COLLEGE PARK — A snapshot of the Maryland football program reveals a team that has lost four of five and has very little chance of earning a bowl bid.
The big picture is not nearly as narrow in focus. In his first year as head coach, Michael Locksley has used virtually everyone on the roster and attempted to develop a positive culture within a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2014.
So, even though the Terrapins (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) have struggled following a 2-0 start, Locksley remains upbeat.
“We want to win now, but winning isn’t something we talk a lot about,” Locksley said Tuesday. “It’s really the process and the habits and behaviors that help you win. We set standards for how we practice, how we want to prepare and how we want to play.”
Injuries have forced Locksley to use a variety of freshmen, but there have been instances when he purposely went with first-year players just to get them experience.
“I still think playing time is the one thing that motivates players at this age and this stage of their careers,” Locksley said. “We know in the long run, they’ll be better as we get into the tough part of our season.”
That would be now. Maryland faces No. 17 Minnesota (7-0, 4-0) on the road Saturday before hosting No. 19 Michigan and traveling to No. 3 Ohio State.
It’s a daunting task, but at least the Terrapins will have their top two playmakers back on offense. Quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. are both expected to return from high ankle sprains for a matchup against the most surprising team in the conference.
“We need every weapon,” Locksley said.
Perhaps, but that hasn’t deterred Locksley from going young in certain situations. The trick is to balance the desire to win now with the notion of building toward the future.
“You do that with how you put together game plans, how you develop your depth, with how you play your players,” Locksley said. “To me, that’s just as much the chess match with what plays you call. We’ve really forced some young guys into having to play, and we’ll be so much better for it.”
Junior running back Javon Leake, who ran 158 yards and two touchdowns last week in a 34-28 loss to Indiana, understands and accepts the rebuilding process.
“We’re definitely a young team,” Leake said. “It’s Coach Locks’ first year. He’s seeing what he can do with this program. The biggest thing is these young guys just have to step up and come to play.”
Despite the skid, Locksley was encouraged by the way Maryland played against the Hoosiers. After falling behind by 10 points in the third quarter, the Terps were in position to win before a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers aborted the comeback.
It conjured memories of Week 3, when Maryland faltered in a 20-17 loss to Temple.
“That’s where we’ve got to be able to take the next step: knowing how to execute in critical situations,” Locksley said.
That, to a degree, is the difference between Maryland and a Minnesota team that won each of its first four games by seven points or fewer.
“They’re undefeated. How they’ve played, who they’ve played, really doesn’t matter,” Locksley said. “They’re playing with a great amount of confidence because they’ve won the close games that we haven’t.”
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