Already leading by 14 in the fourth quarter, Maryland football needed just one more defensive stop to finally bury Michigan State.
Pitching a second-half shutout, Maryland’s defense was faced with a fourth-and-10 at its 19-yard line. Quickly collapsing the pocket, Michigan State redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne scrambled in search of the first down. The Terps’ cornerback tandem of junior Tarheeb Still and redshirt junior Deonte Banks rushed Thorne out-of-bounds before the line to gain, and a Michigan State holding call that would have washed away the run was declined anyways.
The Terps locked down defensively in the second half, helping Maryland completely dictate the game and improve to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. It was Maryland’s first win over Michigan State since 2016, and just its second since it joined the Big Ten in 2014.
“If you look at the way the second half played out, our defense gave up, I think, 75 yards, no points,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “To me, this is the third game in a row where our defensive staff, led by coach [Brian] Williams, has done a tremendous job of making the necessary adjustments at the half and coming out and playing really good defense for us.”
The debut of the newly-named SECU Stadium was shadowed by overcast weather, but the Terps christened the place in style with their 2022 debut of the red “Terps script” uniforms.
Maryland’s offense pushed through adversity early, overcoming a holding penalty on the opening kickoff with a 12-play, 93-yard touchdown drive to give it a 7-0 lead. Redshirt freshman running back Antwain Littleton II punctuated the sequence with a 15-yard rushing touchdown, his sixth straight game with a rushing score.
The Spartans responded quickly, rifling off an eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive of their own. The Terps struggled early in pass coverage and missed plenty of tackles as redshirt senior running back Elijah Collins’ 12-yard rushing score tied the game.
Continuing to move with ease when it got the ball back, Maryland scored its second touchdown on its second drive. With a 44-yard pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches, redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa showed his ability to make plays outside the pocket. Sophomore running back Colby McDonald generated a 14-7 Maryland lead with a 2-yard rush into the end zone.
After both teams traded punts, the Terps tightened up in the red zone, forcing a Spartan 33-yard field goal miss to begin the second quarter.
But the Terps couldn’t capitalize, going three-and-out and gifting the ball to Michigan State. The Spartans marched 85 yards on 12 plays, capped off by redshirt senior wideout Jayden Reed’s 12-yard touchdown reception. However, Michigan State botched the snap on the extra point attempt, and Maryland held a 14-13 lead with about four minutes to play in the first half.
The Terps responded methodically, as Tagovailoa and company blazed down the field. Maryland’s signal caller completed 10-of-12 passes on the 80-yard drive and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, handing Maryland a 21-13 lead right before halftime.
That wouldn’t be it for the first half, though, as controversy reigned. Sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. seemed to have a pick-six to give Maryland a two-possession lead heading into halftime, but a defenseless hit personal foul call on sophomore defensive back Corey Coley Jr. not only nullified the touchdown but allowed the Spartans to retain possession with an extra 15 yards. The call was certainly questionable, and the home faithful let the officials hear it.
The Spartans ultimately attempted a 45-yard field goal to end the half, which was blocked by senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett to conclude an eventful first 30 minutes.
After forcing a three-and-out to start the second half, senior kicker Chad Ryland — from 43 yards — nailed his 24th straight field goal to put Maryland in front, 24-13, halfway through the third quarter.
“We really take the momentum, the defense helps us gain momentum,” Littleton said. “We’re able to just go out there and just do our jobs, and it just makes it easier for us to go out there and score.”
Maryland’s defense again came up clutch by forcing another Spartans punt with a third-down sack, but the Terps could not put points on the board after Ryland missed his first kick of the year.
The Terps got the ball back again and seemed to put the finishing touches on Saturday’s game after Littleton took a handoff 68 yards to the Michigan State 2-yard line. Amazingly enough, the Terps tried pounding it in with Littleton four more times in short distance, and he did not break the plane once. The Spartans’ gutsy goal-line stand kept them afloat with fewer than 12 minutes to play.
“I was pretty upset,” Littleton said. “I felt like I had a little bit more in the tank for me to finish that run.”
Starting with the nose of the football just above the goal line, the Spartans couldn’t get anything going and went three-and-out as rain trickled down in College Park.
On the ensuing Maryland drive, the Terps only moved the ball 19 yards. From 51 yards out, Ryland redeemed himself and stretched Maryland’s lead to 27-13 with under eight minutes remaining. Ryland’s second field goal would be all the insurance the Terps needed.
Maryland’s defense was its calling card, but Tagovailoa shined as well. He completed 32-of-41 passes to 10 different receivers for a total of 314 yards, climbing up the Maryland record books doing so.
The Terps can inch closer to bowl eligibility next Saturday with another home game against 3-2 Purdue.
Three things to know
1. Maryland has been in the middle of officiating controversy in its past two games. Last Saturday, the Terps went toe-to-toe on the road with the reigning Big Ten champs in Michigan. Tagovailoa threw two crucial picks against the Wolverines, and at least one of them seemed to hit the ground. Against the Spartans, the situation to end the second quarter was much to the befuddlement of Locksley and Terp fans. Whether it was the right call or not, the Terps have been on the wrong side of big-time, questionable calls in back-to-back weeks.
“I’m not [going to] go down that rabbit hole about that flag and a lack of a touchdown,” Locksley said. “But again, we always talk about controlling the things we can control. We can’t control the referees, we can’t control the calls. At some point, I think we’ll earn respect around here where we are able to take advantage of calls like that.”
2. The Terps’ defense set the tone in the second half. Maryland forced three Michigan State punts on its first three drives of the second half, none of which lasted more than four plays before booting the ball away. Maryland didn’t put on an offensive clinic by any means in the second half, but its defense limited any chance of the Spartans even making it a one-score game. A lot of credit has to be given to defensive coordinator Brian Williams and his second-half adjustments.
“The biggest thing is just communicating,” Still said. “A lot of time in the first half they caught us off guard not talking. But once we communicated, we got lined up, we were pretty good.”
3. Maryland picked up a meaningful Big Ten win over the Spartans. Though Michigan State’s program is seen as the fourth-best in the Big Ten East behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, the Spartans have owned Maryland since it joined the conference. The Terps had lost four straight — and six of seven — to the Spartans since 2014, and Saturday’s win was their first against them since Oct. 22, 2016. Though not monumental, Maryland’s performance is another sign that it is closing the gap within the conference.