Maryland football suffered a 37-21 home loss to Northwestern on Saturday. The Terps were within striking distance until late in the fourth quarter, when a Wildcats touchdown put the game on ice.
It’s a wonder things were that close.
Northwestern gained 531 total offensive yards—293 through the air and 238 on the ground—marking the second straight week Maryland’s defense has surrendered at least 500 yards. The Wildcats converted 10 of 21 third downs and, even more crucial, 3 of 4 fourth downs. Had it not been for two interceptions, including one by cornerback JC Jackson in the end zone, this would have been a rout.
Maryland couldn’t pressure Northwestern’s backfield. The Terps ended their streak of three games without a sack in the first quarter, but didn’t record another one. With time to throw, Thorson went 27-of-49, completing passes to nine different receivers. Northwestern took advantage of Maryland with an onslaught of crossing patterns, which left receivers open in the middle of the field for a constant slew of short and intermediate games.
“All those routes take a long time to develop,” head coach DJ Durkin said. “When the quarterback has five seconds to stand back there, he’s gonna find someone. We gotta win a one-on-one matchup, when we’re pressuring or with the four-man rush.”
A handful of teams have moved the ball on Maryland this way. UCF and Minnesota found success throwing to tight ends, while seemingly all of Ohio State’s intermediate throws turned into explosive gains.
“The way we play our defense, we’re gonna see that type of scheme every week,” senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “We just have to, when they complete the passes, we’ve gotta be better tacklers.”
In each of Maryland’s three wins this season, the Terps have held their opponents under 100 rushing yards. They’ve allowed over 200 in all three losses. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson—who’s now the school’s all-time rushing leader—had 171 by himself Saturday, including two touchdowns. Quarterback Clayton Thorson added 43, highlighted by an 18-yard score.
“Most times, we were in positions to make plays, but we didn’t do a good job of making tackles today,” Carter said. “We let a couple tackles slip away, and we’ve got to get off the field on third down.”
Because of those missed opportunities, the Wildcats held the ball for just under 36 minutes. While time of possession can be a misleading stat at times—Northwestern’s 83 plays weren’t too far ahead of Maryland’s 69—the visitors were able to control the game.
If Maryland, who sits 3-3 with only two games remaining against unranked opponents, wants a shot at reaching the postseason again, the Terps will need to get off the field when they have a chance. They’ll need to find a more consistent pass rush. They’ll need to get back to slowing down the run.
It’s a long checklist, but there’s still half a season to complete it.