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Maryland football blown out in season opener, falling 43-3 to Northwestern

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The Terps were outplayed in all three phases in their first game of the new season, with the Wildcats showing no mercy in their demolition.

Maryland v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Maryland football began its second drive of its opening contest against Northwestern down 7-3, presented with a chance to take back the lead.

Facing his team’s first third down situation of the night at the 33-yard line, sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa took the snap and pulled back before moving into the pocket with ease, the defenders around him all covered by his offensive linemen.

Eager to make the most of the opportunity, he rocketed the ball down the field field towards freshman Rakim Jarrett, just overthrowing it slightly into the hands of Wildcat defender AJ Hampton around the 50-yard line.

The sophomore threw three interceptions in his debut for the Terps, an all-around dismal 43-3 loss for head coach Mike Locksley’s squad in Evanston, Illinois.

“I feel like today I made a lot of mistakes that cost us the game,” Tagovailoa said. “But it’s a good thing that it’s early in the season. Obviously not the way we want to start, but you’ve got to give credit to Northwestern.”

Despite looking calm and confident to open the game, it appeared as if nerves got the best of Tagovailoa. It was his first collegiate start at a new school, under the pressure of of his last name and expectations to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Tua, the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins who previously had a record-setting career for Alabama.

Though the drive ended in a field goal, the Terps showed promise early under its new starting quarterback, moving quickly down the field as Tagovailoa completed six of his first seven passes. But things went south in a heartbeat, on both sides of the ball.

The Wildcats ripped off chunk plays with ease — both on the ground and through the air — picking apart Maryland’s defense from their first snap. Led by transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who was making his Wildcat debut, Northwestern marched down the field on its opening possession, going 75 yards in 14 plays to quickly retake the lead.

Still down by 10 points, the Terps had a shot to get back into the game — but that wouldn’t be the case as the sophomore threw his second consecutive interception on the ensuing drive. On an effort to get the ball out with two defenders beginning to charge in his direction, Tagovailoa threw another longshot, this time to Dontay Demus Jr. in the middle of two defenders.

“I thought the first drive, he did a good job. Obviously, this is still his first career start in college, and so he made some mistakes,” Locksley said. “He threw the ball into double coverage, maybe threw the ball down the field on a short situation where we’d like him to take a higher percentage throw and make a better decision.”

Locksley said he didn’t think his quarterback showed signs of being uncomfortable, acknowledging that “first start jitters” likely played a factor. He doesn’t expect that to be as much of a factor moving forward, expressing confidence in Tagovailoa’s ability to bounce back.

“He’s one of those players that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Locksley said. “So I would expect that he’ll continue to improve once we’re able to show him the tape.”

The defense again proved incapable to slow down Northwestern, allowing a consecutive touchdown to put the team down 14-3. Jon Hoke’s unit proved incapable of causing a stop through the first half. And bogged down with turnovers, Maryland was never able to respond with its own score.

The Wildcats were down their two best defensive backs, with star safety Travis Whillock opted out of the season and the team’s best cornerback, Greg Newsome II, out of the contest with an undisclosed injury. But that didn’t make a difference; Maryland forced its own mishaps with poor decision-making on both sides of the ball throughout.

On offense, Tagovailoa continued to overthrow the ball and miss several open receivers with the offensive line struggling to protect him at times, forcing quick throws. Freshman running back Isaiah Jacobs fumbled the ball on a kick return. And the fourth down punts continued.

And on the opposing end, the Wildcats poured on one of its best performances in recent years, producing their third most points in a half since 2015 as the Terps entered the break down 30-3, finishing with 86 yards in the half compared to 336 for their opponent.

Though the defense performed better than the first half, it still allowed 13 points through the final two quarters. The Terps were slashed and gashed by Northwestern’s new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, as the Wildcats finished with 537 yards — 325 on the ground an and 212 in the air — while also converting on all three of their fourth down chances.

“We knew they had the ability to go fast. I think probably something that was a little unanticipated was their ability to change, you know the personnel and tempo,” junior linebacker Chance Campbell said. “I think we adjusted well, it just took a little bit longer than we would have hoped.”

Regardless of how the defense performed though, the offense never gave the Terps a shot at a victory, finishing with just 12 first downs, 171 yards on an average 3.8 per play, and the three interceptions.

“For us to be a good team, we’ve got to play with great discipline,” Locksley said. “And playing with great discipline means protecting the football, and we didn’t do that today.”

Three things to know

1. Durell Nchami left the game early with an injury. After missing the 2019 season due to an ACL tear suffered in fall camp, the redshirt sophomore linebacker went down early against the Wildcats. The team has yet to reveal what the specific injury is, but it appeared as if it involved Nchami’s knee, and he returned to the sidelines in street clothes soon after.

Update: Locksley said after the game that it was a lower leg injury and that Nchami would be getting an MRI back in College Park.

2. The Terps break their streak of opening day wins. Going into Saturday’s contest, Maryland had come out victorious in its first game of the season for 10 consecutive years — the fifth longest streak among Power Five programs. But that was wiped away with the 43-3 loss.

3. Maryland made a statement against racial injustice. A number of Maryland players forewent their own names for those of change. Offensive lineman Johari Branch, who was named a captain before Saturday’s game, donned “Equality” on his nameplate along with many of his teammates. The Terrapins have made racial injustice a main focus in their 2020 football campaign as they have continued to talk out publicly about it for months.