Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 21, 2018 at 1:28 am.

Terps need upset at Penn State to go bowling

One more chance. And maybe it’s only fitting Maryland’s last gasp for a bowl bid in this star-crossed season comes in Happy Valley against perhaps its greatest antagonist.

Maryland (5-6, 3-5) faces No. 12 Penn State on Saturday afternoon in a place that has been historically unhappy for the Terrapins. Maryland has won there just once in the 41-year series, and now the Terps head there with their entire 2018 season riding on coming away with a victory.

“They know where they’re at, we’ve lost the last two games by a total of three points,” said Maryland interim head coach Matt Canada. “Our players know what six wins means. They’ve certainly laid it out there the last two weeks and had two very tough, emotional losses.”

The Terrapins just missed that magical sixth victory last week on Senior Day in College Park in a nobody-saw-it-coming legendary effort against No. 10 Ohio State. The Terrapins jumped out to a 17-3 lead before ultimately succumbing 52-51 in overtime in an instant classic — unless you’re a big fan of defensive football.

“I’m guessing that everybody that doesn’t sit in this room (Gossett Team House) every day outside in the entire world didn’t give us a chance,” said Canada to the media after the game. “The season was over last week (after a 34-32 loss at Indiana). We were done. We were written off. These guys bounced back, played a tremendous game against a highly-ranked opponent and played very, very well.”

And now all the Terrapins have to do it again and find a way to finish. This time on the road on Senior Day at Penn State, the Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3) jockeying for improved bowl position and a legacy for their seniors, possibly in a New Year’s Day bowl.

Maryland just wants to keep playing. Any bowl, anywhere. And continue to honor the memory of fallen teammate Jordan McNair, who died in June from complications from heatstroke suffered in a practice. The fallout has followed the Terrapins all season and no doubt this could be the final game for more of the team than just the 21 seniors and the entire coaching staff.

The job Canada and that staff — left in the lurch when head coach DJ Durkin was put on leave in August, then reinstated for all of a day a couple of weeks ago before school president, Dr. Wallace Loh fired him after a public outcry — have done, keeping this team on an mostly-even keel and in bowl contention into this final week is remarkable.

Against Ohio State, when everyone had indeed counted them out, these guys played one of their best games. Team leader Tre Watson, the grad transfer linebacker from Illinois who is having an All-Big Ten kind of season, credited Canada.

“Being able to give and take with players ? is huge,” said Watson, who has had six different college head coaches in five years. “You have to find a middle ground where everything we’re doing is helping us get better as a team. (Canada) has done a great job of that.”
Watson, who surely didn’t have much contact with Canada before the events of this summer, pointed out the veteran offensive coordinator was hired to just come in and “call plays and run the offense,” and has to handle a “million other things on the fly. He has done a great job with that and allows us to be comfortable doing what we’re doing, and just go out and play.”

The game plan Canada came up with for Ohio State is Exhibit A in why he can probably land just about anywhere he wants as offensive coordinator or maybe, get the “interim” taken off his title at Maryland. Canada moves the defense out of position with formation and shifts and he had the Buckeyes reeling, the Terrapins racking up 535 yards (339 on the ground) and turning in big play after big play. They had touchdowns of 81 and 75 yards, and other plays of 50, 56, 30, two of 27, and a 24-yard play in overtime.

Penn State’s defense is a tougher test, and they’ll be ready after watching tape of Ohio State’s failures. It’s a challenge for Maryland. But what hasn’t been this season?

“We need to get over the hump and win,” said Canada.