COLLEGE PARK, Md - If you were to just look at the final score from Maryland's victory over Towson on Saturday, you might not think there was anything worth nitpicking. But at halftime of that game, the Terps only led 7-3 and were getting doubled up in both total yardage and time of possession by an FCS opponent with their backup quarterback in. They came out a much different team in the second half and were able to run away to that 28-3 final score.
It was the third game in a row that Maryland has started off slowly in the first half. If they were playing an ACC opponent or even just an FBS school, it might have led to a third-straight loss. They fell behind quickly to West Virginia 27-10 before attempting their comeback in that loss, and they never really had a shot against Temple after trailing 31-0 at the half.
The Terps got the ball on the opening kickoff and quickly marched down the field for an opening touchdown. At that point, it seemed like they had maybe turned things around. But for the rest of the half, they couldn't really get anything going on either side of the ball. Sure, they prevented Towson from scoring a touchdown, but the Tigers were able to execute long, sustained drives time after time in the first half. Quarterback Danny O'Brien wasn't entirely sure what happened.
"I thought we came out with a lot more energy than against Temple, and like I said I thought we came out great on offense and defense," O'Brien said. "Getting the ball quick then scoring. I don't know what it was, but we did that, but then didn't really hit the reset button to do it again. We have to. We have to keep that energy and execution level because when we do we're tough."
This was also the third straight game that O'Brien didn't look quite as sharp as we expected coming into this season, and that might have something to do with the Terps' struggles. But the main issue is that after that emotional win over Miami, it seems like the team is having trouble replicating the kind of energy the played with in that game. When they do manage to play with energy, like in the second half against West Virginia, they can't do it for 60 minutes and are doing so from a pretty big hole.
But luckily the Terps were facing the Towson Tigers this week. Even though they got outplayed pretty badly in the first half, they weren't working from a hole. They played much better on both sides of the ball in the second half, forcing four turnovers and scoring three offensive touchdowns. They could have felt bad for themselves about another lackluster first half, but linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield says that is not what happened.
"It was a very different feeling in the locker room than last week. Everybody was more getting each other together. More camaraderie. A lot of players were encouraging each other," Hartsfield said. "We just knew that we were just making small mistakes and we just had to play better, play harder and outplay them in the second half."
In four games and eight total halves so far this season, the Terps have been the team we expected them to be in only four of them: the full 60 minutes against Miami, the second half against West Virginia, none of the Temple game and the second half on Saturday against Towson. Now their schedule starts to get a lot tougher, and competing for only half the game isn't going to cut it against their challenging ACC schedule.
Coach Randy Edsall was asked about these issues in his post game press conference and acknowledged that they might not have played quite as well as they would have liked. However, he didn't seem to think it was a problem they would have trouble fixing.
"I'm glad that we came out the way that we did and scored right away. Then we stop them and go down, don't execute the field goal properly and could have gone up and built even more momentum," Edsall said. "It's hard to get momentum going if you're not getting first downs. Those are things that we look at on film, try to figure out why and get them corrected."
But is it a film issue. Execution, sure, but the biggest issue here is energy. The Terps just aren't coming out with enough energy, and when they are, it isn't lasting for the first 30 minutes of the ballgame. That isn't going to cut it against the ACC.