Game isn’t just about won-lost records
Series vs. Rutgers has had plenty of drama — and UM on cusp of bowl eligibility
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.”