empty in the game's last 30 minutes.
The Terps suffered from some of the same problems that have plagued them all season. The run defense wasn't great for prolonged stretches, and a couple of special teams penalties afforded Rutgers cushy field position on multiple occasions. The Terps didn't tackle well and allowed Rutgers three 100-yard receivers, two of whom hadn't made much noise at all this season before Saturday. Maryland's defensive line, normally a strong point in the pass rush, generated little pressure on Nova.
Until Saturday, Maryland hadn't lost any games all season to inferior teams. A 25-point lead against a team entering with two conference wins wasn't enough to keep that in line.
The game's box score: