Maryland's ability to win on the road will be critical in Big Ten

Terps begin conference play Saturday at Indiana — and the venues only get tougher from there

September 24, 2014|By Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — The transformation took place late last season, on what started out as a dreary November afternoon at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. Maryland went into Blacksburg thought to be no more than road kill for the Hokies and emerged with a bit of a swagger after a 27-24 overtime victory.

When the 2014 Terps make their Big Ten debut Saturday at Indiana, there is a growing confidence about playing on the road. Maryland (3-1) has won four straight true road games, including wins at South Florida on Sept. 6 and at Syracuse on Saturday.

Fourth-year coach Randy Edsall, whose Terps didn't win a road game in his first season at Maryland and just three of their first 14 away from Byrd Stadium before Virginia Tech, said he can see a difference in his players when they walk into a visiting venue, as they will Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.

"When you can go down to Blacksburg and Lane Stadium and get a win there, not too many people do that. I think that helped with our confidence," Edsall said Tuesday. "We are more experienced, we are more mature and guys understand the mentality that you have to go on the road with in order to win."

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown suggested that playing on the road might actually work in the Terps' favor.

"Sometimes when you're on the road, you're not worried about the home fans — you're just going out there and playing ball," Brown said. "You don't have the distractions. You don't have to worry about family members at the game. You're on task. ...

"When everyone's booing you, maybe guys get hyped more. But at the same time, you've got to remain focused. You're not just trying to take it to the [other] team, you're trying to take it to their fans."

Some of Brown's best performances have come on the road.

In the win at Virginia Tech, Brown rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns, including when he stretched over the pylon in overtime for the winning score. Two weeks later, he threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 138 yards and three more touchdowns in a 41-21 win at North Carolina State.

Saturday at Syracuse, Brown got the Terps off to a good start by hitting junior wide receiver Marcus Leak for a 25-yard touchdown pass on Maryland's first possession and then connnecting on a short pass to Brandon Ross, which the junior tailback turned into a 90-yard touchdown.

"I think you go as your quarterback goes on offense," Edsall said. "If he's playing well, running the ball, throwing the ball consistently and making plays, everybody else gets a little more fired up, a little more adrenaline, a little more confident in themselves. When you see him running and diving and all those sort of things, getting hit, it makes guys want to play a little bit harder for him."

Brown said he also likes the effect it has on the crowd.

"At the beginning of the game they're all heckling you on the sideline and saying stuff to try to get your attention, but if you're winning [big], they're all sitting down and there's not too much [noise] on third-down, people start leaving," Brown said. "You understand the impact of what the crowd can do when they're into the game, the 12th man. You've got to try to lessen that advantage."

In terms of the road crowds the Terps will play in front of in their inaugural Big Ten season, Saturday's will be by far the smallest and, if history repeats itself, one of the quietest. The Hoosiers rarely fill up their 52,929-seat stadium that locals call "The Rock," even for big games.

As a venue, it pales in comparison to the places Maryland will visit later this season — Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, Penn State's Beaver Stadium and "The Big House" at Michigan. Indiana students are known to tailgate for hours and then go back to their dorm rooms to sleep.

Fourth-year Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has tried to change that since coming from Oklahoma, where he was an assistant for nine years. The Hoosiers (2-1) are starting to win more regularly at home — six of their past nine after winning only three of 10 in Wilson's first two years.

"Everyone likes to look at a good team, a team that they want to cheer for," said Wilson, whose team upset No. 18 Missouri last week on the road. "Short-term, I don't think one win changes a lot, but I think it shows the direction we're moving. ... I think our fan base will consistently grow [if the team wins]."

Edsall said that the the one consistency about a team's road success is how it starts.

In all four of their recent road wins, the Terps have played well in the first half. They scored on three straight possessions at Virginia Tech (the first a 63-yard punt return by Will Likely), strung together 34 straight points in one stretch at North Carolina State and took a 31-13 lead at halftime last Saturday in the Carrier Dome.

Edsall admits it creates a quandary for coaches who typically put their defense out first if their team wins the coin toss.

"Anytime you go on the road, you want to go out and start fast," Edsall said. "You sit there as a head coach [and think], do you go and take the ball or do you defer? I know people who would [take the ball] and hope you can go down and score that first series and help yourselves."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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