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Maryland football struggles to execute in 27-11 loss to No. 12 Indiana

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The Terps had an opportunity to pull off the upset, but failed to get it done offensively when they needed to.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back in the pocket with time to throw early in the fourth quarter and targeted Brian Cobbs cutting across the middle of the field on second and very long.

The Maryland quarterback threw the pass, with a lot of air underneath it, into double coverage of the Indiana defense, resulting in his third interception of the afternoon.

The turnover was the nail in the coffin in the Terps’ 27-11 loss to the No. 12 Hoosiers, a contest in which the offense continuously failed to execute in crucial moments.

“I’m really disappointed in our execution on the offensive side,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “And for me, being an offensive guy, it’s up to me to get this thing fixed and corrected and figure out what went wrong and then make the appropriate corrections.”

Maryland entered Saturday’s contest against Indiana with less than ideal circumstances, to say the least.

The Terps hadn’t played in two consecutive weekends following a coronavirus outbreak within the team, which left head coach Mike Locksley’s squad down 23 players, nine of which played key roles, as it faced the No. 12 team in the country.

Despite the odd stacks against them, the Terps had opportunities to pull off the upset. Instead, they continuously got in their own way from the opening drive onward.

“We all work hard and we work on our timing every day and no matter who’s on the field, it’s just a matter of executing and doing our job,” Tagovailoa said.

Tagovailoa led the offense within the Hoosiers’ 30 yard line on three of the team’s first four drives to start the game, each time coming away empty handed.

Before coming to Bloomington, the Terps had converted on every opening drive to start the year, but a missed 29-yarder by kicker Joseph Petrino after a misconnection in the end zone to a wide open Dontay Demus Jr. broke the streak.

Two drives later, Tagovailoa targeted Demus again on a deep slant to the two-yard line, but the ball was intercepted after a tip drill by the Hoosier secondary.

A strong defensive stand resulting in an Indiana three-and-out, one of 4 on the afternoon, gave Tagovailoa a chance to redeem himself. Five plays and 26 yards later, the sophomore sat comfortably in the pocket and turned it over again after throwing it into double coverage at the Indiana 10-yard line.

The Terps regained possession on the same play, however, after Demus chased down the defender and forced a fumble that he recovered. The new drive ended in another punt for Maryland, the second of four in the first half.

With all the lackluster production on Maryland’s offensive side of the ball, with crucial losses of running back Jake Funk, wide receivers Jeshaun Jones and Rakim Jarrett, and offensive lineman Johnny Jordan and Marcus Minor, most of the weight fell on the defense. The unit stepped up big against a Hoosier team that put 35 points and 490 yards in a seven-point loss to No. 4 Ohio State in their last game.

Two of the Terps’ players to miss the game due to COVID-19 protocol were Tarheeb Still and Nick Cross, both of whom had been essential pieces in the team’s secondary this season.

Without them on the field, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week wide receiver Ty Fryfogle was primed for a nice day. The senior failed to bring in a catch until the third quarter, as did his counterpart Whop Philyor, and finished with just two receptions for 24 yards in the contest.

Quarterback Michael Penix threw for just 37 yards in the first half and 84 in the full game, though he exited with an injury in the third quarter. Going into the matchup with Maryland, he averaged 312.2 yards per game in the air with his lowest total coming in week one against Penn State with 170.

“That was our key in the secondary, just to take away all the shots and make them run,” defensive back Antwaine Richardson said. “Taking away all the route concepts they love, which is the deep routes to over routes.

The Terps came up with two huge red zone stops on third and fourth down to open the third quarter, but the momentum quickly fell out of their hands. As soon as his team got the ball, Tagovailoa kept the ball on a read option and couldn’t find a way out of his own end zone, resulting in a Hoosier safety and the ball.

“When the read-key makes the tackle, then you misread it,” Locksley said. “And so to be tackled in the end zone by the guy you’re reading is a mystery, and I don’t understand why the ball wasn’t given and why the read-key was able to tackle our quarterback.”

Indiana ran the ensuing free-kick back near midfield, where Penix and the Hoosier offense set up shop against an over-worked Terp defense. But with an opportunity to get off the field on 3rd-and-three, an offsides penalty on Maryland extended the drive, which eventually ended in a one yard touchdown run for Scott.

Facing a two-score deficit, Tagovailoa and the offense took the field once again with a chance to keep the Terps in the contest. More inaccuracy from the team’s signal-caller forced yet another quick three-and-out, as the offense slowly began to hemorrhage life as the quarter progressed.

Maryland was on the field for just four offensive plays in the third quarter, totaling minus-5 yards without a single first down.

The Terps’ first half offensive performance was very unlike their second half play, as the team racked up 237 total yards in the first 30 minutes, but compiled just 63 in the latter half. Indiana, on the other hand, totaled 139 yards in the first and 210 in the second.

“He’s a great quarterback, I’m not gonna take anything from him,” Indiana linebacker Cam Jones said of Tagovailoa. “We just knew that we needed to stop the quarterback scramble. We know he has great speed, great athleticism. We watched film and we just knew that that’s what we had to do.”

Maryland scored a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter on a connection between Tagovailoa and Demus, but it was simply too little, too late.

Three things to know

  1. Some rust was evident and resulted in crucial penalties. After playing their last game on Nov. 7 against Penn State, the Terps were sidelined for two full weeks due to COVID-19 cases. The team opened up a bit rusty, and eight total penalties on both sides of the ball throughout the game, resulting in 55 total free yards for Indiana. Two of the team’s four defensive flags came on third down, giving the Hoosiers new life that ended in one score and a larger hill to climb for a struggling offense.
  2. Good punting resulted in short Indiana drives. Punters Anthony Pecorella and Colton Spangler were key reasons why the Terps were able to hang on with Indiana for so much of the afternoon. The two-headed special teams unit combined for five punts with an average of 46.8 yards per kick and pinned the Hoosiers within their own 20-yard line two times throughout the game, hindering many potential longterm drives.
  3. The Terps failed to convert on third down. Maryland converted just four of its 14 third downs in the game, ranking as the worst conversion percentage of the season at 28.6%. Two of Tagovailoa’s three interceptions of the afternoon came on third down and the team converted just once through the air. Maryland entered its third downs with an average of eight yards between the line of scrimmage and the first down marker, coming up short every time outside of four yards-to go.