The University of Maryland football team was unable to slow down the high-powered Marshall University offense and the Terps fell 31-20 in the 2013 Military Bowl Dec. 27.
The Thundering Herd offense, led by junior quarterback Rakeem Cato seemingly had its way with the Maryland defense. Cato finished the day with 337 yards and three touchdowns. Cato carved up the Terps' secondary and extended plays with his feet, which caused problems for the defensive front.
"He's a good quarterback. He was very shifty and I would say that was one of his biggest assets," said defensive lineman Andre Monroe. "There was quite a few times we would get back there, but he was able to wiggle or get it off just in time to do what they needed to do to get down the field."
Maryland trailed 17-13 midway through the third quarter when they started a drive on their own 1-yard line. Then, 17 plays, 99 yards and nearly eight minutes later, Maryland took their first lead of the game. The drive was capped by a 2-yard pass from C.J. Brown to tight end Dan Stinebaugh and gave Maryland a 20-17 lead.
The drive gave the Terps their most momentum of the game and at almost the best time possible. However, the defense was unable to respond with a stop, as Cato took the Herd right down the field, regaining the lead for the final time.
"They did a very good job on answering right away and that will kind of sink the ship right there," Brown said. "But we have to get right back out there and answer. It's a game of momentum and we got to get it back."
The unraveling of the Maryland defense told the story of the game. The secondary struggled to stop the Herd receivers and tight end Gator Hoskins throughout the game. Cato was able to find wide-open targets on several occasions and in the end it cost the Terps the win.
"The tight end really hurt us and we didn't play that as well as we needed to," coach Randy Edsall said. "We just had some breakdowns and we can't have those types of breakdowns against the athletes that Marshall has and expect to stop them."
The Maryland offense struggled to find consistency as well. Brown, when given time from the offensive line, was able to make plays through the air and a few on the ground. Those plays seemed few and far between as the Maryland offense could not put together a string of possessions that tallied points or swung field position.
Thanks in large part to Marshall punter Tyler Williams, Maryland seemed to start many of their possessions deep in their own territory, while the Herd offense started most of their drives in or near Maryland territory.
"One of the differences was their punter. Their punter did a tremendous job and he gave us tough field position all day long," Edsall said. "We had a tough time changing the field position, especially in the first half. ... The further you have to drive the ball, your percentages go down in terms of scoring and that's something we could just never get on top of throughout the game."
Converting on third down was another issue for the Maryland offense. Coming into the game, the Marshall defense held opposing offenses to a 34.93 percent conversion rate on third down. The Maryland offense finished just two-for-14 on third down in the game.
Maryland finishes the 2013 season with a record of 7-6. Though the season did not end on a high note, the team has a lot to look forward to in its future.
"When it's all said and done, we had a great year," Brown said. "We had a winning season and was able to extend to the postseason and go to a bowl game. Today was just proud of the effort, disappointed about the outcome. ... We'll be ready come next year and have a great off season. We'll use this to help prepare for the future."
The 2013 Military Bowl was the first postseason appearance for many of the Maryland players. Though this bowl game does not have the same glamour as a New Year's Day bowl, it is still a good game for the program.
Playing in a game that was close to home helped build more local attention around the program. It allowed the fan base to make their presence felt in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as fans supported the program's final game in the ACC. It also gives the players a chance to enjoy the whole bowl experience while staying close to home.
"I was very impressed with the support that was out there today in the red. Disappointed we couldn't have a better outcome, but the support was unbelievable," Edsall said. "Our kids had a really good time here this week. ... I think the whole bowl experience is great for these young men in terms of what it does for them and the reward for what they did during the season."
Even though the game did not end with a victory, the experience is valuable to the players.
"It was a blessing to have the opportunity to be in a bowl and that alone made the experience great in itself, the fact that we were all around people that love and share the moment with each other," Monroe said.
