After missing two consecutive games due to a coronavirus outbreak within the team, Maryland football got back on the gridiron to face No. 12 Indiana Saturday.
Despite the layoff and being down 23 players, the Terps kept it close through the first half as it entered the break down by just a 7-3 margin, but a lack of offensive execution kept them from getting back into the game, eventually suffering a 27-11 loss.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the defeat.
The Maryland secondary impressed
The Terps entered Saturday’s contest without their arguably two best defensive backs in safety Nick Cross and cornerback Tarheeb Still, giving the secondary even more of a challenge against a high-powered Indiana offense.
Prior to the the matchup, Indiana averaged 312.2 receiving yards per game, good for second in the Big Ten, and had the most total yards of anyone in the conference (1,561). Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. led the Big Ten in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions, while top receiver Ty Fryfogle sat atop the conference in receiving yards, both total (642) and per game (128.4).
Maryland’s secondary stepped up to the challenge and produced its best outing of the season to shut down the Hoosiers.
Heading into the contest, Maryland had only kept an opponent under 200 yards through the air once this season, when Minnesota had 189 in Week 2. This week, however, Indiana ended the game with just 115 passing yards, its least in a game all season — though it’s worth noting that Penix left the game with an injury in the third quarter. At halftime, the team had a mere 37 passing yards.
“One of the things I think that we’ve shown [is] the ability to play man coverage,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “We got skilled guys at the corner position. It allows us to play more aggressive up front, which allows us to make the quarterback a little more uncomfortable. And so, I’ve been pleased with the way we’ve covered and stayed in front of people.”
Jakorian Bennett took over the nickel spot while Deonte Banks and Kenny Bennett filled in on the outside. Jordan Mosley continued to play a big role as well.
Under the tight Terp coverage, the Hoosier duo of Fryfogle and Whop Philyor each recorded their worst games of the season, with neither player making a reception until the first few minutes of the third quarter.
Fryfogle, who entered Saturday with at least 200 yards in each of his last two games, finished with just 10 yards on two receptions. Philyor finished with 24 yards on two receptions, misconnecting with Penix on seven targets as well.
“Tarheeb Still and Nick Cross, both of them guys are wonderful football players, and it was just hard not having them,” safety Antwaine Richardson said. “Coach Baker and Coach Hoke talked to us this whole week, we just have to stay focused and clued in on the routes they gonna do and the concepts they gonna do, and we was clued in and played great football today.”
A near interception for Jordan Mosley here. Regardless, it forces a fourth down punt.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 28, 2020
Despite its struggles on offense, Maryland has excelled at putting the pressure on quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to slow down a high-powered Indiana offense today. pic.twitter.com/CXifyDdPKC
Taulia Tagovailoa has been hot and cold throughout the season
The sophomore quarterback has looked really good in some games this season and really bad than others; Saturday was the latter.
Tagovailoa completed 17 of his 36 attempts for 241 yards and one touchdown, but was bogged down by three interceptions and was sacked three times. The stats don’t tell the whole story, however. In addition to the interceptions, Tagovailoa misplaced the ball on what could have been huge plays, such as when he overthrew it to a wide open receiver in the end zone on the first drive of the game.
“He uncharacteristically missed some early throws where some guys were open,” Locksley said. “And accuracy and touch and putting the ball where it needs to be put in to be caught typically is not something we’ve had to deal with with him,” Locksley said.
Taulia Tagovailoa throws his third interception of the day as the Terps continue to spiral.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 28, 2020
Maryland trails 20-3 early in the fourth quarter. pic.twitter.com/OxaLrQNLJD
The performance marked the first time since the opening game of the season against Northwestern that Tagovailoa threw three interceptions, though he only finished with 94 yards in that outing as he struggled to string any sort of drive together.
It was a completely different story in the following two games against Minnesota and Penn State as Tagovailoa sent shockwaves around the country. Against the Golden Gophers, he had 453 total yards and five touchdowns, and against the Nittany Lions he totaled 295 yards and three touchdowns. Through the two games, he averaged a 71.8% completion rate.
But he reverted back to the poor decisions of his opening performance Saturday as he shook off the rusts of two weeks of canceled games and limited practice due to the team’s outbreak.
Tagovailoa was also without two of his three top wide receivers in Jeshaun Jones and Rakim Jarrett, as well as offensive lineman Johnny Jordan and Marcus Minor, but Tagovailoa said after the game that their absence wasn’t the issue.
“It was just me trying to do too much again and just not reading my keys, whether it was a dirty read or a clear read, you know, I just had to make a decision from it,” Tagovailoa said. “But it was stuff I can learn from and we can get better from [those mistakes].”
With a full week of practice ahead of him, Tagovailoa will look to get back in his rhythm and channel a strong performance against Michigan next time out.
The freshmen running backs got their chance on the field
With top running back Jake Funk out following the team’s coronavirus outbreak, freshmen running backs Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs saw the most action of their collegiate careers thus far.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Boone had 10 carries for 51 yards through three games, an average of 17 yards per game. Jacobs, the brother of Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, had 12 carries for 29 yards, not seeing a single touch at running back against Minnesota.
They both set season-highs against the Hoosiers as Boone finished with 35 yards on nine carries and Jacobs recorded 32 yards on seven carries.
Freshman running back Peny Boone with quite the hurdle here.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 28, 2020
Reminder that he is 6'1, 245 pounds. pic.twitter.com/yEJD0WnZ60
Still, the young duo certainly wasn’t as efficient as Funk, with Boone averaging 3.9 yards per carry and Jacobs averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Locksley mentioned that Jacobs looked “a little heavy-legged,” attributing it to increased reps in practice with guys like running back Jake Funk out due to Big Ten coronavirus protocol. The freshman then left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
“Both those young running backs continue to to impress me and they continue to grow with every rep and every play they get to play,” Locksley said. “So we’ll be better for the experience that these guys have gained with the opportunities that they’ve been presented.”
The two young backs saw some action in the passing game as well. Boone had a 12 yard reception and Jacobs made a big 22-yard play off a throw from Tagovailoa.