Game isn’t just about won-lost records

Se­ries vs. Rut­gers has had plenty of drama — and UM on cusp of bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­ twit­­sprof56

COL­LEGE PARK — A late-sea­son col­lege foot­ball matchup be­tween teams on four- and eight-game los­ing streaks in which they were outscored by a to­tal of 398 points doesn’t typ­i­cally sig­nal any­thing of sig­nif­i­cance.

For Mary­land (5-6, 2-6) and Rut­gers (2-9, 0-8), Satur­day’s meet­ing at Mary­land Stadium rep­re­sents the con­tin­u­a­tion of a wild two-year se­ries since they joined the Big Ten Con­fer­ence and a chance for the Terps to be­come bowl-el­i­gi­ble.

Af­ter what Mary­land did last sea­son, when it erased a 21point deficit to win, 45-41, in Pis­cat­away, N.J., and ruin any chance for the Scarlet Knights to play in a bowl game, the Terps are well aware that vengeance could in­flu­ence Rut­gers.

Last year’s game fol­lowed an even big­ger come­back — or melt­down — in 2014, when Mary­land blew a 25-point lead to lose, 41-38, at home with its for­mer coach, Ralph Fried­gen, in the press box call­ing the of­fen­sive plays for Rut­gers.

“We were in their place last year, we were the 2-9 team try­ing to knock off them from get­ting bowl-el­i­gi­ble,” Mary­land se­nior nose tackle Azubuike Ukandu (Tow­son High) said Wed­nes­day. “Wewent to their place and beat Reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale Satur­day, noon TV: ESPNews Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Line: Mary­land by 14 Mary­land’s Ken­neth Goins (Gil­man) runs for a touch­down last sea­son, when the vis­it­ing Terps erased a 21-point deficit to win, 45-41, and ruin any chance for Rut­gers to play in a bowl game. them. You can’t look at their record. The last day of the sea­son, any­thing can hap­pen.”

The 2014 game against the Scarlet Knights still angers se­nior of­fen­sive tackle Michael Dunn.

Though it didn’t cost the Terps a bowl game, it came af­ter Mary­land had won late-sea­son games at Penn State and Michi­gan. It cost for­mer coach Randy Ed­sall his first eight-win sea­son at Mary­land and sig­naled the start of a rapid un­rav­el­ing that ended with Ed­sall’s fir­ing mid­way through last sea­son.

“The loss def­i­nitely hurt more than the win” was sat­is­fy­ing, Dunn said.

Asked if that was the rough­est loss of his ca­reer, Dunn half-smiled and said, “There’s been a good amount of rough losses, but it’s def­i­nitely up there.”

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Walt Bell said that these se­nior day games — whether it be Michi­gan at Ohio State on Satur­day or the far less hyped Rut­gers at Mary­land — are of­ten af­fected by the emo­tions go­ing in and what’s rid­ing on the game’s out­come.

“I think it has a lot to do with 18- to 22-year-olds be­ing 18- to 22-year-olds,” Bell said. “Maybe it’s not their last day as a se­nior, but it’s their buddy’s last day. Any­time you in­volve emo­tion in a lot of things in such a per­for­mance-based busi­ness, peo­ple typ­i­cally do things that are out of char­ac­ter.

“If we re­ally want to do this the right way, and we want to honor these se­niors and what they’ve been through, we’ve got to make sure that we’re us­ing that emo­tion to drive fo­cus and to drive home de­tails, not drive some­thing out­side of our­selves. I think that’s a big part of why you see so many of these last games get crazy.”

De­spite the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the se­ries since the teams joined the Big Ten, first-year Mary­land coach DJ Durkin is not ready to de­clare Mary­land-Rut­gers a ri­valry be­cause it hasn’t built up over time, he said. It might also have to do with the fact that Durkin spent last year at Michi­gan, and also coached at Florida and Stanford.

Still, Durkin un­der­stands the im­por­tance of Satur­day’s game, which might be played in front of a sparse crowd, con­sid­er­ing the stu­dents are on Thanks­giv­ing break and the idea of jump­ing onto In­ter­state 95 to watch these teams end long los­ing streaks might be as tempt­ing as week-old stuff­ing.

Re­gard­less of the at­ten­dance, the Terps have some­thing tan­gi­ble to play for: an in­vi­ta­tion to a bowl game.

“It’s kind of clear-cut,” Durkin said. “Our play­ers un­der­stand that and we’ve made men­tion of it to them al­ready.”

Given what has happened the past two years, with wild swings and plenty of points, it seems likely that more of the same is in store Satur­day at Mary­land Stadium.

“They’re strug­gling, so are we, but we’ve got to go out there and just at­tack the field,” said Mary­land se­nior line­backer Ro­man Braglio (McDonogh). “We’re fight­ing for bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity and they’re go­ing to try to stop us.”


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