The last few seasons of Maryland football have followed a familiar script. The Terps have developed a penchant for early-season wins — remember those two upsets of Texas? — followed by a crash down to earth. Maryland hasn’t made a bowl since 2016 or won more than three Big Ten games since 2014. Last year, the Terps dropped their final seven contests, mostly in blowout fashion, en route to a 3-9 record.

In 2020’s pandemic season, with no September to build up hope and no unsuspecting non-conference foes to squash, Maryland wasted no time falling apart. The Terps lost 43-3 to Northwestern in their season opener Oct. 24, their first loss to start a campaign since 2009.

With new quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa running the offense, Maryland looked competent on its opening drive, reaching the red zone before settling for a field goal. But then Northwestern took the lead, and Tagovailoa threw a pair of first-quarter interceptions, and Maryland suddenly had no answers on either side of the ball. The Wildcats led 30-3 at halftime and tacked on two more scores in the second half for good measure. Maryland never scored again. Northwestern outgained the Terps 537-207 on the night and held the ball for 37:21 of game time.

Here’s what stood out from the ugly loss:

1. Maryland’s defense was emphatically bad.

This was evident quite early. Northwestern marched 75 yards down the field in 14 plays for a touchdown on its opening drive, then needed just five plays to travel 55 yards and score again on its second possession. After a punt, the Wildcats’ next five drives resulted in a field goal, touchdown, field goal, field goal and touchdown (this one lasted 8:31 and went for 75 yards in 17 plays).

Maryland couldn’t stop the run; Northwestern pounded out 325 yards on 53 carries, scoring three times on the ground. Maryland couldn’t stop the pass; Peyton Ramsey went 23-of-30 for 212 yards and a touchdown, with open targets all night. Maryland couldn’t get off the field; Northwestern was 8-of-15 on third down and 3-of-3 on fourth down. Maryland couldn’t get pressure up front, registering no sacks at all.

Junior inside linebacker Chance Campbell was as much of a bright spot as anybody on the team, tallying 14 total tackles (10 solo) and 1.5 tackles for loss.

2. The offense showed promise for one drive, but that was it.

Tagovailoa went 6-of-7 on the opening possession, and senior running back Jake Funk put the Terps in scoring position with a 24-yard gain. The drive stalled in the red zone, though, leading to a Joseph Petrino 33-yard field goal (it’s worth noting that Maryland is already halfway to its 2019 total of two made field goals). It was a promising start.

Then the wheels fell off. Tagovailoa overthrew Rakim Jarrett for an interception on Maryland’s second drive. He overthrew Dontay Demus for an interception on the next drive. The Terps gained one first down in their final five possessions of the half. While things improved slightly after the intermission, it was already garbage time. Backup quarterback Lance LeGendre entered in the fourth quarter and led the Terps on an eight-play, 76-yard drive that came up empty as time expired.

Tagovailoa finished 14-of-25 for 94 yards with three interceptions. Maryland ran for just 64 yards on 20 attempts (although that number improves to 80 on 17 if you take away three sacks). LeGendre went 4-of-4 for 49 yards, but still couldn’t get the Terps back on the scoreboard.

3. The Terps lost Durell Nchami early.

The redshirt sophomore JACK linebacker (primarily a weak-side pass-rushing role) left the game on Northwestern’s opening drive with a lower leg injury and did not return, instead watching the second half in street clothes. Head coach Michael Locksley said after the game Nchami will have an MRI when the team returns to College Park, Md.

Nchami tallied 15 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack as a true freshman in 2018, but he tore his ACL in fall camp last year and missed the season. If Nchami misses significant time this fall, the Terps have a couple potential replacements. Redshirt freshman Deshawn Holt was listed as a potential starter at JACK on this week’s depth chart and saw the majority of the action at the spot in relief, while Shaq Smith held the role in 2019 before shifting back to inside linebacker in camp. There might be other viable options, but those two seem most likely.

4. It was a tough start for some new faces.

Tagovailoa’s struggles will dominate the headlines, but freshman running back Isaiah Jacobs might have had an even rockier Terps debut. He gained just 15 yards on six attempts, and a handful of decent kickoff returns were overshadowed by a muff and lost fumble in the second quarter. With fellow rookie running back Peny Boone impressing in late action — 30 yards on five carries — Jacobs will have to earn his share of the carries going forward. Five-star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett was targeted three times but recorded just one reception for 1 yard in his first college game.

The defensive line featured two JuCo additions in nose tackle Ami Finau and defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite, both of whom struggled. Freshman linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and cornerback Tarheeb Still both recorded four tackles, as did sophomore defensive end Joseph Boletepelli. Maryland will need several of these players to step up if it wants to be competitive going forward.

5. On a hectic weekend in the Big Ten, Maryland turned in by far the league’s worst performance.

A lot happened in the conference’s return to play. Indiana knocked off No. 8 Penn State in Bloomington, Ind. Rutgers picked up a win (!!!) at Michigan State. Ohio State and Wisconsin picked up commanding wins, while Michigan looked dominant against Minnesota. Some teams looked good and some teams looked bad — and then there was Maryland, getting blown out by 40 points against a foe that went 3-9 last year.

This is a program that’s been overwhelmed by the Big Ten, and especially the East division, seemingly ever since joining the conference. Maryland is now 5-34 against league opponents not named Rutgers since 2015, and with one game in the books this year, Rutgers looks far ahead of the Terps. The possibility of an 0-9 campaign is much closer now than ever.

Maryland’s popular Twitter mantra, #TBIA — “the best is ahead” — still rings true. That’s partly because the current roster is still incredibly young (only two senior starters) and the 2021 recruiting class is ranked 18th in the country. And it’s partly because this game could not possibly have gone worse.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Thomas Kendziora

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