Despite all its mistakes and missed opportunities, Maryland football had 99 yards in front of it to redefine its season. It gained three.
On a drive that began from the Terps’ own 1-yard line, it took only two plays seal Saturday’s result and erase a promising upset bid in their 31-24 loss to No. 3 Michigan (11-0, 8-0 Big Ten).
Colby McDonald started the series with a positive rush, but then disaster struck. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back, looking to cement his legacy with a heroic game-winning drive. Instead, facing pressure, he hurriedly panned to his right and dispensed of the ball. The pass fell well short of his target, and the referee did exactly what Maryland (6-5, 3-5) was begging him not to: throw a flag.
The intentional grounding penalty granted Michigan a safety — two points, and more importantly, the ability to run out the clock.
“I felt like there was a receiver in the vicinity, but I mean, playing at Maryland, they don’t give us those calls like that,” Tagovailoa said. “We knew that going into the game, and just can’t make mistakes like that backed up.”
Errors were ultimately what derailed a promising performance from Maryland, which will end yet another season searching for its first win against a ranked conference opponent since joining the Big Ten.
“To have a breakthrough win — you know, our team played the script to a tee, except to finish,” Terps head coach Mike Locksley said. “... There are no moral victories, but this is one of those games that as a program we’ll be able to build off of.”
On the prior drive, Tagovailoa threw an interception. In the third quarter, Tagovailoa stared down Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil and fired the ball into his hands. He was also responsible for a first-quarter fumble, scooped up by Derrick Moore for a Wolverines touchdown.
“We kind of beat ourselves today. You know, we gave them a lot of points. We had three turnovers and we only got one takeaway,” safety Beau Brade said. “... When you play those guys, you can’t do that.”
Mistakes overshadowed the moments where it seemed as if a groundbreaking win against the conference’s two-time reigning champion would come to fruition. When the Terps put themselves in holes, they dug themselves out every time except when it mattered most.
After the Wolverines’ first touchdown drive, the Terps lined up for a punt — one that was blocked and sent out of the end zone for a safety. The scoreboard read 23-3 after a Michigan running back Blake Corum’s subsequent touchdown, his second of the day.
But the end of the half saw momentum shift. Maryland marched down the field on a 14-play touchdown drive, with backup quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. thrusting his way over the goal line. Edwards, who only fielded snaps in goal-to-go scenarios, finished with a peculiar stat line of four rushes, three yards and three touchdowns.
With Michigan threatening to diminish the Terps’ momentum, Maryland’s defense stood tall. The Wolverines advanced within Maryland’s 10-yard line late in the first half, but linebacker Jaishawn Barham recorded his first career interception. Then came another defensive stand, and Maryland had a chance to take the lead against the two-time reigning conference champions.
That was when Tagovailoa’s first interception arrived. The Wolverines scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. It looked like the Maryland many have become accustomed to seeing against teams of Michigan’s caliber, and the Tagovailoa whose mistakes have cost his team dearly in those contests.
“We had opportunities to capitalize,” Tagovailoa said. “My defense was playing strong, and we didn’t. So you know, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Tagovailoa bounced back with some impressive throws, including a 34-yard dot to Kaden Prather on the left sideline, which set up Edwards’ hat trick.
But ultimately, the Terps couldn’t get over the hump. Their 24 points were the most Michigan has allowed this season, but it was not enough for an elusive win over a highly-ranked foe.
“It’s a blessing, you know, having my name in the record books and stuff like that. I just really wish I could give [Locksley] the victory that, you know, he deserves,” said Tagovailoa.
As Michigan sat near midfield and took a team picture to commemorate the program’s 1000th all-time win, Maryland dejectedly walked back to its locker room. Another Terps season passed without a marquee victory, as the true contenders in the Big Ten kept marching on.
Three things to know
1. Edwards played his role to perfection. Billy Edwards Jr. only saw the field for four plays on Saturday, but three resulted in touchdowns. Handling the ball solely on quarterback sneaks, Maryland’s short-yardage package succeeded against a stout defensive front.
2. Maryland’s defense played lights-out. Although Michigan had spurts of success, one of the nation’s elite offenses was held in check by its standards. After the first quarter, Michigan — which has averaged 42 points per game in conference play — scored just 13 points.
3. Another season without a signature win. Maryland will head to a third straight bowl game and has a chance to earn its seventh win of the season next week at Rutgers. But yet again, the Terps were unable to finish the job against Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State, despite competitive matchups with the former two.