A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Maryland redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back and delivered a pass to junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland for 11 yards and a first down.
When the play ended, though, all attention immediately turned to the Terps’ star quarterback, down on the field holding his knee in pain.
After being attended to by the training staff, Tagovailoa was carted off the field, seemingly ending Maryland’s hopes at a comeback.
But, with redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr. in at quarterback calling the signals and redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby carrying the load, the Terps pulled out a 38-33 victory in Bloomington, Indiana Saturday afternoon.
“When I got the play call, I gave it to them and I said ‘Let’s go to work,’” said Edwards, who has played sparingly when Tagovailoa has gone down on a few occasions this season.
The win moved the Terps to 5-2 for the first time since 2016.
Maryland’s offense has been oft-talked about as the key to the team’s success. Edwards Jr. has shown glimpses of his ability to lead the unit and move the ball effectively, but Tagovailoa has been heralded as one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Many have said that the Terps will go as far as Tagovailoa takes them. Now, if Tagovailoa’s injury is as serious as it initially appeared, it will be up to Edwards Jr. to step into that role and command the offense for the near future.
“You gotta prepare like you’re the starter, kinda just stay ready for whatever opportunity your number’s called,” Edwards said.
“We have tremendous faith in Billy and his ability to come in and execute. It’s a next man up mentality,” Locksley added.
Even though the game required a late comeback from the Terps, they quickly made an impact on the defensive end despite missing key pieces in the secondary. On the first play from scrimmage, Indiana redshirt junior quarterback Connor Bazelak’s pass was tipped up in the air and intercepted by junior cornerback Tarheeb Still, his first interception of the season.
“It was a really big play, especially it being the first play. Kind of unexpected, just came right to me,” Still said.
Taking advantage of the short field, Maryland quickly found the end zone, with junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa punching in a short touchdown. The Terps are the only team in the FBS that has scored on their first drive in every game this season.
Indiana redshirt senior kicker Charles Campbell broke the ice for the Hoosiers with a 38-yard field goal, but Maryland answered quickly with an impressive eight-play drive. After an athletic evasion and 26-yard pass to Tai Felton by Tagovailoa and a fourth-down conversion by Jeshaun Jones, sophomore tight end CJ Dippre scampered his way in for an 18-yard score to start the second quarter.
Up 14-3, it looked like the Terps had put enough distance between them and the Hoosiers to begin to pull away. But, the second quarter quickly spiraled into one of the worst Maryland has played all season.
Indiana rattled off 14 answered points to end the half, taking advantage of the Terps’ numerous mistakes.
With just under 10 minutes until halftime, Bazelak connected with senior running back Josh Henderson for a 44-yard touchdown after sophomore safety Dante Trader Jr. slipped and allowed him to go unmarked and waltz into the end zone untouched.
Then, Maryland promptly punted and gave the ball back to Indiana. After stopping the Hoosiers and forcing a punt, sophomore defensive lineman Taizse Johnson was called for a hold which kept the ball in Indiana’s hands. The Hoosiers made the most of their opportunity, marching into the end zone to take the lead heading into the half.
Bazelak set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to junior Cam Camper with a nifty 23-yard reception on a reverse from sophomore Donoven McCulley, who started last year’s matchup between the two teams at quarterback.
“We got kinda lackadaisical. We had a good first quarter ... we gotta keep the foot on the gas every play,” Still said of the defense’s rough second quarter.
Heading into the half down 17-14, Maryland needed a spark — badly.
Freshman wide receiver Octavian Smith Jr. jumpstarted the Terps’ drive with a 54-yard kick return to start the third quarter, leading to a 17-yard strike from Tagovailoa to senior wideout Dontay Demus Jr. for the former All-Big Ten pass-catcher’s first touchdown of the season.
The rest of the quarter wasn’t very eventful, as the only scores were field goals traded by Campbell and Maryland senior kicker Chad Ryland, but the Terps once again let the Hoosiers stay within striking distance and subsequently allowed them to take the lead. Whatever spark the early third-quarter drive had provided had dissipated.
On a quick seven-play drive, Indiana found the end zone for the third time Saturday afternoon, a short-yardage score by Henderson.
When Tagovailoa went down and Maryland had its back firmly against the wall, Hemby stepped up when called upon. He had 73 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead touchdown halfway through the period.
Edwards Jr. also was particularly effective running the ball, rushing for 53 yards, including a 31-yarder that set up Hemby’s score.
After a late Indiana touchdown, the Terps recovered an onside kick to seal a five-point win. They’ll have an opportunity to clinch bowl eligibility next week at home against Northwestern.
Three things to know
1. Penalties were a problem once again. In another showing of a lack of discipline, the Terps were flagged nine times for a total of 94 yards, including a few that came in incredibly inopportune moments. Now more than halfway through the season, the hope that Maryland’s penalty problem can be addressed seemed to be waning, but it still appears in crucial situations.
“We’re a good team and good teams don’t beat themselves,” Locksley said. “The penalties before the first half there that allowed them to score points at the end of the game, the false start by veteran players, those are the things that take away from our ability to celebrate a really tough, hard-fought game.”
2. Billy Edwards Jr. stepped up. After Tagovailoa’s injury, backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. had the ball put in his hands with the game on the line. He came through — and even while often deferring to Hemby — did what he needed to do to lead the Terps to a victory from behind. Tagovailoa’s status remains unclear, but there’s a good chance that Edwards Jr. will have the keys to the offense moving forward, at least in the near future.
“A road win in the Big Ten is very tough to come upon, so we obviously celebrated that ... injuries are a part of the game of football. They’re never fun, but you celebrate a win when you can and then you group around the brothers and the guys that got banged up,” Edwards said after the game.
3. The Terps were shorthanded. Maryland was without starters in left tackle Jaelyn Duncan, cornerback Jakorian Bennett and once again linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II against the Hoosiers, and it showed, especially on the offensive line. Duncan’s absence resulted in Maximus McCree starting in his place and other starters to move around, which was a reason for the pressure that eventually led to Tagovailoa’s injury.