Maryland football’s offense took the field on its 4-yard line with plenty of energy in the early third quarter Nov. 28. The Terps’ defense had just stuffed Indiana on fourth down, preventing the Hoosiers from adding to their 7-3 lead. Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa took the first snap of the drive, faked a handoff to freshman running back Peny Boone and rolled to his right. Then disaster struck.
Indiana defensive end D.K. Bonhomme wasn’t fooled by the fake, and he burst through the line to meet Tagovailoa in the end zone. He brought the quarterback down on the red paint for a safety, giving the Hoosiers a 9-3 lead and the ball right back. Indiana would score on its next three possessions and leave the Terps in the dust.
Maryland fell 27-11 to the No. 12-ranked Hoosiers on the road, spoiling the Terps’ return to the field for the first time in three weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.
Head coach Michael Locksley’s team, down 23 players who had tested positive in the last two-plus weeks, came out strong, shutting down Indiana’s offense and giving itself scoring opportunities throughout the first half. But a series of costly Terrapin mistakes gave the Hoosiers a 7-3 lead at halftime, and Indiana broke the game open in the second half.
“I thought two of the three phases of our team today came and executed as if we were prepared,” Locksley said, “and the one phase, offensively, I didn’t feel like we were prepared and I didn’t do a good job getting this team ready.”
Tagovailoa, who earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for his previous two performances against Minnesota and Penn State, never found a rhythm in this game. He threw three interceptions against one touchdown, and completed just 17 of 36 passes for 241 yards. He had help from the running game in the first half, but simply couldn’t rally the offense after the Terps fell behind.
Maryland outgained Indiana, 237-139, in the first half and drove inside the Hoosiers’ 25-yard line four different times, but came away with just three points due to two interceptions and a missed field goal. Indiana then dominated the third quarter, holding the ball for 13:31 and gaining 157 yards while the Terps lost 5 yards. The Hoosiers kept the pedal down in the fourth quarter, stretching the lead to 27-3 before Tagovailoa and Dontay Demus Jr. connected for a 43-yard score in the final minutes.
Indiana entered this game averaging just 76 rush yards per game, 123rd nationally out of 127 ranked teams. But the Hoosiers gashed Maryland on the ground, piling up 234 yards on 48 carries. Tim Baldwin Jr. tallied 106 yards on 16 attempts, while Stevie Scott had 20 carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. struggled before leaving the game with an injury, but the Hoosiers had enough in the backfield to win comfortably.
Maryland fell to 2-2 with the loss, while Indiana reached 5-1 with the win. Only Ohio State has beaten the Hoosiers this season, and with the Buckeyes being forced to cancel their contest against Illinois, there’s a scenario in which Ohio State suffers another cancellation and Indiana reaches the Big Ten title game by virtue of playing the required six games.
Here’s what stood out from the unraveling in Bloomington.
1. Maryland’s early missed opportunities proved costly.
The Terps’ offense moved the ball well in the opening half, but something went wrong every time.
• Maryland reached Indiana’s 12 on the opening drive of the game, but Tagovailoa missed an open Dontay Demus Jr. in the end zone and kicker Joseph Petrino missed a 29-yard field goal wide left.
• Later in the first quarter, Maryland faced a second-and-5 from the Indiana 20, but false start and illegal shift penalties helped lead to a third-and-14 from the 29. Tagovailoa threw deep and was intercepted at the 2-yard line.
• The Terps were back at the Hoosiers’ 21 after taking advantage of a short field early in the second quarter, but on third-and-9, Tagovailoa was picked off again, and Indiana’s Jaylin Williams ran it back 39 yards into Maryland territory. Demus ran him down and forced a fumble to regain possession, but the Terps ultimately punted.
• Maryland once again reached Indiana’s 21 two drives later, but a Boone 10-yard run was called back on an illegal formation penalty. The drive stalled on that series and the Terps settled for a Petrino 38-yard field goal.
That’s how a team enters the half trailing 7-3 despite piling up 237 yards of offense in a half. And in the second half, those opportunities simply didn’t come.
2. Taulia Tagovailoa fell back to earth.
The sophomore has now had two clunkers sandwiching two stellar performances, with a two-week layoff mixed in. He still had his moments in this game and is as promising as any Maryland quarterback in years, but clearly wasn’t sharp in this one. Tagovailoa started 3-of-10 and was 12-of-28 with two picks at halftime; if he’s more effective in the first half, Maryland likely plays a lot of this game with the lead.
“He uncharacteristically missed some early throws when some guys were open,” Locksley said. “Accuracy and touch and putting the ball where it needs to be put to be caught, typically isn’t something that we’ve had to deal with with him.”
