COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — No matter how Maryland fares in the regular season finale against No. 15 Penn State, it won’t change the pride that interim coach Matt Canada feels about how his players have performed under extremely difficult circumstances.
The death of teammate Jordan McNair, two external investigations involving the football program and the dismissal of head coach DJ Durkin combined to make this a season an emotional roller coaster for the Terrapins.
“I’m certainly proud of everything our players have done, from how they’ve stuck together, how they’ve grieved together, how they’ve leaned on each other,” Canada said Tuesday. “As a staff, we’re very, very proud of that.”
The Terrapins (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) aren’t done yet. After trying for three straight weeks to become bowl eligible with their sixth win of the season, Maryland has one last chance to get it right Saturday against the Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3).
“I’m proud regardless, but we need to win,” Canada said.
McNair collapsed on the practice field in May and died of heatstroke in June. In August, the school launched investigations into McNair’s treatment at scene and the culture of the football program, and also placed Durkin on administrative leave.
With Canada serving as interim coach and offensive coordinator, the Terrapins opened with an upset of then-No. 23 Texas were 5-3 on Oct. 27 after a 63-24 rout of Illinois.
On Oct. 30, Durkin was reinstated by University System of Maryland board of regents. The next day, he was fired by University president Wallace Loh.
Since then, Maryland has been in futile pursuit of its sixth win of the season.
The skid began with a 24-3 loss at home to Michigan State. Then, after rallying from a 31-15 deficit at Indiana, Maryland lost 34-32 on a late field goal. That wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as last week’s 52-51 overtime defeat against then-No. 9 Ohio State, when Canada boldly called for a 2-point conversion try in overtime that failed on the final play of the game.
Now, Maryland must knock off Penn State to become bowl bound and make this season an unequivocal success.
“The last time we addressed it was going into Indiana, when the next win would be six,” Canada said. “Our players know what six wins means. They certainly laid it out there the last two weeks and had two very emotional, tough losses. They know where they’re at. They know how important this game is.”
Playing brilliantly in defeat against Ohio State might have been a moral victory, but those don’t count toward bowl eligibility.
“The players weren’t satisfied with being close. They wanted to win the game,” Canada said. “So there’s nothing to take from it other than we didn’t win the football game.”
Barring a victory at Penn State, this will be Canada’s final game as interim coach. He could end up being Maryland’s new head coach or retain his post as offensive coordinator — or neither.
He’s not going to think about that, not with one big regular-season game left on the schedule.
“The last two weeks I wish we’d have won. I wish the kids would have had that success,” Canada said. “Obviously Saturday, my only focus will be to win the game.”
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