LANDOVER, Md. -- Following his team's emotional 34-29 win over No. 23-ranked Texas on Saturday, Maryland offensive lineman Ellis McKennie waved a giant red flag with the No. 79 emblazoned on it and held it high as he celebrated at FedEx Field.
From start to finish on Saturday, the Terps honored their teammate, 19-year-old freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died June 13 from heatstroke he suffered at a May 29 workout. The No. 79 decal on their helmets will be worn all season, but there's no way to replicate the swell of emotions that came from lining up for the first time without McNair.
On the Terps' first offensive play, Maryland took the field with just 10 players -- intentionally leaving a hole at right guard where McNair would've lined up. Texas, aware of the plan, respectfully declined the delay of game penalty.
"That was a class move by Texas," interim coach Matt Canada said. "That's something those guys wanted to do. They wanted to go out there and make sure Jordan was remembered, and we did that. Everything we've done to honor Jordan is from our players. They're the ones who decided it, talked about it. That was special. It was emotional. It's emotional right now, talking about it."
The game ball will be placed in McNair's locker, Canada said, and then will be given to his parents, Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson, on Senior Day in 2020.
It has been a roller coaster of emotions for Canada and everyone in the program this summer as they have tried to balance preparing for the season opener against Texas with dealing with the grief of losing a teammate and the uncertainty that still hangs over the program while two investigations continue.
The Walters Inc. investigation, which is looking into whether Maryland staff followed the proper protocol at the May 29 workout in which McNair suffered heatstroke, will be released on Sept. 15 and made public. No timetable has been given for the second investigation, which is being conducted by eight people appointed by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and is looking into allegations of a toxic culture in the program.
Saturday was the first time in more than a month that players were available to answer questions from the media, and two -- quarterback Kasim Hill and receiver Taivon Jacobs -- were brought to Saturday's news conference.
"We're a really close-knit family," Hill said. "Everything that has happened this summer, it's brought us closer together. This is the closest I've ever been with my teammates and coaches. It was just great to get a win and be back out there. It's been a long time since we played a football game, and we just wanted to be back out there with everybody."
Maryland played inspired football from the start, jumping to a 24-7 lead and taking advantage of Texas' mistakes. The Longhorns made costly penalties and looked undisciplined on defense. It was an all-too-familiar start for Texas, which lost its season opener to Maryland last year. That was also Maryland's last win over a ranked team, when Texas was again ranked No. 23.
As if the Longhorns needed anymore déjà vu, Maryland was able to capitalize on more than 100 penalty yards in both games (117 in 2017 and 102 on Saturday).
Texas showed some resilience in the second half, but again, late-game turnovers continued to be a trend as Maryland forced three turnovers in the final six minutes to help seal the win.
Canada successfully navigated his debut as a head coach despite the emotions, a rain delay that lasted one hour, 26 minutes and the apprehension of calling plays from the field for the first time in his career.
"You talk about the thing I was most worried about," Canada said, "it was calling the game from the field. I've never done that, and I didn't want to screw that job up. That's my job. I'm the offensive coordinator, and I call the plays. Sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes I'm not. I was concerned about that. The staff did a great job. The guys upstairs did a great job."
So did his players. Nobody turned the ball over. Eleven players ran the ball. Hill had a career-best day with 222 passing yards. True freshman Jeshaun Jones scored on all three of his touches: a 28-yard run, a 65-yard reception and a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Canada said he tried to stay focused on his regular job as offensive coordinator, and while he paid attention to the defense and listened on the headset, he mainly tried to "stay out of it."
"I listened," he said, "but I didn't do anything else. I just listened once in a while."
The win was impressive on its own merits, especially considering the rain delay, but because of everything the players went through this summer and the ongoing investigations, this was a game that has the potential to drive the Terps forward.
"There was a real focus on this football team to win this game," Canada said. "We talked about our room, our building, and everybody else outside of our building really doesn't matter. They really don't matter. And that's how we play, and that's how we focus. And that's not being mean, or however you want to spin that, but the only people that knew how we were gonna play were the guys in our building. And I think they had no doubt they were gonna win. They convinced me, 'cause I can get nervous about just about anything. But they convinced me."