Tagovailoa faced plenty of pressure from the Hoosiers’ front seven, especially in the second half, and his interceptions thrown in traffic could have easily fallen incomplete. But Maryland knows it will need better decision-making from its signal caller going forward.
“It was just more frustrating on my part, just because we did this stuff in practice,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s just frustrating for me not to take what we do in practice on the field, and I take total responsibility for that.”
3. Both sides of the ball responded well to COVID-19 absences.
Maryland never released the names of players who tested positive for the virus, nor did the Terps update their depth chart in advance of this game. But when they stepped between the lines Nov. 28, nine starters were out of commission: running back Jake Funk, wide receivers Rakim Jarrett and Jeshaun Jones, offensive linemen Johnny Jordan and Marcus Minor, linebackers Ayinde Eley and Fa’Najae Gotay, cornerback Tarheeb Still and safety Nick Cross.
That’s a lot of missing production — Funk was averaging 7.8 yards per carry as the lead back, Jarrett had 144 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Penn State, and Cross and Still had emerged as the stars of Maryland’s secondary. But the Terps saw solid performances from the next men up on both sides.
Freshman running backs Boone and Isaiah Jacobs were solid in relief of Funk, combining for 67 yards on 16 carries, mostly in the first half. Demus led the receiving corps with two starters out — six catches, 114 yards and a touchdown — but juniors Brian Cobbs and Darryl Jones, senior Carlos Carriere and freshman DeaJaun McDougle chipped in two receptions each. Up front, right tackle Spencer Anderson slid to center, with Evan Gregory and Amelio Moran manning the right side of the offensive line.
On defense, Maryland wasn’t forced to plug in many players who hadn’t been in the rotation this season. Freshman linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II stepped in at linebacker, and the Terps defended Indiana in a 3-3-5 scheme with Deonte Banks and Kenny Bennett at outside corner, Jakorian Bennett at nickel and Antwaine Richardson and Jordan Mosley at safety. And the scheme flustered Indiana’s offense — Penix started 2-of-15 passing for just 37 yards (he finished 6-of-19 for 84).
4. Untimely penalties helped the game slide away.
Maryland committed eight penalties for 55 yards Nov. 28, far more than Indiana’s three for 20 yards. And every single one of those flags flew in a key moment.
• 9:45 1Q — Left guard Johari Branch’s holding penalty negated a 16-yard scramble by Tagovailoa on third-and-10 that would have brought the Terps into Indiana territory. The third-and-20 pass was incomplete and Maryland punted.
• 1:39, 0:41 1Q — A Branch false start and an illegal shift, sandwiched by a 1-yard Boone run, turned second-and-5 into third-and-14 before Tagovailoa threw a pick.
• 5:07 2Q — Maryland had an illegal formation penalty negate Boone’s first-down run to the Indiana 11, instead setting up second-and-15 from the 26. The Terps settled for a field goal.
• 8:25 1Q, 5:00 1Q — With Indiana facing third-and-11 on its second drive, Maryland jumped offside, giving the Hoosiers a free play. Penix threw a 37-yard pass to Miles Marshall in traffic. Later in the drive, a sideline interference penalty gave Indiana first-and-goal at the 5 instead of the 10; Scott scored two plays later.
• 6:49, 4:57 3Q — Linebacker Joseph Boletepelli jumped offside on an Indiana third-and-3 in the third quarter, giving the Hoosiers a first down without a play. Fellow linebacker Durrell Nchami jumped later in the possession, which ended in a touchdown.
• 0:13 3Q — With Maryland down 17-3 late in the third, Deonte Banks’ pass interference on Marshall gave the Hoosiers 15 yards and a first down at the Terps’ 14. They kicked an easy field goal to go up three scores.
Less than ideal.
5. The Terps still have opportunities ahead of them.
Maryland has two games remaining in its regular season. The Terps visit Michigan Dec. 5, then host Rutgers Dec. 12. The Wolverines are 2-4 after falling to previously winless Penn State at home Nov. 28, while Rutgers entered the weekend 1-4. Both games are eminently winnable for Maryland, and even a split would give them a chance at a winning season if they can win their ninth game against a to-be-determined West division opponent.
When the Terps take the field again, they’re expected to return eight players who were part of the first wave of positive tests in the program. Those players have completed the required 14-day quarantine, but Big Ten rules mandate an extra seven days of absence for additional testing. It’s currently unclear which Maryland players fall in this category.
The game at Indiana, especially in the second half, was a setback in what’s been a promising season. Locksley’s team regrouped quickly from its last loss, though, and now it needs to do the same again.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics