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Maryland football’s secondary exploited once again in loss to Indiana

The Terps’ back line of defense hasn’t been able to live up to that role so far this season.

Sarah Sopher/ TestudoTimes

Entering Saturday’s matchup against Indiana, Maryland football had allowed the most passing yards per game to opposing offenses in the Big Ten. Following a 34-28 defeat at the hands of the Hoosiers, that didn’t change.

On the season, the Terps have surrendered 287.4 yards per contest in the air, last in the conference — yes, even behind Rutgers — and tied for 118th out of 130 FBS teams. Passing has never been more important in football than it is today, and in 2019, the Terps haven’t been able to stop it whatsoever.

The Hoosiers had no difficulty finding success throwing the ball for most of the game, even after starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was knocked out with a knee injury and backup Peyton Ramsey was forced to take over.

The duo combined to complete 29-of-41 pass attempts for 334 yards and two scores, while Penix also threw an interception in the second quarter — the Hoosiers’ lone mistake of the game.

A tipped pass at the 5-yard line deflected in the air towards senior safety Antoine Brooks Jr., who made a terrific diving grab in the endzone to save a touchdown and keep Indiana off the scoreboard, for the time being.

“My teammates all came up to me, it was a huge play, but I only know it’s a huge play when they tell me,” Brooks said. “I just think of it as another play every time.”

Brooks was one of the few standouts against Indiana on defense, alongside sophomore linebacker Chance Campbell, who set a new career-high in tackles. He received the first start of his career against the Hoosiers, and after Isaiah Davis was ejected for targeting, Campbell was tasked with leading the linebacking corps.

“[Davis’ ejection] created the opportunity obviously for Chance to play, and we usually rotate those guys through but I thought Chance had a good game for us,” Locksley said. “I think he continues to grow and show the leadership you want to see out of that position he’ll be a good football player for us.”

While Brooks and Campbell had terrific performances, the rest can’t be said for the rest of the defense. Despite it hunkering down in the second half and getting crucial stops in the fourth quarter, the unit allowed Indiana to net 520 yards of total offense for the day, and the Hoosiers picked up 7.1 yards per play on the evening.

When a defense sells out to stop the pass — whether it gets results or not — that greatly affects its ability to contain the running game. That happened in the second half against the Hoosiers, as the visitors committed more to the rush after the halftime break.

On the day, Indiana finished with 31 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns, as Stevie Scott III was the only running back to get a carry — Penix and Ramsey were the only other players to register a rush. The Hoosiers averaged a healthy six sack-adjusted yards per rush,

The success of the running game was the key to Indiana’s seven-minute drive that began at the start of the fourth quarter, keeping Maryland’s offense off the field when the Terps were trailing by just three points.

Even with the strides it made late, the Terps defense had a day to forget against Indiana. And while the front seven outside of Chance Campbell left a lot to be desired, the defense’s issues continue to stem from a lack of production and execution from the secondary.

In fairness to Maryland, the back end is filled with inexperienced players thanks to injuries. Presumed starting safety Antwaine Richardson is out for the season with a torn ACL, which he suffered in spring camp. Starting cornerback Tino Ellis suffered an upper-body injury against Purdue and is also out for the year.

“We’re trying to stay focused, because with Tino we were focused,” senior safety Antoine Brooks Jr. said. “It’s very sad that Tino is gone, that’s my brother and I miss him already, but we just have to move on to the next man and he knows that as a leader.”

The injuries in the defensive backfield have forced a number of young players — including freshmen Nick Cross, Deonte Banks and Lavonte Gater — to see more playing time than expected.

“I think the big thing is the experience of getting those guys out there,” head coach Mike Locksley said after practice on Wednesday. “I mean when you look out there and you see [Banks] and you see [Gater] playing basically four quarters for us, and these guys were just riding the yellow school bus last year, and they’re lined up playing against Penn State and Purdue and all these Big Ten schools.”

Getting young players experience in a developmental program is crucial to its long-term success, but in the present and near future, it can lead to ugly showings. With matchups against ranked teams like No. 17 Minnesota, No. 19 Michigan and No. 3 Ohio State still on the slate, it may not get better anytime soon.