COLUMBUS, Ohio — History was there for the taking, but it slipped right through Maryland football’s grasp.
The Terps had a winless all-time record against Ohio State and were 73 years removed from their last road win over a team ranked in the top five of the AP poll. Perhaps more importantly, a victory over the No. 4 Buckeyes would have validated the growth Mike Locksley has seen since taking over as their head coach ahead of the 2019 season.
But, despite ample opportunities to stake their claim to a program-altering triumph, the Terps ultimately fell short Saturday and allowed 27 unanswered points in a mistake-laden 37-17 loss.
To start, it looked like it would finally be the day Maryland found the signature win it has been desperate for. When Ohio State’s first drive resulted in a turnover on downs that gave the Terps (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) a short field, Kaden Prather made an acrobatic one-handed touchdown catch to thrust his team ahead.
When Jeshaun Jones muffed a punt, Dante Trader Jr. was there for a momentum-salvaging recovery. It was the antithesis to Maryland’s frequent struggles against the Big Ten’s elite, and for once the Terps were the ones getting the breaks with a slim margin for error.
But then came the mistakes, ones forgiven against the lesser teams Maryland faced in its first five games, but irredeemable in a game of this magnitude. The Terps could have panicked Ohio Stadium by scoring on a second-quarter drive, but Tagovailoa instead gave fuel to the unnerved Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) by throwing an interception — his first of two on the day — that was returned for a touchdown.
Later in the period, with the score now tied at 10 and 12 seconds left on the first-half clock, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa fired a middle-of-the-field pass to Antwain Littleton II, who was promptly tackled to run out the clock and cost the Terps a chance at a halftime lead.
“That’s just bad situational football,” Tagovailoa, visibly upset, said after the game. “I gotta be better.”
Maryland’s defense was sensational in the first half, forcing Ohio State into five straight scoreless drives to open the game. Even so, with its offense stalling, the tide of the game quickly turned.
“Those are opportunities that we’ve got to come through on. Our defense is playing lights out,” Tagovailoa said.
Freshman quarterback Kyle McCord began to find his groove, opening the floodgates by targeting his insurance policy, Marvin Harrison Jr. The junior, considered the best wide receiver in college football by many, hauled in eight receptions for 163 yards.
With Ohio State facing second-and-33 in the fourth quarter, McCord found Harrison Jr. for a 37-yard gain to keep a seemingly hopeless drive alive, setting up a 44-yard score by Cade Stover. On the next drive, Harrison Jr. caught a touchdown to put his team up 17, shutting off the lights for the Terps’ rapidly dimming comeback hopes.
“Anybody can tell you that Marvin Harrison is a really good player, and the way you structure things is to take away the good players,” Locksley said. “And today, he made a bunch of plays that I would’ve hoped we would’ve been better at [stopping].”
For most of the game, Maryland battled with one of the best squads in the nation, a far cry from the blowouts it has been subject to in many similar matchups. But when it looks back on Saturday’s performance, missed opportunities will be the prevailing theme.
Three things to know
1. Tagovailoa’s decision-making was errant. On Saturday, spectators were treated to the ups and downs of Taulia Tagovailoa. At times, the redshirt senior made gutsy plays to ignite his team. But with that came his costly mistakes, most notably his two interceptions.
2. A tale of two halves. Maryland outplayed Ohio State in the first half. But as time went on, the Terps’ offense slowed down and their defense couldn’t hold off the ever-potent Buckeyes. McCord ended up passing for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Missed opportunities. A win for Maryland would’ve been one of the most monumental in program history, and it was a real possibility for much of the game. But the Terps lacked the clean effort required to knock off a team of Ohio State’s caliber.