COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- On the sideline before the game, Maryland receiver Kevin Dorsey approached first-year coach Randy Edsall and reminded him just how big Monday night’s game against Miami really was.
“I said, 'Here’s the first one, the first one’s very important. It’s a statement game,’” Dorsey said. “It’s a new era: new things, new coaching staff, new uniforms, everything.”
Including a new result against Miami.
From how they looked to how they played, this season’s Maryland team bore no resemblance to the teams of the Ralph Friedgen era. Fortunately for the Terps -- who were lambasted in the Twitter world for their newest uniform combination -- they weren’t playing for style points. Against a Miami team determined to overcome the suspensions of eight players, Maryland avenged last season’s fourth-quarter loss to the Canes with a 32-24 win in the first ACC game of the season.
It was a wild, entertaining, see-saw game in which Maryland struggled in the red zone and Miami doomed itself with turnovers (again). But both programs also looked prepared to play under their respective first-year head coaches. Much has changed in both Coral Gables and College Park since the 2010 season ended, but Miami has stolen all of the headlines heading into this game because of the NCAA investigation.
In the end, though, it was Maryland who made the statement.
“I feel like it put us on the map,” left guard Andrew Gonnella said. “I feel like it let everyone know that we’re not here joking around. We’re here to win. A lot of the media was doubting us. It was great to show them that Maryland is here to be a competitor.”
They wasted no time in doing that.
The Terps unveiled a no-huddle, up-tempo offense that wore down the depleted Miami defense. They ran 78 offensive plays and racked up 499 yards of total offense. The first touchdown of the game came within the first four minutes.
“It was like the blink of an eye before we scored,” said quarterback Danny O'Brien. “We ran 49 plays in the first half, which is like three whole quarters from last year of our offense.”
But still not fast enough for Edsall.
“I thought sometimes the officials were taking too long to put the ball down,” he said, “standing over the ball and slowing us down just a little bit.”
The Terps slowed themselves down, though, in the red zone. Maryland was inside the 20-yard line seven times and came away with just one touchdown. It was the defense that got the biggest score, as Cameron Chism’s 54-yard interception return for a touchdown turned out to be the game-clincher, and Kenny Tate’s interception on the final play of the game sealed it.
Last season, the Terps lost to Miami 26-20 after the Canes scored with 37 seconds remaining in the game.
This is not your 2010 Maryland team.
Did you see their helmets?
In addition to the new coach, new look and new offense, another noticeable difference was the crowd. There was one. Despite a driving sideways rain that turned on and off for four quarters, an attendance of 52,875 was announced as the seventh-largest in school history. That was another score for Edsall, who will receive a $100,000 if season ticket sales increase 25 percent or more in a year.
Despite the differences both on and off the field under Edsall, he insisted that he didn’t make any changes.
“All I tried to do was get them to believe they could push themselves further maybe than they thought, that there was going to be higher standards for them to achieve in everything they were going to do,” he said. “But all the credit in the world goes to those kids, because they bought into the team concept.”
Just how good Maryland will be this season remains to be seen. Its red zone struggles can’t be ignored, and it will face better defenses that are at full strength.
For now, though, a new era of football has begun at Maryland under Edsall, and so far, it’s 1-0.