COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It was showdown Saturday in college football, with seven games between ranked opponents. A playoff shakeup seemed imminent with each passing second.
The Capital Beltway did not play host to one of those games. Michigan and Maryland are outside the fringe of college football’s national championship race, and that fact won’t change. Thousands of empty seats at Byrd Stadium were all one needed to see to realize that. The snoozefest of a game was another indicator.
Michigan tight end Zach Gentry rushes past Maryland's Antoine Brooks Jr. for a touchdown in the first half.
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Michigan beat the Terrapins 35-10 in a forgettable display of apathy. Neither team established a rhythm on an afternoon that could have injected a sizeable dose of confidence into the Wolverines.
Consider it a missed opportunity. Unless you’re Jim Harbaugh.
“It might have been our best ballgame in all three phases,” the Michigan coach said. “There was so much good — the 3-and-outs by our defense, the interceptions, special teams blocked punt, no turnovers. Offensively, we were really sound. We were able to make the big play. Very efficient.”
Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) has now won three consecutive games and carries momentum into next Saturday’s game at undefeated No. 8 Wisconsin. But it was a chance to blow out a team that lost to Rutgers last week and continue the progression of the previous two week’ synergy.
The final stat sheet lays bare the confounding facts of the game: Maryland outgained Michigan by 35 yards — 340 to 305. In the second half, that number swelled to 228 yards to 93. The Terps ran 14 more plays than UM and possessed the ball for 32 minutes, 22 seconds.
“We had some momentum plays that we could have swung the other way,” Maryland coach D.J. Durkin said. “There were some drives we could have and should have finished, but when you turn over the ball, it’s hard to win games.”
Maryland’s fourth-string quarterback, Ryan Brand, a Detroit native, gave a Herculean effort, completing 16 of 35 passes for 136 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
The Terps converted just three of 16 third-down attempts. They had two turnovers, a punt blocked, and a fake punt fail.
“I feel like we’re making fewer mental mistakes,” Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst said. “But there are areas out there that we can really improve on and get better at. Those are the things that we have to work on and shore up these next two games.”
In Brandon Peters’ second start — his first away from Michigan Stadium — the Michigan offense was balanced but bumpy. Peters was 9-of-18 for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and he still hasn’t turned the ball over.
“He played tough,” Harbaugh said. “He made some big third-down conversions in the fourth quarter. He’s playing the kind of football we like. He’s doing a heck of a job.”
The offensive line continued its recent trend of keeping defenders away from running backs, as the Wolverines gained 160 yards on the ground, averaging 4.2 yards per rush.
Chris Evans finished with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and 29 receiving yards. Karan Higdon had 50 rushing yards on 10 carries and 48 receiving yards. He injured his right ankle late in the first half and didn’t play after halftime. Harbaugh was noncommittal on describing the severity of Higdon’s injury.
Tight end Zach Gentry had a career-high three receptions for 63 yards and a 33-yard touchdown. Fellow tight end Sean McKeon’s lone catch was a 3-yard touchdown. The only reception by a wide receiver was a two-yard pass to Eddie McDoom.
“I honestly didn’t notice,” Peters said. “I was just reading what I had. It just happened that I didn’t throw a lot to the receivers.”
The third quarter was not one filled with highlights for Michigan, which was outgained 148 yards to 21 by Maryland. The Wolverines had one first down, but the Terps (4-6, 2-5) failed to take advantage of Michigan’s clumsiness. All those yards — 7.8 per play — resulted in a grand total of three points.
“It was maybe a lack of focus,” Hurst said. “But I thought it was something we closed out well at the end of the game.”
A series of injuries partially marred the game’s outcome. Higdon, Rashan Gary, Lavert Hill, and David Long were all injured and did not return. Hill was in concussion protocol, according to Harbaugh, while declining to offer specifics on the other players’ statuses.
Ninety-three second-half yards didn’t elicit elation from Michigan. However, as college football’s mightiest day showed, it’s a week-to-week sport.
“I think we have a lot of momentum now,” Peters said. “We’re building up a lot of good confidence. We’re really clicking on offense. We had a little bit of a slowdown in the second half, but these last three games were a good confidence builder. [Hopefully] we’ll keep it rolling.”
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