Maryland fans display a sign as they predict the demise of the Florida State Seminoles during the third quarter Saturday.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - During each of its road games this month, the Florida State Seminoles had been living on the edge.
They would fall behind lesser-regarded teams at the half, rely on their stingy defense to keep the game within reach, then pull out a win in the waning moments. That was the script at Syracuse on Oct. 9. That was the script at Wake Forest last weekend. The third time turned out differently.
Maryland, which had lost three straight and was given little chance of beating FSU for the first time in program history, took advantage of the Seminoles' struggling offense and some uncharacteristic defensive gaffes for a 20-17 upset Saturday that saw thousands of an announced 52,203 swarm on the field at Byrd Stadium.
"I knew eventually it was going to catch up with us," junior safety Pat Watkins said. "You can't toy around with people week in, week out. Something bad is going to happen and tonight it did."
The No. 5-ranked Seminoles (6-2, 4-2 ACC) are now all but out of the race for the league title for just the second time in their 13 years in the ACC.
Without that championship, their only shot at the Bowl Championship Series would be as an at-large selection and, while they were well positioned at No. 5 in the all-important BCS standings, they are sure to tumble Monday. The postseason destination appears to be the Gator or Peach Bowl, assuming they don't slump further.
"(You) just try to win each game and end up with the best season you can," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. "That's all you can do."
And look for answers, beginning with why they look so vulnerable away from Tallahassee.
"I don't know why we have played like we have on the road," Bowden said. "This was no different than the Syracuse game, which we were lucky to win. Then it was no different than the Wake Forest game, which we were lucky to win. Tonight we were not lucky to win."
The Terps (4-4, 2-3), who hadn't beaten a top 10 team since 1990, outplayed the Seminoles across the board. They outgained them 387-354, controlled the clock by 9:30, didn't miss any field goals (FSU missed three) and came up with the big play when they needed it most.
Already leading 6-3 in the second quarter, the Terps used a nifty option reverse to receiver Jo Jo Walker that went for 35 yards and a 33-yard pass from Joel Statham to receiver Vernon Davis to set up a Statham 1-yard dive. That ended the Seminoles' 12-quarter streak of not allowing an offensive touchdown and gave the Terps 210 total yards for the half. That might not sound like much until you consider the Seminoles were eighth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 265.7 yards. In an entire game.
"This season, they hadn't been moving the ball, but tonight they hit on everything," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said.
The Terps had looked inept offensively the previous three games, generating a mere 81, 91, then 194 total yards against Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Clemson.
Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore quarterback Wyatt Sexton and the FSU offense, limited without star tailback Leon Washington (separated right shoulder), couldn't do much of anything. Sexton threw two first-half interceptions and was eventually pulled. He finished 14-of-30 for 164 yards.
"We'd been pressing our luck," Sexton said. "Once again, we came out flat and didn't execute like we would have liked to."
Facing a third and 4 from the 38 in the second half, Statham tried to hit receiver Drew Weatherly on a slant. But Cromartie stepped in front of Weatherly for his fourth interception of the season and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Terps answered 63 seconds later as tailback Josh Allen caught a short pass in the right flat, cut across the field and raced 72 yards for a touchdown.
"They made big plays. We're supposed to be the big-play team," Bowden said. "Their quarterback played probably 10 times better than they expected him to play because he hadn't done that all year."
Bowden made the move to fifth-year senior Chris Rix, who sprained his right ankle a month ago and lost his starting job even when he regained his health, threw a 16-yard touchdown to senior receiver Chauncey Stovall midway through the fourth and had his team on the move moments later.
But Xavier Beitia, the former Jesuit star who hit a winning field goal in the final minutes a week ago, missed a 45-yarder with 4:40 left - his third (he missed a 41-yarder late in the opening half, then saw what would have been a career-best 52-yarder hit the left upright early in the fourth.
The Seminoles had one last chance, but Rix sailed a pass high for a leaping Stovall on a fourth down with 1:32 left.
"I got my (left) hand on it; if it touches your hand, you're supposed to catch it," he said.
It's the kind of play he and his teammates made against Syracuse. It's the kind of play they made against Wake Forest.