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Opinion: Mike Locksley and the Terps blew golden opportunity to sell students on football

The sixth largest crowd in school history brought the energy, but Maryland football didn’t.

Maryland football crowd vs Penn State Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

The stage was set for Maryland football to finally convince students that it could be a legitimate football program, deserving of consistent support.

Instead, with their 59-0 loss to No. 12 Penn State, new head coach Mike Locksley and the Terps showed fans exactly why past generations of students had decided to stay away from the actual game and spend their Saturday’s at the local bars watching on TV instead.

Maryland welcomed its longtime “rival” to Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium for the school’s first installment of the Big Ten’s new Friday night game series. The matchup had been hyped up ever since it was announced, but the excitement reached seismic levels when Maryland started the season 2-0 and joined the AP poll for the first time since 2013.

The Terps went on to lose their next game to Temple. But most fans bought into the belief that that performance was a fluke against a solid opponent on the road and believed Maryland could hang around with the Nittany Lions and maybe pull off an upset.

The marketing staff did an excellent job of selling the students on the importance of this game, and the student body did not disappoint. The student section was packed to the brim, including the overflow bleachers that were added behind the regular student section to accommodate for the extra student tickets distributed. The crowd, which was the sixth largest in school history, brought the energy from the start.

However, once the game started to get out of hand after Penn State’s third or fourth touchdown and Maryland’s lack of energy on offense, the fans that had been so excited for this matchup decided to call it a night and head for the exits.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 27 Penn State at Maryland Photo by Getty Images

“Our fans came out and created a hell of an environment for us today, and we went out and didn’t do our job as a team,” Locksley said. “And that’s disappointing.”

This was the Terps’ chance to finally show fans that Maryland football was back. Maybe not back to the glory days with guys like Boomer Esiason or Ralph Friedgen’s teams that went to the Orange Bowl and dominated the Peach Bowl, but back to being a respectable team that can compete when the lights are the brightest and the competition is at its best.

“This is the environment I witnessed as a coach earlier in my career so it’s definitely a repeatable thing. But the football part, it’s my job to make sure that we’re prepared when we go out in environments like this — that we don’t go out and play the way we played today,” Locksley said.

If Locksley wants a repeat of the environment he saw Friday night, the team is going to have to put up much more of a fight against tough competition. These opportunities do not come too often, considering the only game left this year that could compare to the magnitude of this past game is Michigan in early November, and that’s why the team needs to make the most of them.

The team blew its golden opportunity to steal the hearts of the student body and make Maryland Stadium a tough place to play for opponents. There will be other opportunities like this again in the future for Maryland football. But for this season, the fan support from the student body will likely never reach this level again.

“The crowd today was incredible. To the 11,000 students that came out today, we appreciate the support, and that was incredible,” offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said. “We love the support they have shown for this team. We apologize for our performance today.”

Locksley and his staff have already done a tremendous job in cleaning up the mess of a program amid tragedy that was left from the previous regime. And while the first two games of the season impressed, the last two — especially the embarrassing defeat to the Nittany Lions — have left students wanting more.

While it may not be this season, an opportunity to sell the student body on Maryland football will come again. Next time, Locksley and his players must be ready if they want to continue the growth of the program.