COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland has a linebacker at quarterback and several key players sidelined with injuries. So there's really only one way the Terrapins can defeat No. 10 Florida State on Saturday and prevent the Seminoles from clinching a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.
"The biggest thing is that we can't make mistakes," Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said. "If we want to have a chance to win, we've got to play a perfect game and get turnovers against them. That's what we have to do."
Problem is, Maryland (4-6, 2-4) hasn't been anything close to flawless during a four-game losing streak in which it has been outscored 118-58. That includes coming up short 78-23 over the past two weeks after true freshman Shawn Petty began calling the signals for a team that has lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. Petty has four fumbles and an interception in his two starts.
It won't get any easier Saturday against the top-ranked defense in the country.
"The point of emphasis we've put on Shawn or any of the guys that touch the ball for us is we've got to take care of the football and give ourselves a chance to win by playing good, smart, sound football," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "We haven't done that."
Florida State (9-1, 6-1) is a 31-point favorite, but coach Jimbo Fisher insists his players are taking nothing for granted.
"They've had some issues at quarterback because of injury but have still been able to move the ball and do things," Fisher said. "We'll have to play our A game up there on the road and we'll get their A game."
Florida State has won four straight overall and owns a 20-2 advantage in this lopsided rivalry. Fisher's toughest job this week was making sure the Seminoles haven't already started packing their bags for their second ACC title game in three years.
"The key is for us is to see how important Maryland is and to focus on Maryland and not the championship," Fisher said. "It's hard because that's what you want — to be a conference champion and to go to the national title game and BCS. Your first objective is to win the conference. It's important with what we want to do and it's always on our goals (list) at the beginning of the year, to be the ACC champion. But to get there we need to focus on Maryland and play a great game against Maryland. That's the only team in America right now."
For the 17 seniors on Maryland who are playing their final home game, this is their final opportunity to earn a win over Florida State and to add a tombstone outside the practice field for a win against a top-10 opponent. The Terrapins haven't defeated a top-10 team since on Nov. 10, 2007, against Boston College.
It's been a difficult season for Maryland and a trying career for the seniors. After coach Ralph Friedgen was dismissed after the 2010 season, the Terps went 2-10 last year and then had a promising 2012 season come apart in the wake of injuries to four quarterbacks, the team's leading tackler (Demetrius Hartsfield) and standout wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Those aren't the kind of memories defensive end A.J. Francis wants to stick with him for the rest of his life.
"I wish there would have been more stability. In five years, I played four defenses," he said. "Hopefully we'll be able to get a tombstone his weekend against the only team in the Atlantic Division I never beat. I'm looking forward to it."
If Maryland can somehow pull off an upset and then beat North Carolina next week, the Terrapins would become bowl eligible. They know this, but are realistic enough to jam that thought into the back of their minds.
"At this point we're on a four-game skid and playing against the No. 1 team in the ACC, so you've got to make sure you keep a one-game-at-a-time mentality," Francis said. "But this game could change our season. It could change our careers. It could change how people view us for the rest of our lives."