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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s heartbreaking loss to Purdue

Maryland had a chance to tie it with seconds left but failed to convert the two-point conversion.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland football’s 31-29 loss to Purdue on Saturday was a thrilling, but heartbreaking defeat as the Terps failed to convert a two-point conversion with seconds remaining that would have sent the game to overtime.

Maryland looked dominant on both sides of the ball at times throughout Saturday afternoon’s contest. When Maryland’s offense was clicking in the first half, its defense was struggling. When Maryland forced three Purdue turnovers and gave up zero points in the third quarter, the Terps’ offense was discombobulated and failed to generate points.

In the end, an even matchup came down to the wire, but it was Purdue that walked away with the win, but not without some controversy. Maryland had a chance to move to 5-1 for the first time since it joined the Big Ten. But instead, it sits at 4-2 with a road matchup against Indiana next week.

Here are some takeaways from Maryland’s loss.

Officiating controversy can’t escape Maryland

Last week against Michigan State, Maryland intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown with under a minute to go in the first half to take a 28-13 lead. There was only one problem. The referees called Maryland for a personal foul penalty on the play, negating the pick-six and giving the ball back to the Spartans. It was an objectively horrific call that prompted anger from college football fans around the country on social media. The call could have been a turning point for a Spartan comeback, but luckily for the Terps, it wasn't.

After the game head coach Mike Locksley said, “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.”

Fast forward one week against Purdue in the same stadium, and Maryland was disrespected once again by poor officiating. Maryland scored a touchdown to go up by six points in the fourth quarter and kicker Chad Ryland came on for the extra point. From just about every vantage point in the newly renamed SECU Stadium, it was obvious that a Purdue defender jumped offsides. However, somehow, the refs missed it.

The extra point was blocked. Later in the game, because of the blocked extra point, Maryland was forced to go for a two-point conversion with seconds remaining to tie the game and force overtime.

Tagovailoa found receiver Rakim Jarrett wide open in the end zone. But another yellow flag rained down on the field. This time, it was an illegal man downfield penalty. Maryland failed to convert the second attempt, effectively ending the game.

“The blocked extra point had a major impact on the game. It’s a one score game, it takes us into overtime, it adjusts and changes how they play the game,” Locksley said. “The illegal man down the field had no impact on the touchdown. I’ll just leave it at that.”

It should also be noted that two weeks ago against Michigan, there was another obviously egregious officiating error that went against the Terps. On Tagovailoa’s first interception in the second quarter, the ball clearly hit the ground and it was not a catch by the defender, but the play was never reviewed and the refs called it an interception.

It’s been three straight weeks — two losses and one win — that Maryland has been marred by controversial calls going against it. The question remains: when will the refs start respecting Maryland?

Despite this, Locksley doesn’t want the conversation to be about the refs, and he knows his team could have beat Purdue despite the poor officiating.

“We had plenty of opportunities on the field to win this game on the field with our players, not without all the other stuff that I’m sure everybody wants to talk about,” Locksley said.

Maryland’s tight end group has been huge for its offense this season

For all the talent and NFL potential that exists in Maryland’s wide receiver room, the wideouts as a collective have been a bit disappointing this season given their classification among the best prior to the season.

Part of that could be because of how successful the Terps have been at running the football and haven’t had to rely as much on the passing attack. But with three or four guys on the roster who will surely be playing on Sundays, it is surprising Maryland doesn’t have a single receiver that ranks in the top 10 in the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns or yards per catch.

While the receiving group is trying to breakthrough, it’s been an emerging tight end room that has felt the love from Tagovailoa. Last year, tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo quickly became one of Tagovailoa’s favorite targets and was incredibly productive for the Terps. It paid off for him as he was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

His departure left a massive hole in the tight end room as Okonkwo had the second-most receptions and the third-most receiving yards on the team. There were serious questions if Okonkwo’s replacements could replicate that production, or even be reliable options for Tagovailoa. Redshirt sophomore Corey Dyches and sophomore CJ Dippre have answered those questions and created continuity at the position despite Okonkwo’s absence.

Dyches was a receiver but switched to tight end last season, and Dippre had just three catches for 25 yards as a freshman in 2021. Through six games this season, Dyches already has more catches and yards than he did last season and leads the team in receiving yards. Dippre soared past his 2021 statistics in the season opener against Buffalo.

Against Michigan State, Dyches had four catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, including one just before halftime where he dragged a defender more than 10 yards into the end zone.

“Whenever you get open opportunities like that, you always take them and take advantage of them,” Dyches said.

Combined, the two tight ends have 37 catches for 480 yards and four touchdowns.

Purdue’s passing attack outplayed Maryland’s

Taulia Tagovailoa is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and for good reason. Coming into Saturday’s game he was top four in the Big Ten in completion percentage, passing yards per game, touchdowns and efficiency rating. Prior to the season, on just about every ranking of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten, Tagovailoa ranked third. He sat behind Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell.

Tagovailoa had a chance to showcase why he deserved the No. 2 spot on Saturday. Instead, O’Connell claimed his stake, slightly outplaying Tagovailoa and willing his team to victory.

It’s no secret this was a battle between two prolific passing attacks. Prior to Saturday, Maryland was third in the Big Ten in passing yards, while Purdue was fourth. Whichever team buttered their bread at a higher rate was going to be well positioned to win.

In the third quarter, Maryland’s defense forced three turnovers and completely halted the Purdue offense at every turn. However, Maryland’s offense failed to produce any points off the turnovers and left the quarter empty-handed.

The highly-anticipated offensive showdown turned into a defensive battle in the second half as both teams entered the fourth quarter with 17 points a piece.

Saturday’s defensive performance was highlighted by an incredible showing from Maryland true freshman linebacker Jaishawn Barham, who had two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jakorian Bennett also recorded his first interception of the season.

After Maryland scored the opening touchdown of the fourth quarter, O’Connell and the Purdue offense responded with two consecutive touchdowns.

O’Connell finished the game with 360 passing yards, a 73% completion percentage and two passing touchdowns, while Tagovailoa finished with 315 passing yards, a 68% completion percentage and three passing touchdowns.

Neither quarterback played much better than the other, but with the win, the edge goes to O’Connell, just as the rankings predicted before the season.