Throughout the week leading up to the bowl, the team was a part of several events in Washington D.C. From interacting with veterans to touring the nation's capital, the Maryland players had a chance to see an area that many had yet to experience.
"I think coming to D.C., it's a great city in itself and being in College Park, there's not too much time to travel down to D.C. for free time," Brown said. "Being with these guys over Christmas and over the holiday, it was just a great bowl experience as a team and I'm grateful for the opportunity."
The players enjoyed being able to share these new experiences with guys they have worked with all year long. From the long days in the summer to the bitter cold at season's end, the Maryland players were appreciative of the experience.
"We were glad to be there," said Brandon Ross. "Through the workouts, summer sessions and spring ball, it's not like we have the time to go venture out in D.C. like that. It was a pretty pleasurable bowl site for us to be in and it was a good time."
Following the conclusion of the Military Bowl, the 2013 season and a 61-year tenure in the ACC comes to an end for Maryland football. The season was cluttered with injuries along with big performances on both sides of the ball.
The team was off to a fast 4-0 start before running into eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Florida State University. Things never seemed to be the same for the Terps after that game, but they were able to pull together and finish with a seven-win season.
A healthy Brown was the difference maker for Maryland when the team had success. His dual-threat capability added a dynamic to the Terps' offense that most opposing defenses struggled to handle. Even after losing his primary weapons in wide receivers -- Stefon Diggs and Deon Long -- Brown was still able to produce effectively for the offense.
A big reason was the emergence of young wide receivers Lavern Jacobs and Amba Etta-Tawo. Both answered the call and played big for Maryland down the stretch. When Diggs and Long return next season, Brown will have a flurry of weapons all over the field in 2014.
Running back Brandon Ross was able to piece together a fine season as well. The offense would have liked to see more yards and effectiveness from him, but Ross was a serviceable running back through the season. He saved one of his best performances for last, rushing for 116 yards Dec. 27.
After struggles early in the season, the offensive line turned out to be a strong suit for the Terps as well. In the second half of the season, they were able to find consistency in their run blocking and pass protection. Giving Brown and the running backs room to operate helped poise the offense for success. Unfortunately, that success seemed to unravel in the bowl loss as Brown had limited protection throughout the game.
Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart also did a solid job with the Terps defense as well. Suffering injuries at linebacker and in the secondary, the Maryland defense was still able to put together a respectable season. Tested and almost broken at times, the defense was able to come up with big plays when it was needed most.
The heart of the defense came from up front with their defensive line and linebackers. Cole Farrand and Matt Robinson were among the team leaders in tackles. Battling injuries and struggling to stay on the field, the two along with Alex Twine were able make major contributions for the Terps' defense all season.
Maryland ranked near the top of the conference in quarterback sacks, with Marcus Whitfield and Monroe being a major reason why. The two tallied nearly half of the team's 36 regular season sacks. The ability to get through the opposing offensive line and into the backfield helped keep the opponent's offense in frequent long-yard situations.
The secondary suffered two crutching injuries early in the season to cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson. After shuffling through other corners, Isaac Goins and William Likely were able to lock down the position. Along with Sean Davis at safety, the Maryland secondary was able to find a few points of success. While they were not always the most stable group, their youth gives a promising outlook moving forward.
Many Maryland fans will look at this season and find ways to blame some struggles on Edsall. In his three seasons with the program, Edsall seems to have not made much progress in winning over the fan base. Making a bowl game with the abundance of injuries the team has had to deal with is a positive sign moving forward.
"What these young men fought through all year long with the adversity, the number of injuries we had and for them to continue to battle and go out and play ... this group to me is just a really special group," Edsall said. "What has happened for them this year is now that they understand they believe in themselves, they believe that regardless of who is out there on the field, we can win. ... This season really helped us as we leave the ACC and move to the Big Ten."
The program is taking steps forward and with a lot of key pieces returning next year, it will be an intriguing first season in the Big Ten Conference for Maryland.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Garmelo10