Heading into the “Edsall Bowl” last season, if there were two things I stressed more than anything else, it was 1.) the need to avoid getting caught up in the emotional aspect of the game and 2.) that the game would be decided by a final drive. As it turns out, both were relatively spot on: Maryland failed to capitalize on the final drive and Connecticut came out emotionally charged in the first half and outgained the Terps 148-80 in the first quarter. And you know what? I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest they continue to maintain that same stoic attitude this time around.
Trying to win a game with the prime motivation being revenge is a recipe for losing, and it’s one thing Randy Edsall completely understands. Ever tried to stay red-in-the-face angry at someone for an hour? It’s just mentally exhausting and in the end usually isn’t worth it. Maintaining that kind of vitriol for four, 15-minute quarters is an exercise in futility. There are few players, few teams even, that can manage that in week three of a game that is far from a rivalry.
For Edsall, this might be a nostalgic trip where he reminisces on his BCS appearance and eight-win seasons; if he passes that sentiment onto his players though, he’ll be doing
them a disservice. The Maryland Terrapins won’t win on Saturday if they are too revved up to start the game. They’re on the road, and you can bet that all 40,000 seats in Rentschler Field will be filled with fans that can outlast and out-scream anything the Terps can throw at them. Filled with fans that will mock every errant throw CJ Brown makes, jeer every Brandon Ross run that goes for negative yards, and applaud the minute Stefon Diggs drops a ball.
If Maryland is so ready for revenge, so impassioned in their attempts to give Edsall a victory, they’ll get tripped up in this Edsall storyline as well. Problem is, they won’t have a crowd backing them up, propping them up when they fail. There’s a good chance their mistakes will be amplified by both the crowd and their own heads. That could create discord early, and give Connecticut a chance to stay in the game rather than have their dreams of crushing Randy’s own become trivial.
Last year, for the most part, they did just that. In the first quarter of last season’s game, guess how many yards the Huskies gained? 48. The first Huskies drive was a forced fumble, with the second and third resulting in punts. Maryland’s defense shut Connecticut’s offense down entirely, but they forgot about special teams. One returned punt had Maryland down early. Think about how excited the Maryland crowd got last year when Diggs returned any kick. Now think about how tough that is for a team to deal with on the road.
What I’m getting at is that it’s more important for Maryland to avoid giving Connecticut a reason to chide, and furthermore give them absolutely no reason to cheer. That’s done by going into the matchup with the only thought on their minds being “Execute the game plan to perfection.” Why do you think Nick Saban’s teams are typically lauded as being robotic? Because they follow their coach’s same emotionless iRobot tone by simply running the game plan they’ve readied as well as possible. It has so little to do with emotion, and so much to do with hard work.
For the past two seasons, Alabama has remained in the bottom ten in total penalties, and it’s no coincidence that those teams have been stellar. In avoiding mistakes like turnovers, big special teams plays, and penalties, the Terrapins will continue to do well (as they have already this season). If you ever wanted to find a similarity between Edsall and Saban, it’s that both coaches are incredibly good at minimizing penalties. Since 2009, none of Edsall’s teams have finished below 21st in least penalties allowed; in fact, in all but one year his team’s finished in the top 10 nationally in fewest penalties (both Maryland and Connecticut).
So when I say that Maryland should be far more concerned with following Edsall’s game plan rather than worrying about getting revenge for him, I mean it. Edsall plays a safer brand of football which ensures that, no matter what, the Terps will probably be in the game assuming the care about the football. Even in these past two gargantuan wins, the play calling hasn’t been over-the-top risky. Edsall isn’t looking for the big plays; with Diggs and Long, that just kind of happens. The emotional swings are minimized, and the offense and defense relies far more on sound play.
So going up against Connecticut, in their own dojo, Maryland should just sidestep all the emotional chatter before this game. This isn’t the Edsall Bowl; the only people that have any reason to be overly emotional reside in the Nutmeg State. Let them have it. In the meantime, Maryland can treat this like week three, and continue to roll with the game plan that has had complete and total dominant success to this point. That’s how they’ll exact revenge in the best way possible: winning on the road.