COLLEGE PARK — Guess it was only a matter of time before the Maryland Terrapins played a game that was uglier than their new uniforms.
How else do you explain the way they were dismantled by a Temple Owls team that — not so many years ago — was one of those opponents that big-program schools loved to feast on in September?
Mind you, the Owls (3-1) aren't BCS cannon fodder anymore. They almost beat Penn State on Sept. 17, and they appear to be a team on the rise, which is what everybody thought Maryland was until the Terps were shut out 31-0 in the first half. By the time Saturday's 38-7 loss was over, the oddsmakers were probably giving Towson a second look.
It was a classic letdown game, if you believe in that sort of thing. The Terps opened the season with a nice win over Miami, albeit with a number of Hurricanes players cooling their heels because of an improper-benefits scandal. They fell behind in a hurry against 18th-ranked West Virginia the week before but staged a dramatic comeback that fell short in the final two minutes of the game.
No such second-half magic would be forthcoming this time, and now the tenor of Randy Edsall's entire first season as coach has been thrown into doubt. Towson will afford the Terps what seems like can't-miss opportunity to even their record at 2-2 on Saturday, but then comes a parade of ranked Atlantic Coast Conference teams — starting with undefeated Georgia Tech on the road Oct. 8.
Time will tell whether this embarrassing loss turns out to be a wake-up call for a developing program or simply a reality check. Edsall didn't pull a single punch in describing what happened and didn't flinch when he was asked whether there was something useful to take out of the experience.
"It was an experience, all right," he said. "One that I'm not happy with. Nobody said this was going to be easy. There are lessons to be learned. … This is a process. It wasn't going to get changed overnight, but I'll tell you what. Games like this make you more determined to get it done."
Perhaps his players can take some solace in the sports cliche that you're never as bad as you look on your worst day and you're never as good as you look on your best. Edsall can only hope so, because the Terps were as bad as advertised Saturday. They were soundly beaten in every aspect of the game.
The Owls were more efficient on offense, doggedly stubborn on defense and set the tone for the game on special teams with a big punt block early on. The Terps did not lose their poise. They were simply undressed, but this is no time for any more uniform cracks.
"It came down to will," Edsall said. "It's hard to say this as a coach, but their will was a lot stronger than our will was today."
This is the last thing the Terps needed to happen at a time when the program has worked so hard to reverse a five-year downturn in season-ticket sales. The first two home games were announced as sellouts, but Temple didn't come in with the same kind of cachet as Miami or West Virginia. They just came in and showed the crowd of an announced 39,102 mostly disappointed fans why a lot of their friends made the right decision by staying home.
The stands were only sparsely populated by the time Temple running back Bernard Pierce scored his fifth touchdown of the game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. He led the Owls' methodical rushing attack with 149 of their 285 yards. Quarterback Chester Stewart delivered a near-perfect performance (9-for-9 passing, 43 yards rushing) and kept the Terps' defense guessing all afternoon.
Next week almost certainly will be different. The Towson Tigers won their first two games of the season by a combined score of 73-13, but it's probably safe to assume that a team that came within 73 seconds of beating West Virginia will not roll over at home against a Football Championship Subdivision team from the Colonial Athletic Association.
Still, the Terps clearly recognize that they have reached the disturbing juncture in their season where they can't take anything for granted.
"We have to come out and play like freshmen," senior guard Andrew Gonnella said. "We have to prove something to the entire world, because we've lost our credibility and we've got to get it back."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.
Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app