Fa­vored sta­tus grows on UM

Ma­tur­ing Terps look to im­prove in role as home­com­ing fa­vorite

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

The num­ber seems stag­ger­ing for a team com­ing off a 21-point road loss.

Can Mary­land re­ally be a 241⁄ point fa­vorite to­day in its home­com­ing game against Rut­gers?

Re­cent his­tory should make fans — and pos­si­bly in­terim coach Matt Canada — shud­der at the no­tion.

It was less than a month ago that the Terps lost badly, 35-14, to pre­vi­ously win­less Tem­ple af­ter be­ing fa­vored by 16 points go­ing into its home opener at Mary­land Sta­dium.

A week later, it seemed rather strange that Mary­land was ac­tu­ally fa­vored at home — al­beit by 2½ points — over pre­vi­ously un­beaten Min­nesota in the Big Ten opener. Of course, the Terps won eas­ily, 42-13. So how should Canada and his team, com­ing off a 42-21 loss at then-No. 15 Michi­gan, feel go­ing into a game against the Scar­let Knights, who since win­ning the sea­son opener over Texas State have lost five straight, by an av­er­age of 29.4 points a game?

Rut­gers’ past three de­feats were at home, in­clud­ing a 38-17 loss to Illi­nois last Satur­day.

Asked if his team learned its les­son from the Tem­ple game, Canada said dur­ing the Big Ten coaches’ tele­con­fer­ence Tues­day, “I cer­tainly think that hap­pened af­ter the Tem­ple game. Our foot­ball team is learn­ing and ma­tur­ing and grow­ing and we have to

do those things. I think Rut­gers is a team very sim­i­lar to us — year three of a process. They’re get­ting bet­ter all the time, too.”

What some­times makes it dif­fi­cult for a team such as Mary­land is the at­mos­phere sur­round­ing its home games. The Terps have av­er­aged just over 34,000 for its first two home games.

While home­com­ing typ­i­cally draws more fans, the lack of a big-name op­po­nent might keep the crowd size down at Mary­land Sta­dium for the noon start.

Canada said he doesn’t believe it will af­fect the way the Terps play.

“Our foot­ball team is play­ing with the mind­set that they’re play­ing for each other, to rep­re­sent each other, and they’re cer­tainly very proud to rep­re­sent their fam­ily and the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land,” Canada said. “Right now in our build­ing, we’re stick­ing to­gether and play­ing for each other. We’re very ap­pre­cia­tive of all the fans that come out and sup­port us. I think we’ve had great sup­port. … If we con­tinue to play well, more and more peo­ple will come watch us and that’s how we’re go­ing to ap­proach it.”

Grad­u­ate re­ceiver Taivon Ja­cobs said the size of the crowd for home games doesn’t mat­ter.

“As long as we go out there and do our jobs, ex­e­cute and come away with the vic­tory,” Ja­cobs said af­ter prac­tice Tues­day night, “that’s all that re­ally mat­ters.”

Asked if he pays at­ten­tion to the size of the crowd — whether at Mary­land or Michi­gan, where there was nearly 110,000 in at­ten­dance, Ja­cobs said, “It’s al­ways great to have the sup­port from your fam­ily, friends, peers, all the things like that. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to fo­cus on our group and go out and try to get a vic­tory.”

There is some­thing else to con­sider. Satur­day rep­re­sents the four-month an­niver­sary of the death of their team­mate, of­fen­sive line­man Jor­dan McNair, from heat­stroke.

“We are go­ing through a griev­ing process and a lot of our stu­dents have been amaz­ing to our play­ers, and I’m sure a lot of the alumni that come back are go­ing to come back and be ap­pre­cia­tive of how the play­ers have han­dled this how they’ve han­dled the ad­ver­sity,” Canada said at Tues­day’s news con­fer­ence.

But Canada has con­veyed the mes­sage about not un­der­rat­ing the op­po­si­tion.

“Rut­gers is a great team, Tem­ple is a great team,” Ja­cobs said af­ter prac­tice Tues­day. “We’re go­ing to go out and com­pete with those guys and hope­fully they bring their ‘A’ game, we bring our ‘A’ game and it’s a great show­ing for the fans.”

While the stakes have never been that high, this has been an in­ter­est­ing se­ries.

Their first two matchups as Big Ten foes in­cluded huge come­backs by the road team, with the Scar­let Knights over­com­ing a 25-point deficit in 2014 and the Terps com­ing back from down 21 points to win in 2015.

The home team has won each of the past two years, most re­cently a 31-24 Rut­gers vic­tory in Pis­cat­away, N.J., last sea­son.

Asked if the Terps are out for a bit of pay­back af­ter last year’s game — which ended with a con­tro­ver­sial no-call in the end zone af­ter All-Big Ten re­ceiver DJ Moore was grabbed as he went to make a catch that would have helped force over­time, Ja­cobs stayed on mes­sage.

“Like I said, they’re a great team, and hope­fully we show we’re a great team team and just go out there and com­pete and have a great day for the fans,” said Ja­cobs, who is tied with ju­nior DJ Turner for the team lead in re­cep­tions with 13.

Given his role as in­terim coach — mean­ing his fu­ture at Mary­land is nearly as un­cer­tain as that of third-year coach DJ Durkin, who re­mains on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave — Canada said home­com­ing is more im­por­tant to the play­ers than it is to him­self.

“Well, ob­vi­ously to the team, it’s their school, it’s a spe­cial time,” he said. “We’ve got some for­mer play­ers that are go­ing to come back and ob­vi­ously alumni come back and you know this is their cam­pus, their school. Those who have been so sup­port­ive of our play­ers, we are very ap­pre­cia­tive of.

“So we’re ex­cited for ev­ery­body to come back. You know we want to win more, we want to win them all. But as far as the way our kids are han­dling all of this — the way they’re play­ing hard, the way they’re play­ing to­gether, the way they’re go­ing to class, the way they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing.”

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