For Maryland football, it’s been the most abnormal week imaginable.
The 2018 season was already bizarre enough. Head coach DJ Durkin went on administrative leave during fall camp, and Maryland had already played eight games with Matt Canada as the acting head coach, going 5-3. But this week, after a months-long investigation into the program’s culture, the Board of Regents recommended Durkin’s reinstatement. He returned to the team Tuesday. Then, school president Wallace Loh fired Durkin anyway on Wednesday. During the 28 hours in between, three players walked out of a meeting and two punters traded punches.
On Saturday, though, Maryland took the field and normalcy returned. The Terps were stifled by an elite defense, and hardly anyone was there to witness it.
When Maryland reinstated Durkin, students organized a “Justice for Jordan” rally set for Thursday afternoon. That still happened, but attendees were far from unified. Some cried for a boycott, while some clamored for increased crowd support. SGA president Jonathan Allen sent a letter to the student body Thursday evening urging Maryland students to pack the stadium on Saturday.
“This season, the Maryland football team has shown immense strength and represented our university in a way that we should all be proud of — all while the program has been under tremendous scrutiny,” Allen said. “I admire them for this and they deserve our support.”
Maryland students have had all season to support these players, who all season have represented the university in a way worth being proud of. The student body’s actions have already spoken. Collectively, it doesn’t care.
On Saturday, the student section did what it always does: arrive right before kickoff and empty out during the second half. The pregame tailgates had far more of a student presence. This isn’t new to this year, week, or even this year. And it wasn’t due to any sort of organized boycott; it’s simply a product of widespread apathy.
Those who did show up and stay saw a lot of what they saw in Week 3 against Temple. The Terps’ offense failed to move the ball all day, and while Maryland still had chances to make the game interesting, it managed to bungle all of them.
The Terps have now played four defenses ranked in this week’s top 15 by S&P+, and all four have shut Maryland down. Temple held the Terps to 195 yards. Michigan held them to 220. Iowa allowed just 115 yards two weeks ago and Michigan State just took the clubhouse lead with 100. In all four contests, Maryland was under 100 yards of offense entering the fourth quarter and finished with under 100 yards passing.
Michigan State entered Saturday allowing a national-best 77.4 rushing yards per game, and that number is diving even lower after Maryland rushed for 26 yards on 29 carries. That figure includes five sacks, yes, but the Terps still mustered just 65 yards on their other carries. Not having Ty Johnson didn’t help, but this problem existed even with the explosive senior available.
The Terps had opportunities in the passing game but kept coming up empty. Whether it was drops, overthrows, underthrows, sacks or bad snaps, something always found a way to go wrong. Kasim Hill went 8-of-21 for 74 yards, while Tyrrell Pigrome was 0-for-3.
Still, a few shanked punts and a bend-but-rarely-break defense kept this game close most of the way. Just like in the Temple game, Maryland had an opportunity to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter. That afternoon, Hill’s first career interception was run back for a pick-six. On Saturday, it was a whole sequence of disasters. First, Javon Leake lost a fumble on a crucial third down inside the Spartans’ 25. Two plays later, Byron Cowart picked off Rocky Lombardi and ran to the end zone, but fumbled and lost the ball for a touchback. That score would have made this a 17-10 game. Instead, Cameron Heyward’s 80-yard run on the very next play made it 24-3. Everything else was a formality.
Even Canada’s press conference sounded like a broken record. He said his team played hard and he was proud of his players. He said they had chances but couldn’t capitalize on them. He said he had to coach better. He called himself the offensive coordinator and the “cheerleader of the defense.” Maryland’s players reportedly voted among themselves not to speak to the media; we’ll hear from them Tuesday.
The Terps still have another chance to clinch bowl eligibility next weekend at Indiana. As a collective, the players have still been a bright spot throughout this saga while the adults in charge have further embarrassed Maryland. It would have been an incredible story had the Terps pulled this game out. Instead, it’s a story we’ve seen so many times.