BALTIMORE -- Maryland interim head coach Mike Locksley has been brought into a difficult situation. He has been given a second chance to lead a program, but it comes in the middle of the season during which his boss was fired -- a firing that he feels was, at least in part, a product of his shortcomings as the team’s offensive coordinator.
His players understood that and it was reflected in the effort that Maryland showed in his first game as the team's new leader, despite its 31-30 loss to Penn State on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“[Locksley] tried to make sure that [winning a game on his behalf] wasn’t our mindset, but I think it’s clear that’s what we all were trying to do because he’s took over such a tough situation,” senior running back Brandon Ross said.
“He’s tried to make it as much of a relaxed environment as he possibly could and guys definitely fed off it. It actually motivated guys to want to play harder and do better.”
It wasn’t a lack of effort that hurt Maryland on Saturday. This was far from the blowouts we’ve seen at other points this season, like against West Virginia and in the second half against Bowling Green when there seemed to be a lack of will or ability to compete.
Maryland lost to Penn State because of football errors, specifically its five turnovers and and its inability to keep Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg from hitting home runs on deep shots down the field.
“A lot of guys, we went out and played our butts off and unfortunately the score is what it was,” junior linebacker Yannick Ngakoue said. “It was a lot of disappointment, but we’re just going to have to come back tomorrow, re-evaluate the film, and just fix stuff.”
It is unclear what the longterm future of this program will be and where exactly Mike Locksley fits into those plans.
Saturday’s game against Penn State was one of three reasonably winnable games remaining on Maryland’s schedule, along with end-of-season dates against Indiana and Rutgers.
A win over Penn State would have been the best possible start for Locksley as he tries to build a running resume in his unofficial campaign to become the program’s full-time head coach.
It remains to be seen whether he is the coach of the future, but he is the coach that Maryland needs right now -- right now to finish what has amounted to a new six-game season.
He is a uniter of young men who were put through the grinder of a midseason coaching change and a person who helped them to come to terms with their feelings about it in the wake of the decision.
“We’re way beyond moral victories,” Locksley said after Saturday's loss. “What I did tell them is if you can come in that locker room after a game like today and look yourself in the mirror and know that you did everything you could do to possibly win that ball game, then the scoreboard won’t define you.
“We’ve got some guys that are in there pretty hurt because this was a game that we really wanted. We didn’t do the things to take it and that’s where we’ve got to become that type of team.
“We’re way too mature of a team to buy into moral victories and today we didn’t take care of our business.”