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Film breakdown: Slow start and bad bounces drown Maryland football against Nebraska

The Terps got behind early and were unable to fight back in their final home game of 2019 against the Cornhuskers.

Maryland football vs Nebraska Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Maryland football followed the same script it has for a majority of the back half of its season, falling behind quickly and never able to play catch up in its final home game of the 2019 season.

The Terps fell 54-7 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and struggled to get any offense going, which in turn made things difficult for the defense.

Here is a closer look at some key moments from Saturday’s loss to Nebraska.

Javon Leake had an uncharacteristically bad day

Coming into Saturday’s matchup, Leake had just one fumble on the season. He had three against Nebraska.

After getting a stop on defense to start the game, Maryland took over inside its own 10-yard line and opted to hand the ball off to Leake for the first play from scrimmage.

The junior running back took the stretch play and worked his way through the Cornhusker defense before the ball popped loose thanks to cornerback Dicaprio Bootle getting a helmet on it as he went to tackle Leake.

A similar play happened in the fourth quarter, as linebacker Joseph Johnson got his helmet on the ball carried by Leake up the middle, just piling on to the misfortunes for the Terps.

The most shocking of Leake’s errors came on the kickoff following the Cornhuskers taking a 14-0 lead, as Leake attempted to corral a pooched kick down the sideline and dropped it. Freshman Lavonte Gater was unable to regain possession off of the tip by Leake and Nebraska fell on it to start inside the 25-yard line.

Third downs were a disaster for the Terps

When the Maryland offense wasn’t handing the ball over to Nebraska, it was struggling to make an impact, as the Terps converted just five out of 14 third down attempts on the afternoon.

Josh Jackson got the start at quarterback for Maryland, but still had little to work with in terms of his offensive line and time in the pocket.

Towards the end of the first quarter, Jackson looked to escape a collapsing pocket on third down, but the lack of ability to keep defenders locked up by the offensive line allowed the Cornhuskers to bring Jackson down from behind and force a Maryland punt.

Maryland head coach Mike Locksley then put in freshman quarterback Lance Legendre, but the lack of blocking continued to be a problem in critical situations.

A brilliantly disguised rush helped Nebraska take down Legendre on his first drive with a clean hit to the quarterback.

Nose guard Darrion Daniels (No. 79) lines up over left guard Sean Christie and rushes to the left — occupying center Ellis McKennie as well — while No. 94 Khalil Davis rushes wide to the right and occupies tackle Jaelyn Duncan.

Outside linebacker JoJo Domann lined up in the slot and crept up behind Davis — hinting at a blitz. Leake looks to pick up and block Domann, but a slight delay in between the snap and the rush leads to Leake looking outside of Duncan — leaving the B gap wide open.

Ultimately, five Maryland drives ended on third or fourth down as the result of a sack, showing there needs to be improvement along the offensive front — which has been a clear issue all season long.

Maryland’s defense continued allowing soft spots

One of the biggest downfalls of Jon Hoke’s 3-4 scheme in College Park this season has been the consistent availability of soft spots in coverage for opposing quarterbacks to hit.

Nebraska capitalized on a soft spot in man coverage early, as tight end Austin Allen lined up and blocked Shaq Smith off the edge, but then ran a late-releasing route down the numbers and was able to catch-and-run into the redzone.

The discovery of soft spots was even more apparent against Maryland’s zone scheme, as late in the first quarter, wide receiver JD Spielman ran past primary coverage by Nick Cross, over the top of Isaiah Davis and then was underneath coverage by Marcus Lewis and Antoine Brooks Jr.

In the second quarter, there was a bright spot, as Cross was able to pick out the late-releasing tight end — that was running away from the stretch play — and was able to come up with an interception.

The bottom line

Maryland’s loss against Nebraska served as a microcosm of the 2019 season, as the same problems that have been noticed throughout the year revealed themselves again.

The offensive line continued to play its part in not helping whichever Terp was in at quarterback, while the defense was put in tough situations and ultimately was unable to keep things close.

Locksley and his staff are in full-on rebuilding mode, and the season finale against Michigan State will serve as one final test to determine which players are able to help move the program forward from this low-point.