Instead, Maryland looked like the team with their season on the line, and with 16 seniors playing their final game in front of their home crowd, the Terps beat the Wolfpack 38-31.
After racing out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Wolfpack looked poised to book their tickets to Charlotte for the ACC championship game, but junior receiver Torrey Smith exploded for the greatest game a Terp wide receiver has ever had, tallying 14 catches for 224 yards and a school-record four touchdowns.
“He got hot early,” Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien said. “He just kept making play after play, which was huge for our confidence. We feel like if it’s one-on-one with Torrey, it’s a mismatch.”
In the process of his historic game, Smith broke LaMont Jordan’s school record for all-purpose yardage, became the first Terp to ever record two 60-catch seasons, the second to amass 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and the first to score 10 receiving touchdowns.
Smith’s numbers this season with the Terps’ bowl game yet to be played: 65 receptions, 1,045 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“What’s really amazing about it,” said head coach Ralph Friedgen, “he’s probably played, I don’t know, eight games with a bad ankle, so what would he have done with a good ankle? He’s just starting to get well now.”
Not to be overlooked was O’Brien’s performance. After all, the Terps have never had a freshman quarterback like him. He finished 33 of 47 with 417 yards and four touchdowns, securing what will likely be his fifth ACC Freshman of the Week award this season. No other Terp ever won the award more than twice.
“It was pretty impressive, the poise and accuracy that (O’Brien) had tonight,” Friedgen said. “It was one of the better performances I’ve seen as a quarterback.”
The Terps had to fight off a furious NC State comeback bid after the Wolfpack scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, and scored again to cut the deficit to seven points.
“We tried to keep it as close as we could to keep our TV ratings up,” Friedgen said.
Freshman running back D.J. Adams, who scored the Terps’ first touchdown before the game became The Torrey Smith and Danny O’Brien Show, converted a fourth-and-one leap for a first down with less than a minute remaining to seal the victory.
Adams’ touchdown and fourth down conversion were the lone bright spot for Maryland’s running game, as the team actually finished with negative nine rushing yards on the day.
“We’ve got to find ways to run the ball,” Friedgen said, “because if you are one-dimensional it makes it harder and harder to be as effective as we were.”
Despite the lack of a running game and the near-collapse in the fourth quarter, the Terps completed the regular season few expected, finishing 8-4 and on their way to a bowl game, just a year removed from a 2-10 season and endless speculation about Friedgen’s job security.
Friedgen and his staff already know they’ll be back next year, and there are really only two unanswered questions looming for the Terps, the first being in which bowl they’ll play. It could be in Orlando, Fla., for the Champs Sports Bowl, it could be the Military Bowl in nearby Washington, D.C., or even a trip cross-country to Emerald Bowl.
The more worrisome question for the Terps is whether Smith will finish his eligibility next year. He’s on track to graduate after the fall semester, and has the skill set to play in the NFL, if he so chooses.
“I’m hoping he stays around,” Friedgen said. “I don’t know if he will. I think he has some things he’s got to look at, but I’ll support whatever he wants to do. I think he’ll make a great leader for us next year, and he’s already a great leader for us this year.”
Terps fans certainly hope he decides to stay – the chemistry between him and Maryland’s young quarterback could be the formula for a historic 2011.