Freshmen lead way in ACC opener
It was hardly an artistic success, but it was a success nonetheless. And considering where it was last year, the Maryland football team will take it.
Saturday's 19-14 victory over Wake Forest was another example of the Terrapins overcoming their youthful indiscretions with resolve and a big play from a precocious talent.
After a muffed punt that set up a go-ahead touchdown for Wake Forest in the third quarter, freshman Stefon Diggs made amends with a sensational 63-yard catch-and-run play, setting up the winning touchdown as Maryland (3-2, 1-0) captured its ACC opener and exceeded its victory total of last season.
The momentum-changing play of Diggs (five receptions, 105 yards), booming field goals of 52 and 49 yards by freshman Brad Craddock, a 33-yard touchdown pass from freshman Perry Hills to senior Kevin Dorsey and another inspired performance by the vastly improved Maryland defense were the catalysts as the Terps took another positive step in their reconstruction under second-year coach Randy Edsall.
"It's a good win. We're 1-0 in the ACC," Edsall said. "I'll take the win and know that the things we've gotta clean up are [things] we can take care of."
After giving up a blown-assignment touchdown in the opening minute as Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price threw a 73-yard rainbow to wide open Terence Davis, the Maryland defense rebounded. The Terps forced two turnovers and came up with a key goal-line stop, stymieing Wake on two plays from the 1-yard line. On fourth down, little-used linebacker Bradley Johnson hit Josh Harris low and cornerback Dexter McDougle (six tackles) came over the top of the line to finish off the play.
"That's heart. That's desire. That's strength," Edsall said. "When you can do that to a team, it gives you momentum."
With less than three minutes left, senior inside linebackers Kenny Tate and Demetrius Hartsfield (10 tackles) sealed the fate of the Demon Deacons (3-3, 1-3) with back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down.
"All game, we were talking about how close we were [to getting a sack]," Hartsfield said. "When we finally did [back to back], it was two big plays."
The defensive effort was necessary on a day when the Maryland offense sputtered. With two freshmen starting for the first time on the offensive line, there was little running room for the backs, and Maryland gained only 53 yards on 43 carries.
Hills (14-for-25, 191 yards) was under siege as he was sacked three times, threw an interception and lost a fumble. Edsall said Hills needs to make better decisions with the ball.
"He's missing some things out there," Edsall said. "He's making it hard on himself. We could be more productive offensively if he throws some of the check-downs, goes where he's supposed to with the ball and gets some better reads."
The best read he made was in the fourth quarter when he delivered a swing pass to Diggs, getting Maryland out of a hole after he had been sacked on first down. Diggs took the pass, beat the Demon Deacons to the end, raced up the Maryland sidelines and cut back, reaching the Wake Forest 4 with 7:12 left. Three plays later, Justus Pickett (10 carries, 21 yards) scored the go-ahead touchdown.
"I had a little underneath route, caught the ball and did my job," Diggs said. "I ran out of gas a little bit, but I pretty much just did my job and did the best I could."
With six freshmen and seven sophomores in the starting lineup, Maryland will continue to experience growing pains. But one thing the Terps are learning is how to win.
"It's hard to win," Edsall said. "I love these kids. I love the way they're competing. I love the way these kids are working in terms of doing everything we're asking them to do."