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After Wisconsin loss, Maryland football turns attention toward the future

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The Terrapins have only themselves to play for in the season's closing stretch.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Maryland football team is 2-7 after Saturday's loss to Wisconsin. There will be no postseason play for the Terrapins this year, and that became official the day after Maryland's No. 3-ranked men's basketball program tipped off its preseason to much fanfare at Xfinity Center. In all likelihood, Maryland football is about to fade deep into the public background while the school's two basketball teams get churning.

But Maryland still has games to play. Those games could be valuable for what they tell Maryland's coaches about some of the team's young players. Then again, if this coaching staff is replaced after the season - a real possibility - even that might not matter. The only thing the Maryland football team is really playing for at this stage is the Maryland football team itself. That is sad, but maybe there's a trick or two up somebody's sleeve yet.

What we saw last week - Maryland vs. Wisconsin.

1. Special teams faltered. Maryland surrendered a 61-yard fake punt and a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown in the first half. Maryland blew an onside kick recovery on an unnecessary offsides play. Lou Groza Award-winning kicker Brad Craddock suffered a hand bone dislocation on the long kick return, and replacement Adam Greene missed a 44-yard field goal in his absence. Maryland had no splash returns.

2. Turnovers were a problem, again. The Terps were intercepted "just" twice against Wisconsin, accounting for their only turnovers of the game. Even then, one of those replaced a turnover on downs in name only. But Maryland lost another turnover battle, and Wisconsin turned that into a 3-point edge and plenty of field position gained. In a one-score final margin, it's impossible not to point to ball security, again, as a major deficiency.

3. A steady defensive showing. Maryland's defense hung in well. Wisconsin scored 31 points, which is nothing major given an average starting field position of the Badger 39-yard line. Wisconsin's 4.8 yards per play matched Maryland's, and the Terps kept quarterback Joel Stave off balance for most of the game. The Badgers were missing running back Corey Clement, and the Terps made sure everyone knew it by holding them to a team-wide 2.9 yards per rush.

What we're looking for this week - Maryland vs. Michigan State

1. Can Maryland stay competitive? There are, indeed, few moral victories in big-time college football. Maybe it's one that Maryland has now avoided being abjectly blown out in three-consecutive games, losing by a point to Penn State, two scores to Iowa and one score to Wisconsin. Michigan State is probably better than any of those teams (the possible exception being Iowa), but they're clearly beatable. Nebraska did it this weekend, and other bad teams like Rutgers and Purdue have come pretty close. Plus, the Spartans needed a legitimate miracle to beat Michigan.

2. A creative approach. There's no reason for interim coach Mike Locksley not to toss caution to the wind. If Maryland loses, it doesn't matter. If Maryland wins, hey, that'd be pretty nice. Locskley is a longtime advocate for backup quarterback Shane Cockerille, a former high-end prospect whom Randy Edsall had transitioned to fullback. Cockerille has taken a handful of wildcat formation snaps under center. Maybe Locksley will let him throw against Michigan State. Maybe he'll carve out an even bigger offensive role for Will Likely (3 carries, 56 yards against Wisconsin), or maybe he'll install a triple-option system. Who knows? With postseason play out of the equation, let's get weird.

3. More touches for the youth. Brandon Ross has had a solid senior season, but he's the only one of Maryland's three rotation running backs who is out of eligibility ahead of next year. Wes Brown and Ty Johnson figure to carry the load there, and it'd be surprising if they weren't more involved in the final three games. This might've already started, as Ross only had 2 carries against Wisconsin. It's also reasonable to expect a bunch of targets for freshman pass-catchers D.J. Moore, Avery Edwards and Jahrvis Davenport .