Maryland football seemed to be finding its footing trailing 10-7 in the early stages of the second quarter of its matchup in College Park against the undefeated No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes, but things on the field went from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
Senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. fumbled a kickoff return back into Iowa’s possession, which led directly to the Hawkeyes’ second touchdown of the night almost right away. Assisted by glaring mistakes from Maryland’s offense, Iowa then added on two more quick touchdowns to balloon its advantage to an unreachable 31-7 margin.
Maryland conceded 31 consecutive points in the second quarter, which was ultimately enough to put it away for good, as the Terps fell 51-14 on Friday night at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.
“Disappointed for our fans, disappointed for our supporters and for our team,” Maryland head coach Michael Locksley said. “Give Iowa credit, they’re a good football team that took full advantage of the opportunities we presented them.”
After starting 4-0 for the first time since the 2016 season, Maryland finally met its match on its own home turf. The Terps’ first loss of the season moves them to 4-1 on the season, as Iowa remains perfect with a 5-0 record.
“I also think it’s important that we realize, this is just one game and it’s important for us as a team to understand that one game shouldn’t and can’t define us and we can’t let one game playing poorly lead to a second one,” Locksley said. “So what we need to do is get back in as a team and as a coaching staff... make the necessary adjustments that we need to make and get our team ready to bounce back.”
In what was expected to be a clash of strengths between Maryland’s third-highest scoring offense and Iowa’s top-ranked defense in the Big Ten, it was the Hawkeyes’ secondary that caused problems for Maryland right out of the gates, something that was a recurring thorn in the Terps’ side all evening.
After both teams punted on their initial offensive drives, the Terps sought to use a fast-paced offense to try and combat Iowa’s ever-reliable defense. However, after a false start pushed Maryland back to a third-and-6, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa attempted to squeeze in a throw near the left sideline, but the junior was picked off by the Big Ten’s interception leader, defensive back Riley Moss, with 9:16 left in the first quarter to put Iowa in business.
After Tagovailoa’s second interception of the season, Iowa drew blood first. The Hawkeyes managed to go 27 yards over seven plays and were stopped on the drive due in part to sophomore Tarheeb Still’s two pass breakups, but they eventually hit a 41-yard field goal with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead.
Maryland’s usually-efficient offense, which had a slow start similar to the one it had last week against Kent State, offered a prompt response after falling behind. Demus added two consecutive catches for 26 yards and 22 yards to put Maryland in striking distance with just over three minutes left in the opening frame. Then, senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo capped off the Terps’ 69-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown, his third score of 2021, to give Maryland a 7-3 advantage.
It was an encouraging drive from Maryland’s passing game that seemed to opt for short throws within five yards early on, but the Terps’ third offensive possession of the game saw more of an aggressive downfield attack, which seemed to have Iowa on its heels for the moment.
Maryland’s four-point lead was fairly short-lived, though, as Iowa roared back on the ensuing drive to recapture the lead in the opening stages of the second quarter. Quarterback Spencer Petras led the Hawkeyes 59 yards down the field and finished off the drive by plunging into the end zone from one yard out to put Iowa up 10-7.
It was just after that point where one of Maryland’s offensive stars went down with an injury, which inevitably turned the tides of the contest. On the ensuing kickoff return, Demus returned the ball about 10 yards and then got twisted up while being tackled and fumbled the football back into Iowa’s possession. Shortly after Demus was carted off, Petras tossed an eight-yard touchdown to increase Maryland’s deficit to 10 with just over 14 minutes left in the first half.
And even as the Terps’ hopes were quickly diminishing down 17-7, things got worse very quickly.
On Maryland’s first play of its next offensive drive, Tagovailoa was forced into his second interception of the day, putting Iowa back in the driver’s seat near the red zone. It didn't take long once again for the Hawkeyes to capitalize. With the help of another one-yard quarterback sneak from Petras, Maryland found itself down by a significant margin in a very swift manner.
“He’s a good quarterback, good player, that made some good passes, receivers caught some good passes,” Still said of Petras.
To put the Hawkeyes’ offensive explosion into perspective, Maryland was up 7-3 at the start of the second quarter. With less than 11 minutes left in the half, though, the Terps all of a sudden trailed 24-7 in what was an abrupt turn of events that fell directly into Iowa’s favor.
Tagovailoa, who was a star through Maryland’s opening four games, looked like a shell of himself against Iowa’s swarming defense. The junior proceeded to toss his third pick of the half with around 10 minutes left in the second quarter, spotting Iowa’s offense in Maryland territory yet again.
Two straight pass interferences and an unsportsmanlike call were then flagged on the Terps, which allowed Iowa to cruise its way to its fourth touchdown of the day as Maryland trailed 31-7. The Hawkeyes tacked on another three points just before the half to take a commanding 27-point lead heading into the break.
Maryland’s collapse spilled over directly into the early portion of the third quarter. Petras found running back Tyler Goodson on a route in the middle of the field and he sprinted into open space for an eventual 67-yard touchdown to bring the score to 41-7 in favor of the Hawkeyes.
After Iowa knocked in a field goal to extend its lead even further, Maryland's offense finally showered a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel midway through the third frame. For the second time all game, Tagovailoa marched the Terps down the field for more than 20 yards on a single drive. Tagovailoa finished off Maryland’s eight-play, 75-yard drive with a seven-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett for the team’s second touchdown of the night.
The fourth quarter saw much of the same from Iowa’s side that dominated for just about every minute of Friday’s showdown. The Hawkeyes piled onto their lead with Petras’ third passing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put the score at 51-14, which ended up being the final score of the contest.
The last time Maryland gave up at least 50 points in a game was back in 2019 when it surrendered 54 points to Nebraska in late November.
“This team is better than what we showed tonight and it’s my job as a coach to get us to play that way, each and every week and I’m sure they will respond the right way,” Locksley said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s star wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. exited early on with an injury. When Maryland was down 10-7 early in the second quarter, it seemed that it would be a fairly tight contest the rest of the way. However, Demus, the Big Ten’s leader in receiving yards per game through four games, then went down with an apparent leg injury on a kickoff return after getting twisted up.
“He’s the best player on our team, so you know, when something like that happens, it’s bound to affect the team,” Okonkwo said.
Demus has easily been one of Maryland’s most influential offensive factors through five games and his injury is a bad sign for the Terps. Without a healthy Demus, Maryland’s passing game should be downgraded moving forward, and only time will tell how severe the star wideout’s injury is.
2. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had his worst performance of the season. After racking up 10 passing touchdowns and the highest completion percentage out of Big Ten quarterbacks through four games, Tagovailoa crashed back down to earth against the conference’s best defense. Tagovailoa had three interceptions in the first half alone en route to his 16-for-29 passing day. He ended with just 157 yards and didn't exhibit the improved decision-making that he displayed before Friday’s game.
3. Maryland’s discipline faltered when it mattered most. In the first half alone, the Terps had eight different penalties flagged against them. Five of those first-half flags were on the defense, with three of them being pass interference. The offense also had three false starts against it. Maryland was as undisciplined as it was all season and it eventually finished the game with a grand total of 10 penalties for 86 yards. It’s safe to say that the Terps gifted the Hawkeyes a significant amount of yardage through flags en route to the program’s first loss of the season.
“It’s just simple, we gotta clean up the little stuff, we gotta stop the penalties and we gotta stop beating ourselves,” Still said.