Maryland football came out of its bye week and seemed to take another step backward against a run-heavy Minnesota team.
It was a rough outing for the Terps on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis as head coach Michael Locksley’s program fell 34-16. It was the third straight loss for a Maryland team that rattled off four straight wins to start the 2021 season.
“Come Monday, we’re gonna coach whoever shows up that has the mindset that they have enough pride to get this thing fixed, because right about now, pride comes into play,” head coach Michael Locksley said after the loss. “We let a team rush for 300 yards at will, again, the drops on the offensive side of the ball, penalties continuing, these are all things that every week we keep talking about and we got to get it fixed, we got to get those guys out of the game, off the field and again it’s not just the players, coaches, too.”
Looking ahead, Maryland will face Indiana in College Park next Saturday at noon. There are just five games remaining on the 2021 schedule, and after taking on the Hoosiers at home next week, Maryland will stay at home and take on Penn State, a team that just got upset by Illinois.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest takeaways from Maryland’s loss to Minnesota.
Maryland’s defense had no response to Minnesota’s rushing attack
Minnesota came into Saturday’s contest against Maryland with a very consistent ground game, averaging around 190 rushing yards per game which were good enough for sixth-best in the Big Ten.
However, there were plenty of concerns for the Golden Gophers’ rushing attack as the program’s two top running backs, Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts, were already ruled out for the season before the game. Ibrahim has been out since exiting in Minnesota’s first game of the season and Trey Potts was deemed out for the remainder of 2021 on Oct. 11.
It was reported that Minnesota would remedy its injury-ridden rushing game with a running back by committee scheme the rest of the way, leaving it without a star back to carry the load for one of the conference’s best rushing attacks.
But as it turned out on Saturday afternoon, no star back, no problem for the Golden Gophers.
P.J. Fleck’s program took it right to Maryland’s defense and stuck its roots and made it clear that it would not go away from the ground game early on. Minnesota hit 100 rushing yards just two minutes into the second quarter. It was a combination of Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving that carried the load on the ground and the duo did a phenomenal job finding holes and breaking free into open space.
The Terps struggled to put an end to the Golden Gophers’ rushing dominance in the second quarter as well. Backed by a few hard runs from Thomas, including his 10-yard touchdown scamper to put his team up 17-3, Minnesota finished the first half with a collective 175 rushing yards on 27 carries, which equates to 6.5 yards per carry.
To put it in comparison, Maryland averaged around 136 rushing yards entering the game, making Minnesota’s first-half feat on the ground even more impressive.
The Golden Gophers were relentless early in the second half too, as they added 23 more rushing yards on the opening drive of the third quarter and collected the team’s third total rushing touchdown of the game.
Soon after, a fourth different Golden Gopher scored a rushing touchdown to break the game open.
It was a typical ground-heavy game for Minnesota and it did an excellent job of taking it right into the heart of Maryland’s defense. The Golden Gophers ended with 56 total rushes for 326 yards, along with the four rushing touchdowns.
“Technique and effort, we just gotta focus on doing our jobs and being efficient and just getting the job done,” sophomore linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said about what the defense needs to do moving forward. “We gotta get off the field on third down, that’s a big goal for our defense... we have to continue to work on that.”
It’s important to give a ton of credit to the Golden Gophers, but the Terps’ inability to stop the rushing attack made the ultimate difference.
Mistakes continue to be at the forefront of Maryland’s failures
It wasn’t a pretty opening half for a Maryland team that came into Saturday with the third-most penalties in the conference. After six games in 2021, the Terps averaged a whopping 62.3 penalty yards per game, and the lack of discipline is something that has been touched on nearly all season long. Turnovers have also been an area of concern in the team’s last two losses, and that trend continued right away against Minnesota.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who had eight interceptions over his last three games coming into the meeting with the Golden Gophers, was stripped on the fourth offensive play of the game and gave the ball away to Minnesota just over a minute into the game.
Then on Maryland’s second drive of the game, the mistakes that have plagued the Terps ensued.
Sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett helped Maryland get into the red zone with a 38-yard catch, but redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis put a damper in the Terps’ scoring hopes soon after. On a six-yard reception from tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo that put Maryland on the Minnesota five-yard line, Fleet-Davis committed an offensive pass interference penalty that pushed the offense back 15 yards. Maryland was forced to settle for a field goal on that drive.
Along with being penalized for having two players on the field wearing the No. 99 on a punt, Maryland’s problems only got worse later on. On a third-and-17 nearing the end of the half, defensive back Tarheeb Still committed a sloppy holding penalty, negating a sack from defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu who got to quarterback Tanner Morgan in the backfield. Luckily for the Terps though, they blocked a Golden Gophers’ field goal try to end the first half.
Maryland ended the first half down seven with six total penalties for 65 yards, along with one turnover.
Then down 31-10 in hopes of making a comeback, Maryland was flagged for having an ineligible man downfield late on third down in the third quarter on one of its more successful drives of the second half. Maryland then failed to convert the third-and-long en route to a punt.
Overall, the mistakes in the opening half did Maryland in from the get-go and the team simply couldn’t recover. The Terps finished the game with eight total penalties for 79 yards.
The Terps were unable to complete the second-half comeback after a rough third quarter stretch
Trailing by seven coming into the third quarter, Minnesota received the kickoff and immediately put a dent in the Terps’ comeback hopes with a strong drive into Maryland territory.
It took the Golden Gophers just 11 plays to go 75 yards down the field and their efficient drive was capped off with a two-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 14 with under 10 minutes left in the third frame. Maryland was starting to gain some momentum towards the end of the opening half, but Minnesota’s prompt response kept the Terps at a major disadvantage the rest of the way.
Down by two touchdowns on the next drive, Maryland and Tagovailoa clearly started to feel the pressure. The Terps failed to convert a third-and-1 from their own 34-yard line, and then Tagovailoa tossed an incompletion intended for Okonkwo on a fourth down, which gave the ball back to Minnesota in a dangerous area.
The Golden Gophers then put the Terps’ comeback hopes to rest with a two-minute, 34-yard drive that ended with Irving running away for a nine-yard touchdown to put Minnesota up 31-10 with just under a quarter and a half remaining.
Maryland couldn't recover after giving up 14 consecutive points in the third quarter and eventually fell by 18 points in what was a disappointing second-half effort from the offense.
After this loss, Maryland now stands at 4-3 on the season after starting off 2021 with four straight wins and its best start since 2016. The Terps’ road won't get any easier, with matchups coming against Indiana, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Rutgers for the remainder of 2021.
“I just think guys just have to have pride,” sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said about what it will take for the team to snap its three-game losing streak. “I mean, have to, just don’t want to lose, I mean, be more desperate to win than being okay with losing, that’s it really.”