ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Maryland put forth a valiant effort against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines, falling, 34-27, in a competitive game.
Maryland hung around for more than three quarters, but it could not pull off the upset victory. The Terps also dealt with some injury scares, as head coach Michael Locksley said that star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett was ruled out with a head injury and starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is battling knee and rib injuries; he said they’ll have more updates when they get back to College Park.
Saturday was by far Maryland’s closest game against Michigan since it beat the Wolverines in 2014, and there are some positives to take away.
Maryland overcame its early gaffe with an impressive response by competing — and taking the lead — in the first half.
It seemed to be a nightmarish start for Maryland.
Sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton fumbled the opening kickoff, with the ball bouncing right off his helmet. Michigan took over at the Terps’ 10-yard line and immediately scored on its first play from scrimmage, with sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy finding senior tight end Luke Schoonmaker for the touchdown.
People may have expected the Terps to pack it up from there and succumb to the Wolverines — who have beaten Maryland by more than 200 combined points in the previous six meetings — but they did not.
“Our team, we’re just immature enough as a team where those type of things really don’t faze us,” Locksley said. “I hate it because we gave ‘em a cheap touchdown. It’s a routine, catch the kick with your hands and keep your form parallel to the ground. High head, high hands — the ball hits off his face mask… Obviously it’s a mistake, and good teams don’t need our help. And to just spot ‘em seven points and then the outcome of the game is seven points, we don’t need to help good teams.”
Instead, the Terps put together one of their best halves against elite competition since joining the Big Ten.
The offense looked poised, as starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was playing with a certain fire and the defense was coming up with clutch stops — even securing a turnover in its own territory.
Maryland put together an evenly-distributed first-half offensive showcase with 121 passing yards, 74 rushing yards and 12 first downs.
The Terps entered Michigan territory on each of their first four drives, but one of them was controversially halted early. Tagovailoa threw an interception to senior defensive back DJ Turner, though it looked like the ball was clearly trapped against the ground. Despite that, there was no time stoppage for an official review, much to the dismay of Terps fans.
Michigan ultimately took a 17-13 halftime lead with a touchdown on an eight-play, 70-yard drive in the final minute and change of the half. The Terps left a lot to be desired by not executing to end the half, but they were still competing.
“I’d like our effort by our team — we play for four quarters. I’d like to see us not give good teams the opportunities that we gave Michigan, and they took advantage of it,” Locksley said. “But definitely a step in the right direction for our program to be able to get this stuff fixed and get it fixed in time for an opportunity in ‘The Shell’ next week.”
Even though this isn’t exactly the next step for Maryland, holding the lead on the road against a top-five team for almost a quarter in the first half is undoubtedly an improvement.
The Terps cleaned up their discipline.
A lack of discipline has been a theme for Maryland, one that it hasn’t backed away from either.
In 2021, Maryland committed the second-most penalties (88) in the Big Ten and had the third-most penalty yardage (743 yards) in the conference. Thus far in 2022, that trend had continued.
After committing eight penalties in each of their first two games, the Terps nearly threw their week three game against SMU away by committing 15 penalties for 141 yards.
The Terps heard the murmurs, and Locksley continuously had to answer for them in his media availabilities. On Saturday against a premier opponent, his team responded.
“I guess they did what they’re coached to do,” Locksley said.
Maryland committed zero penalties for nearly the first 58 minutes of Saturday’s game. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Delmar Glaze was flagged for a false start on the Terps’ final drive for their lone penalty. Maryland’s defense played a clean game and was not hit with a single penalty call.
“We’re heading in the right direction with that,” senior defensive back Jakorian Bennett said. “Coach put emphasis on just not doing dumb things and not beating ourselves… We really kind of locked in and really focused today.”
If Maryland can continue to play with limited penalties, it will put itself in position to win more big games in the future.
Regardless of the loss, Maryland football proved it can compete with the best in the conference.
The Terps took the next step toward the next step.
Locksley has detailed how the program needs to “close the gap” between itself and the top Big Ten teams. He’s also dove into the “next step” for Maryland after winning its first bowl game in 11 seasons last December. Maryland inched closer to both those goals Saturday.
“This is a good game to build upon,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Spencer Anderson said. “Obviously, we didn’t have the result we wanted, but something to build upon. Get in, get it watched and on to the next.”
Saturday’s game was in limbo until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, which is all Maryland fans could have asked for. Not only were the Terps in a position to keep the deficit close, but they were in a position to fight for a win.
After holding the Wolverines to just a field goal, Maryland got the ball back trailing by just a possession with fewer than six and a half minutes to play.
Tagovailoa, for as many impressive plays as he made both running and throwing the rock Saturday, made a brutal decision at his own 30-yard line. Looking for junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland, Tagovailoa threw a prayer into double coverage in Michigan territory. Junior defensive back R.J. Moten made an outstanding play — batting the ball to himself for the interception and effectively ending all chances for the Terps.
Maryland’s defense fought on the next drive, but Michigan running back Blake Corum iced the win with an ensuing 47-yard rushing touchdown.
“Now we took some steps forward, obviously as a program, and that there are some things that I thought that we showed where we have a chance to be, who we have a chance to be as a team,” Locksley said. “But the moral victories and coming close and all of that, man, that’s not what we’re about.”
The frustration of letting a potentially program-altering win slip was palpable, but the performance should prove to be encouraging in the long run. Against the best of the best, Maryland fans would much rather prefer a heartbreaker than a 50-point blowout.