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Maryland football’s schedule only gets tougher following loss to Rutgers

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Our weekly outlook on the Maryland football program.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The hectic 2017 Maryland football season began with a signature win. Two months later, it added a signature loss.

The Terps fell to Rutgers on the road Saturday, dropping their record to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in conference play. In doing so, Maryland’s hopes of a bowl berth—be it automatically with six wins or by APR scores with five—have taken a near-fatal blow.

It was a close football game. Maryland and Rutgers averaged 5.6 and 5.4 yards on 69 and 64 offensive plays, respectively. It was a one-possession contest for the entire second half. The Terps had a chance to even the score in the final minute, and a game-tying touchdown pass was nullified.

Rutgers had its way on the ground, and that was the difference. The Scarlet Knights’ 239 rushing yards made it fine to have a borderline nonexistent passing game (8-of-18, 107 yards). Maryland only forced two punts. In years past, it would take even more going wrong to lose this matchup. Now, the Terps are a game behind Rutgers for fifth in the division.

The quarterback circus has returned.

It was a nice respite for sure. After Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill tore their ACLs in the season’s first and third game, sophomore Max Bortenschlager has held down the fort for all of Big Ten play (save for brief injury scares against Ohio State and Northwestern). But he left the Rutgers game in the fourth quarter after injuring himself on a scramble. He only missed one drive, except that drive took almost seven minutes and was Maryland’s last of the game.

Brand, a redshirt sophomore, transferred to College Park as a preferred walk-on in the spring. He entered the season as the fifth-string quarterback. But with three signal callers hurt, and Brand apparently supplanting redshirt junior Caleb Henderson in practice, the former three-star recruit got his chance. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 68 yards in a big moment, earning the praise of his teammates and DJ Durkin after the game.

We still don’t know the extent of Bortenschlager’s injury (as has been the case all year, that should be revealed Tuesday). We don’t know if Brand could start over a healthy Bortenschlager. We don’t know where Henderson fits into any of this right now. With three games left in a season, these aren’t questions teams are normally asking. But Maryland hasn’t had a normal football season.

Those last three games will be rough.

There’s a home game against Michigan, then a road trip to Michigan State, then a Thanksgiving weekend clash with Penn State. Gulp.

All three of those teams are 7-2. Penn State is the defending conference champion, Michigan was ranked No. 4 at one point this season, and Michigan State beat both. Penn State has Saquon Barkley, who seems primed to run for 250 yards on this Maryland defense and then trot back out for the second half. Michigan State has Brian Lewerke, who has the two highest single-game passing yard totals in Spartans history in the last two weeks.

Michigan looks like the most beatable of those squads, if only because we need to give someone that designation. The Wolverines won’t have Wilton Speight for the rest of the season. They benched his backup, and they’re on their third starting quarterback: four-star redshirt freshman Brandon Peters. But Michigan had one running back (Karan Higdon) tally 200 yards on the ground against Minnesota while another (Chris Evans) had 191. Those two also finished the day with two touchdowns each.

Yikes.

Maryland’s cleared plenty of hurdles this season, but the upcoming three-game slate will be the most challenging yet.