Maryland football stumbled along the way but ultimately got back on track Saturday afternoon, edging out Indiana, 38-33, to improve to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten.
It was a sloppy performance on both ends of the ball for the Terps, with a mediocre Hoosiers side pushing Maryland to the brink, even holding a 27-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Taulia Tagovailoa’s concerning knee injury in the final quarter looked like it might end hopes of a win for the Terps, but backup Billy Edwards Jr., coupled with a clutch late-game performance from Roman Hemby, propelled a rally in the final ten minutes for Maryland to escape Bloomington with the victory.
With Tagovailoa set to have an MRI Sunday for what was called a “lower leg injury” by head coach Mike Locksley, questions need to be asked about Maryland’s true identity with question marks looming at the quarterback position.
Here are some takeaways from Maryland’s victory.
The Terps survive, but a lack of discipline continues to haunt them.
Despite the win, Maryland continued to hurt itself with penalties, a theme all too common throughout Mike Locksley’s tenure.
In the opening half, Maryland committed four penalties for 44 yards, with the most hurtful one coming as Taizse Johnson was called for holding on a would-be fair caught punt as the Hoosiers faced a fourth-and-8 from their own territory.
“We had a couple of PI’s, holdings ... Not playing fundamentally the way we want to play the game,” Locksley said.
The bad penalty allowed Indiana to continue its drive and eventually get the go-ahead score, as Indiana quarterback Connor Bazleak found Cam Camper to put the Terps in a 17-14 hole headed into the second half.
That drive was extended a few minutes earlier, with Tarheeb Still committing a pass interference on fourth-and-11 to give the Hoosiers extended life.
Johnson was in the spotlight more than once today, with a third quarter unnecessary roughness penalty giving the Hoosiers a free 15 yards, which set up another score.
It’s not the penalties themselves, but more importantly the timeliness and situations of these errors which are hurting the Terps too often this season.
“We’re a good team and good teams don’t beat themselves. The penalties allowed [Indiana] to score points,” Locksley said.
Coming into Saturday’s affair, Maryland had committed 50 penalties for 428 yards, both the most in the Big Ten. That concerning stat line continued against Indiana, with the Terps taking nine penalties for 94 yards. With matchups against powerhouses Ohio State and Penn State looming, these penalties and unforced errors will turn into losses.
Key injuries contributed to Saturday’s scare.
With star cornerback Jakorian Bennet and left tackle Jaelyn Duncan unable to make the trip to Bloomington, the Terps found themselves without two of their most important pieces. Tagged along with the continued absence of Ruben Hyppolite II and Gavin Gibson, the defense looked especially vulnerable.
Indiana, a team not known for its explosive ability on offense, racked up eight plays of 10 yards or more, a feat that is more than disappointing for Brian Williams’ defense to concede.
Safety Dante Trader slipping on a second-quarter wheel route which allowed Josh Henderson to scamper free for a 44-yard score and a trick play on the following drive that saw Bazelak catch a ball to set up an ensuing touchdown highlighted some of the big-play falters suffered by the Terps’ defense.
Coupled with a handful of 15-yard penalties, the defense was far from at its best Saturday.
On the offensive side of the ball, Duncan’s absence forced some shifts on the offensive line which allowed the Hoosiers to get too much pressure on Tagovailoa early and often.
Spencer Anderson moved from right guard to right tackle and Maximus McCree took over at Anderson’s usual position, putting two of the five linemen in uncomfortable spots.
Prior to the star quarterback’s injury, which one can say was contributed to by the constant pressure allowed by the depleted offensive line, Indiana managed two sacks and eight tackles for loss, with Tagovailoa not having the usual time and space he needs to use his athleticism to extend and make plays.
Ultimately, the Terps were able to rally in the fourth quarter and force big plays of their own to secure the win, but three quarters of adjustments with missing pieces made Saturday’s victory much closer than it needed to be.
“A lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of football had to step up. I liked the way we faced adversity but I’m not real happy with how we don’t play smart,” Locksley said.
Billy Edwards Jr. did his job in relief, but can he shine as the starting quarterback?
When Tagovailoa grabbed his right leg in agony, it’s fair to say all of College Park held its collective breath in angst, but one man was composed: Tagovailoa’s backup, Billy Edwards Jr.
“Time to go,” Edwards said when asked what his thoughts where when he saw Tagovailoa was leaving the game.
Down on the scoreboard and needing at least a touchdown in the fourth quarter, offensive coordinator Dan Enos had lost his star quarterback and looked to a redshirt freshman to rally a deflated squad.
It was by no means a perfect three drives for the Wake Forest transfer, but it was clean, composed and most importantly got the job done.
After his first drive filling in for Tagovailoa ended in a quick punt, Edwards Jr. dialed in for the second drive, and he has the makeshift offensive line and Hemby to thank for that.
Down three points with just about seven minutes remaining, Edwards Jr. faked the inside handoff to Hemby and took the designed run 31 yards to the Indiana three-yard line, setting up an eventual Hemby score.
Edwards was smart and confident with the ball, and by how tightly he held onto the ball with both hands on the long gain, it was clear that he wasn’t going to let the moment slip away.
“We have tremendous faith in Billy and his ability to execute,” Locksley said of his backup quarterback.
After the defense forced a clutch fumble just a few plays later, Edwards Jr. capped off yet another clean drive with a three-yard touchdown rush of his own, all but sealing the victory.
With Tagovailoa’s length of absence not yet known, if Billy Edwards Jr. does in fact need to take the field against Northwestern, the Terps will need to see a clean game from him back at SECU Stadium.
When asked what was going through his mind when he entered the huddle, Edwards Jr. said, “Don’t make it bigger than it is.”
Not only did he do that, but he owned the moment — he shined in it.