Returning to postseason play was the goal for Maryland and Purdue when the season began. Both teams achieved that, and they’ll meet in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 29.
The Terrapins (8-4) are making their first bowl appearance since the 2003 season, while Purdue (8-5) is back in the postseason after missing out last season—a first in coach Joe Tiller’s 10 seasons with the Boilermakers.
This will be the first meeting between the schools.
“We knew whoever was picked to be our opponent would be an excellent football team,” Tiller said. “That’s exactly what we got in Maryland. They have won some big games this season.”
The game will feature two teams that made steady progress this season after finishing 5-6 last year.
The return to a bowl might be more satisfying for Maryland, which endured a drought one year longer than Purdue but tied for second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division this season.
“I can’t be home for Christmas, but it’s a good problem to have,” said senior quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who played on Maryland’s last two teams that failed to qualify for postseason play. “I’m thankful to be able to be playing right now.”
Maryland won five straight games by a combined 13 points before finishing the regular season with back-to-back losses. The winning streak included a 27-24 victory over Florida State on Oct. 28 that made the Terps bowl-eligible and a 13-12 victory at then-No. 19 Clemson on Nov. 4 for their only win over a ranked team in 2006. Maryland was 1-4 against Top 25 opponents.
Maryland committed just three turnovers and played well defensively— holding three opponents to 20 points or less—during the win streak.
As good as the Terps played during that stretch, they played just as poorly in their final two games—a 38-16 loss at then-No. 20 Boston College and a 38-24 defeat to division champion Wake Forest, ranked 20th that week.
Maryland committed seven turnovers in those losses and allowed 296 rushing yards to Wake, inviting some concern over facing a high-powered offensive team like Purdue.
“Like anything, in football you are as good as your last performance,” said Hollenbach, who completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 2,148 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. “That’s how you are judged a lot of the time. We are obviously very focused on this game and doing the best we can with this. I think if we take care of business down there that will help.”
Junior running backs Lance Ball (757 yards, eight touchdowns) and Keon Lattimore (694 yards, three TDs) provided a deep backfield for the Terps this season.
Defensively, sophomore linebacker Erin Henderson leads the team with 110 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Maryland will be looking for its third straight bowl victory. The Terps won 41-7 over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2004 in its last bowl appearance. They are 8-10-2 in bowl games.
Behind sophomore quarterback Curtis Painter, Purdue ranked sixth in the nation in passing offense (293.7 yards per game) and 10th in total yards (425.8). Painter threw for 3,721 yards, 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in the Boilermakers’ pass-oriented attack.
Junior receiver Dorien Bryant caught 79 passes for a career-high 967 yards and six touchdowns, while sophomore running back Kory Sheets gave Purdue a ground game with 769 rushing yards and 11 scores.
Like Maryland, Purdue had to rebound from a slow start to become bowl-eligible. After losing three of their first four Big Ten games, the Boilermakers won three straight to secure a bowl bid.
With a 13-game schedule, Purdue needed seven wins to become eligible for a bowl.
“I am pleased for our players that they get this reward,” Tiller said. “We have a young team that has worked hard, gotten better over the course of the season and put itself in position to play in this game.”
Despite ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten by allowing 26.9 points per game, the Boilermakers have one of the nation’s top defenders in senior Anthony Spencer. The 6-foot-3, 261-pound end was first in the conference in tackles for a loss (26 1/2 ) and forced fumbles (five), and second in sacks (10 1/2 ).
“I haven’t seen anybody in our conference this year that’s been more productive than he has,” Tiller said.
The Boilermakers lost 42-35 at then-No. 25 Hawaii in its regular season finale Nov. 25.
Purdue will look to snap a two-game bowl losing streak. The Boilermakers are 7-6 in bowls, falling 27-23 to Arizona State in the 2004 Sun Bowl in their last appearance.