As it embarks on a perilous stretch in which it must face three top-25 teams in the next three weeks, Maryland knows it is not yet the team it must become.
But after two straight losses, the Terps were content Saturday to escape the rain and a Towson team that sustained long drives before self-destructing with four second-half turnovers in Maryland's 28-3 win.
After two games in which it surrendered 75 total points, Maryland embraced the win. There were no apologies for a performance in which the Tigers outgained the Terps and unsettled their fans. Just as they always do after victories, several Terps jogged to the student section after the game and leaped into the stands in celebration.
"We'll take a win anyway we can get it. It was not necessarily the prettiest, easiest win," said quarterback Danny O'Brien, whose passing yardage -- 123 -- was his lowest of the season. The Terps relied more on the run than usual against Towson's relatively undersized line. Senior Davin Meggett ran for 102 yards, and Maryland's 198 yards rushing were a season high.
"I think we are trying to carve out who we are as a team," O'Brien said. "Today was more pound-it-out."
For three quarters, Towson -- trying to go 4-0 for the first time since 2006 as it played Maryland for the first time -- teetered on the brink of an upset.
The Tigers gained twice as many yards and ran nearly twice as many plays as Maryland in a first half that ended with the Terps ahead 7-3.
Towson coach Rob Ambrose -- a former assistant under Maryland coach Randy Edsall when they were at Connecticut -- "had his guys ready to play and came out with a lot of new wrinkles in the first half that we didn't see on film," Edsall said.
Said Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, who had a team-high 14 tackles: "They tried to do a lot different formations. A lot of their sets were uneven."
What might have rattled the Terps most was a nine-minute Towson drive ending with D.J. Soven's 23-yard field goal to cut Maryland's lead to 7-3 in the second quarter. The Tigers followed with another clock-consuming possession -- this one 6:57 -- that ended with Soven's missing a field-goal attempt wide right as the first half ended.
"We left too many points on the field, period," Ambrose said.
Last week, the Terps had trailed Temple at halftime 31-0. So leading Towson 7-3 was not cause for concern, in a relative sense.
"Last week, it was a lot of arguing and stuff," said linebacker Lorne Goree, a redshirt freshman. "We was down big."
This week, Edsall said, he told his team at halftime: "Don't panic."
Said Hartsfield: "It was a very different feeling in the locker room than last week. A lot of players were encouraging each other. We were just making small mistakes [in the first half]."
The Tigers entered the game ranked No. 23 in the Football Championship Subdivision and featured an offense that averaged 460 yards, including a Colonial Athletic Association-best 246 rushing yards. The game was played before an announced 35,573 -- the largest crowd to see a Towson game.
But Maryland held a large size advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Maryland's starters on the offensive line average about 293 pounds. Towson's defensive line starters average about 254 pounds.
And Towson was missing a key player. Sophomore quarterback Peter Athens replaced usual starter Grant Enders (Old Mill), who suffered a concussion in last week's 42-17 victory over Colgate.
The Tigers (3-1, 1-0 CAA) missed numerous opportunities, particularly in the first half. With Towson trailing 7-3, an open Alex Blake missed Athens' deep throw from the Tigers' 31-yard line that could have been a touchdown.
"Honestly, I never thought they had the momentum," Ambrose said. "They were kind of holding on the whole time."
Leading 7-3, Maryland widened its lead to 14-3 after linebacker Kenny Tate's interception gave the Terps possession at the Towson 45 in the opening moments of the second half. Justus Pickett ran it in from 5 yards with 11:46 left in the third quarter.
The Terps made it 21-3 on O'Brien's 7-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dorsey to cap a 78-yard drive with 7:09 left in the game.
O'Brien completed 14 of 21 passes. His longest completion was 19 yards. Backup quarterback C.J. Brown entered in the last minute of the third quarter with Maryland leading 14-3. Brown played one series and didn't return until the Terps led 28-3 in the fourth quarter.
Edsall said he wasn't pulling his starting quarterback but rather getting the backup some needed experience.
"That was planned. The one thing we want to do is get C.J. some work," Edsall said.
The Terps (2-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) next play three ACC games against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State.
"I think we still have a long way to go," Edsall said. "This is just factual. We're a young team. We've had some younger guys have to play because of injuries."
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