In the absence of its star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa due to a sprained MCL, Maryland football found itself in a battle with Northwestern, an inferior opponent on a five-game losing streak.
Northwestern had just tied the game at 24 with three and a half minutes to go in the game. On Maryland’s first play of the next drive, the ball went to an obvious choice: the guy who carried Maryland’s offense in Tagovailoa’s absence. Running back Roman Hemby received the handoff and bolted for 75 yards all the way to the end zone, giving Maryland a lead it never relinquished.
On the heels of Hemby’s 172 rushing yards and three touchdowns, Maryland escaped Northwestern, 31-24, in College Park on Saturday afternoon. With the win, Maryland moves to 6-2 for the first time since 2010 and officially becomes bowl eligible at its earliest date since 2001.
“We knew that running the ball was going to be very important to getting the win and we came through when we needed it the most down that homecoming stretch,” Hemby said.
Next man up mentality is an oft-overused mantra in sports when injuries plague a team and it must rely on its secondary players to will it to victory.
More than any other phrase that Locksley loves to preach to his group, next man up rung the loudest for Saturday's homecoming contest against Northwestern. Saturday was the first time Maryland took the field without its record-breaking quarterback since Dec. 12, 2020.
Redshirt freshman and Wake Forest transfer quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. stepped into the role to lead the Terps. As the game progressed, Edwards’ confidence shined through, earning his first win as a starting quarterback in college.
“Those are the types of things we have to be able to do, is have the ability if someone goes down, the next guys got to step up and be able to be productive,” head coach Mike Locksley said.
Tagovailoa had led Maryland to a score on every opening drive this season. On the Terps’ first drive against Northwestern with Edwards under center, the Wildcats forced Maryland into a quick three-and-out.
Maryland wasn't the only team with its second-string quarterback getting reps on Saturday. Northwestern’s backup quarterback Brendan Sullivan — who had thrown just 17 passes entering Saturday — started for the Wildcats instead of usual starter Ryan Hilinski.
In a clash between two backup quarterbacks, the result was predictable: an offensively limited showing with both teams struggling for the smallest bit of yardage.
On Maryland’s first three drives of the game, it failed to get past its own 20-yard line and amassed a total of 19 yards.
In a game where points were at a premium, Northwestern struck first. Sullivan threw a 46-yard dart down the right sideline that put the Wildcats in the red zone. Two plays later, Northwestern was in the end zone with the first score of the game to put it up 7-0.
Maryland’s offensive urgency picked up a gear after it trailed in the first quarter. On the ensuing drive, Maryland marched down the field for a 12-play, 87-yard drive that lasted just over four minutes and was capped off with Hemby bullying his way into the end zone for a 14-yard rushing touchdown.
Edwards — who found out he was starting on Wednesday afternoon — played the part of a starting quarterback on the drive, completing four-of-five passes, including a 28-yard pass to tight end Corey Dyches.
“It was a really cool experience,” Edwards said about getting his first start. “When I walked out there on the first snap and they announced I was starting and my back was to the student section, to feel all of them, all the energy, all the fans, it was definitely a cool experience.”
Northwestern responded with an impressive drive of its own that resulted in a 24-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 10-7 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Maryland’s wounded defense had no answers for the Wildcats rushing attack as Northwestern consistently put the ball in the hands of its runners in an attempt to exploit Maryland’s fragile run defense.
The Terps were without three staples to its defense in linebackers Jaishawn Barham, Vandarius Cowan and Ruben Hyppolite II, all of which were not dressed due to injuries.
Halfway through the second quarter, Northwestern used a 12-play, 83-yard drive to extend its lead to 10. The Wildcats ran the ball on 66% of its plays in the first half for an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
Despite a bad offensive showing for much of the first half, Maryland ate into its deficit just before the first half expired.
Maryland ran eight plays inside of Northwestern’s 20-yard line but failed to reach the end zone after a chaotic and discombobulated offensive sequence. The Terps were forced to kick a field goal from the two-yard line.
Kicker Chad Ryland nailed the 20-yarder to bring the score to 17-10 in favor of Northwestern at halftime.
With an ugly 30 minutes of football in the rearview mirror, Maryland’s vision of flipping the script in the second half manifested itself in the third quarter.
Maryland’s defense has been dominant in third quarters all season, allowing just three points in its last four. That theme continued against Northwestern when safety Dante Trader Jr. intercepted a pass on Northwestern’s first drive of the second half.
Maryland capitalized on its defense’s dominance with a 54-yard touchdown drive. Hemby carried it in from 18 yards out for his second score of the day to tie the game at 17.
Maryland’s offense — and Edwards’ poise — improved as the game went on. With just over a minute left in the third quarter and the game still knotted at 17, Edwards found wide receiver Rakim Jarrett wide open near the left sideline. Edwards delivered a dart and Jarrett strutted into the end zone for Edwards’ first touchdown of the game.
Maryland’s second-half defense held strong against both the run and pass, holding Northwestern to seven points.
The Terps’ offense seemed to be on cruise control, leaning on their run game to drive up the field and put themselves in a good position to build on their lead. However, a mistimed snap and a sack in the red zone set them up for a field goal attempt. Ryland’s 46-yard attempt went wide right, handing the ball back to Northwestern in a one-score game.
Northwestern took advantage of Maryland’s misfortune by marching 72 yards down the field into the end zone to tie the game at 24.
Hemby’s late-game heroics highlighted his best game in a Maryland uniform, leading the Terps to a hard-fought win.
Three things to know
1. Maryland overcame its injuries, and its bye week is at the perfect time. Maryland was without five players who play major roles for Locksley’s group. Tagovailoa was out, which was the most significant loss for the Terps given the importance of the quarterback position. But on the other side of the ball, Maryland was without many key contributors, particularly in the linebacker room. Jaishawn Barham, Vandarius Cowan and Ruben Hyppolite II — who hasn't played since Sept. 17 — were all out with injuries. Cornerback Gavin Gibson also did not dress on Saturday.
The good news for a team seemingly hampered by injuries through eight games of the season is that the bye week has arrived. Maryland will not play for another two weeks until it travels to Wisconsin to face the Badgers on Nov. 5.
2. Billy Edwards Jr. did just enough. In his first start in his collegiate career, it wasn't a perfect showing from Billy Edwards Jr., but he did just enough to will his team to victory. Edwards was under a ton of pressure all game from Northwestern’s pass rush, and while he made some mistakes, Edwards played his best when Maryland needed him to. He finished with 166 yards and one touchdown, while not turning the ball over once. Edwards is not Tagovailoa, and could not have possibly replicated the production the redshirt junior quarterback provides, but he did show he is a valuable backup and is reliable.
3. Maryland is bowl eligible at its earliest date since 2001. Maryland’s victory is significant for a hoist of reasons, one being that it showed the Terps’ resiliency and ability to overcome injuries to significant players. But, from a macro perspective, Maryland’s win marks another sign of progress for a program continuously searching to take the next step. Maryland moved to 6-2 for the first time since 2010, meaning it is officially bowl eligible. Last year, Maryland did not become bowl eligible until its last game of the season. This is the earliest the Terps have qualified for a bowl game since 2001. With four games left on its schedule, Maryland can build on a six-win season and secure a spot in a notable bowl game, which would be another sign of progress for Locksley’s program.
“It’s significant for our fan base, it’s significant for our psyche,” Locksley said. “It’s one of the first goals that we create year in and year out. Hopefully that’s the foundation of what we do.”