On the road against the 4-4 Wisconsin Badgers, Maryland football had a chance to start November on a positive note.
Things didn’t exactly go as planned.
Wisconsin decimated the Terps in a 17-0 first half, setting the tone and never allowing Maryland to come within arm’s reach of making it a competitive game.
The Terps could not muster any sort of legitimate offensive production, ultimately falling to Wisconsin, 23-10. Maryland will have to regroup fast with impending back-to-back games against top-15 opponents.
“I’m gonna start off by giving credit to Wisconsin. [Interim head coach Jim Leonhard] had his team ready to play,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said. “It didn’t seem as though they were as affected by the elements as we were. It starts with me as the head coach and everybody staff-wise, including our players, didn’t play our best today. And again, that’s on us.”
In an 11 a.m. local time kickoff, the stage for arguably Maryland’s biggest game since joining the Big Ten was set. Unfavorable conditions — including rain and reported wind gusts over 40 miles per hour — came into play early.
In one of the ugliest, seemingly weather-induced starts one will ever see, both teams failed to record a first down on each of their first two possessions. Wisconsin finally picked up the first first down of the game with just over six minutes to play on the sixth drive of the game.
The Badgers turned the first chain-moving play of the game into a fruitful drive, marching 77 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown. Sophomore running Braelon Allen’s 9-yard rushing score punctuated the drive for the Badgers, one that included 69 rushing yards and no answer from Maryland.
After both teams traded a couple more three-and-outs, Maryland finally got its first first down of the game. Early in the second quarter, redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby bursted for 15 yards and broke a tackle to move the chains. However, a botched snap on the next play set the Terps back and inevitably led to yet another punt off the foot of senior Colton Spangler.
Maryland’s defense could not hold for much longer, though. Senior Isaac Guerendo had a hole as big as Lake Mendota ahead of him, running 89 yards and tip-toeing down the sideline for the touchdown. Wisconsin took a 14-0 lead about five minutes into the second quarter, which seemed commanding given the state of the game. The Badgers had a 190-to-40 yardage advantage by the time the Terps got the ball back.
The rest of the first half was par for Saturday’s course, as both teams exchanged punts again before Maryland punted it to Wisconsin again. In a two-minute drill, the Badgers drove 48 yards — assisted by a defensive pass interference call — to set up a 38-yard field goal for redshirt freshman Nate Van Zelst. Wisconsin went into the locker room with a 17-0 halftime lead.
Wisconsin’s fingerprints were all over the first half, as it had 211 rushing yards and outgained Maryland by nearly 200 total yards.
“They’re a good team, you know,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Greg-China Rose said. “They scheme the same, they block the same, no matter what defense you’re in. So they played hard for four quarters and give them all the credit.”
Maryland’s defense forced the game’s eighth three-and-out to start the second half, and Maryland gathered some positive momentum with a 12-play, 43-yard drive that included three first downs, but that momentum stalled once the Terps got to the 21-yard line.
Redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was nearly intercepted and then sacked for a loss of nine while freshman center Colton Deery was having trouble snapping the ball. The drive ended with a Chad Ryland 39-yard field goal as Maryland cut the deficit to 17-3 halfway through the third quarter.
Just a few minutes later, Maryland had a chance to string together another defensive stop. However, Wisconsin junior quarterback Graham Mertz completed a pass on third-and-16, and a roughing the passer call on Jaishawn Barham tacked on another 15 yards to propel the drive. Wisconsin walked away with three points on a Van Zelst 35-yard field goal, once again extending its lead to three possessions with eight seconds left in the third frame.
Tagovailoa threw a brutal interception to sophomore safety Hunter Wohler to start the fourth quarter, giving Wisconsin possession in the red zone and a golden chance to extend its 17-point lead. The Badgers turned the ball over on downs after a near-touchdown, but it was too little, too late.
Maryland immediately gave the ball back to Wisconsin, turning it over on downs after junior wideout Jacob Copeland dropped a pass on fourth-and-2.
Van Zelst made it a 23-3 ballgame with about six and a half minutes to go, and Tagovailoa responded by leading a 73-yard touchdown drive. His 5-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton cut the deficit to 23-10 with 57 seconds remaining.
Ryland’s ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Badgers, ending a tough day for the Terps on the road.
“We had a good plan going in,” Locksley said. “That sometimes, as I told the team, the best-laid plans don’t always work out the way you expect them to and it didn’t today.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s first-half offensive performance established a blueprint for an abysmal offensive day. Excluding the drive where the Terps took a knee to end the half, they had seven drives in the first 30 minutes. Six of Maryland’s seven possessions ended with a punt, four of which were after just three plays. The Terps’ other first-half drive resulted in a turnover on downs. At the end of the first half, Maryland had just 56 yards of total offense and Tagovailoa was just 3-of-6 for 22 yards passing.
Life didn’t get better for Maryland in the second half, which put up only 133 yards — 73 of which came on the touchdown drive — in the final 30 minutes. The Terps also conceded five sacks on the day and were dominated at the line of scrimmage.
2. A tough return for Tagovailoa. Maryland’s star quarterback was fortunate to have the bye week and miss just one game after spraining his MCL at Indiana on Oct. 15. Saturday in Madison wasn’t kind to Tagovailoa, though, as he finished 10-of-23 passing for 77 yards with an interception and a late touchdown. The weather definitely played a factor — Tagovailoa only threw the ball twice in the first quarter — but it was still a disappointing game for the redshirt junior.
“I feel like I got myself in trouble, looking at the rush and stuff like that,” Tagovailoa. “I feel like the pocket was good for me sometimes. And like I said, just got to make plays and find receivers down the field and stuff like that, regardless of the pressure or the circumstances.”
3. A November to remember starts awry, and the plan could go completely upside down in the next couple weeks. Maryland’s start to the season has undoubtedly been applaudable. Going 6-2 and reaching bowl eligibility at the program’s earliest date since 2001 is a huge accomplishment, but November is where college football teams solidify their legacy. With Saturday’s disheartening loss in Madison in the books, the Terps will turn their attention to two straight games — at Penn State and versus Ohio State — where they will be heavy underdogs. A 7-5 record would technically be an improvement, but things could get worse this month before they get better.