Washington — — Maybe everything will be a lot clearer in a few days, but the certainty with which the Maryland Terrapins went about the business of closing out the Ralph Friedgen era on Wednesday quickly gave way to the uncertainty that lies ahead.
There will be a new coach soon and a new program, which has to be unsettling for the promising group of underclassmen Friedgen reluctantly leaves behind.
"Naturally, there's a little uncertainty,'' said freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien, who passed for 181 yards and directed a balanced attack that ran right over East Carolina in Wednesday's 51-20 victory, "but you can't worry about that. I'm just going to sit back and let the powers that be make that decision and trust in it.
Clearly, there's a lot of change on the horizon. O'Brien and his fellow underclassmen have had a couple of weeks to digest the decision by athletic director Kevin Anderson to dismiss Friedgen and embark on a search for the head coach he feels will be able to take the Terrapin program to an elite level. They got a little more after the Military Bowl when star wide receiver Torrey Smith announced that he will leave school and enter the NFL draft.
It would have been easy for a bunch of young players to get lost in all the subplots and lose focus as their season wound to a close, but that obviously didn't happen. The Terps started a little slowly on Wednesday, but they had a number of statements to make and they came across loud and clear at the expense of the overmatched Pirates.
Senior Da'Rel Scott rushed for 200 yards to close out his collegiate career with a bowl MVP trophy, but O'Brien delivered another solid performance and fellow redshirt freshman D.J. Adams scored four touchdowns in Maryland's ninth victory of the year.
The players — both under and upper classmen — made no secret that they wanted to send a message to the bowl selection committees that snubbed them after an 8-4 regular season in which they finished as the No. 3 team in the ACC. They also wanted to show solidarity with their departing head coach and make sure that he ended his Maryland coaching career with a victory, and a resounding victory at that.
When it was over, they had also sent a message to the Maryland fan base that has been dealing with some mixed feelings about the program since Anderson gave Friedgen a vote of confidence and then abruptly pulled it back.
Everything's going to be OK. The foundation that Friedgen laid during this turnaround season and the discovery of a solid young quarterback will make things a lot easier for whoever is chosen to be the new head coach.
"I'm going to do everything I can to lead this team back together for next season,'' O'Brien said. "Obviously, with 82 [Smith] gone, it's going to be a little tougher, but we've got a lot of playmakers and I'm excited."
His afternoon did not start auspiciously. He cranked up a long pass on the Terps first play from scrimmage and immediately turned the ball over, but his next pass was a perfect 45-yard strike to Kevin Dorsey to start a 478-yard offensive onslaught.
O'Brien didn't dominate the game. He completed 13 of 22 passes and threw two picks, but he showed why he was honored as the ACC Rookie of the Year by using every offensive weapon at his disposal to fully exploit an inferior ECU defense.
When a freshman quarterback shows that kind of promise, it's not hard to understand why Friedgen is so disappointed that he will not be around to see where O'Brien and his returning teammates might take the program over the next few years.
"The biggest thing is I'm not going to be around these kids,'' Friedgen said. "Being around them from 2-10 [last year] to 9-4 and, hopefully, a place in the Top 25, I really think they have a chance to be special. I'm going to miss being a part of that."
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.