Four takeaways from Maryland football’s 43-3 season-opening loss at Northwestern

Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
·6 min read

The Maryland football team was on the wrong side of history Saturday night.

The Terps' 43-3 shellacking at the hands of Big Ten rival Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, marked the program’s worst loss in a season opener since its inaugural campaign in 1892 when that squad was shut out, 50-0, by St. John’s College in Annapolis.

On the flipside, the Wildcats earned their most lopsided win against a conference opponent since Oct. 10, 1970, when that team blitzed Illinois, 48-0.

Here are some takeaways from Maryland’s setback.

Taulia Tagovailoa looked like a player making his first career start.

On the game’s opening possession, the offense chewed up 56 yards on 12 plays and capped the drive with a 33-yard field goal from junior kicker Joseph Petrino. Tagovailoa completed six of seven passes for 37 yards and three first downs.

That proved to be the highlight of the night for the sophomore transfer from Alabama, who completed eight of 18 throws for 57 yards, three interceptions and four first downs for the remainder of the game.

Tagovailoa looked like the first-time starter that he is, overthrowing receivers, throwing behind them and floating balls into double coverage that led to two interceptions. After the game, he accepted the significance of his errors.

“On the first drive, I felt very comfortable and confident,” he said. “After the first pick, that was a mistake, and we tried to shake it off, but after that, it was just me, and I take full ownership of that. We’ve just got to get better.”

Although redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre went 4-for-4 for 49 yards on the Terps' final series, coach Mike Locksley did not budge from his initial stance that he will stick with his starter.

“He’s our quarterback,” Locksley said of Tagovailoa. “He earned the right to be our starting quarterback. He did the things that I thought would give us the best chance to win. Obviously, none of us — the coaches included — played a good game or had a great game offensively, defensively, special teams.

"As the quarterback of course, he takes the brunt of the criticism, especially when you turn it over. But these are things, when you watch the tape — and we’re going to get on the tape as soon as we can when we get back — we’ll be able to get these things corrected.”

The run game was stuck in neutral.

Tagovailoa’s night might have turned out differently if he had a rushing attack that could alleviate some of the pressure on him.

Fifth-year senior starter Jake Funk’s best carry went for 24 yards, but then had five others for a total of 11 yards. Freshman Isaiah Jacobs, the younger brother of Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, had 15 yards on six attempts and nearly lost the ball after collecting a handoff from Tagovailoa. Peny Boone, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound freshman, finished with five carries for 30 yards in mostly mop-up duty.

Big Ten Network analyst and former Illinois linebacker Jeremy “J” Leman noted that it appeared that Northwestern was stacking the box and daring Maryland to beat the defense through the air. Locksley said that he thought the offense did not get into a groove.

“I just never felt like after the first drive that we had any rhythm on offense, and to me, it’s all about rhythm,” he said. “We’re one of those teams that when we can play with tempo and we can get up and go, we tend to be able to string plays together. Today, I just felt like the rhythm was off.

"We took a couple shots down the field, we had the two interceptions where we threw into coverage, and those are the things that kind of get you out of your rhythm, and when you give up points like we gave up, then you start playing catch-up.”

The defense looked slow and then overwhelmed.

The Wildcats marched 75 yards on 14 plays in 4:20 on their first series, capped by sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone. They averaged 18.6 seconds per play on that drive.

Northwestern continued to mix in the no-huddle attack in subsequent possessions, keeping the Terps defense on its heels. Junior middle linebacker Chance Campbell conceded the Wildcats' success when playing quickly.

“They have the ability to go fast, and I think probably something that was a little unanticipated was their ability to change personnel in tempo,” the Towson resident and Calvert Hall graduate said. “But handling that with tempo was different. So it was good for our defense to see. I think we adjusted well. It just took a little bit longer than we would have hoped.”

Bowser finished with 70 yards and the touchdown and freshman Drake Anderson added 103 yards and a score on 10 carries to power Northwestern to 325 yards on the ground. Maryland’s defense looked undisciplined in closing gaps and setting the edge.

“I didn’t think we tackled great early on, and I also felt like we didn’t commit as many people to the run as we would normally like to,” Locksley said. “In the second half, we committed extra guys to the line of scrimmage and played a little more man coverage, which now gives us forces on both edges, and I thought we played it a little bit better. Still, not even close to the way we’re going to need to play the run in this league.

"We’ve got to get the tape watched and figure out if it was schematic or figure out if it was individual fundamentals and make sure that we get those things corrected here and make sure that we get them corrected quickly.”

Confidence might be a casualty.

For a team filled with fresh faces and hopes and eager to resume a season delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday night’s outcome could have a way of siphoning away the players' morale.

The Terps won’t get much respite to nurse their wounds as they welcome Minnesota to Maryland Stadium in College Park on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Gophers were routed, 49-24, by No. 13 Michigan on Saturday night, fell from No. 21 in the Associated Press poll to out of the Top 25, and figure to be an angry bunch.

But Locksley said he is not worried about the setback affecting his players' confidence.

“It’s our job as coaches to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “As I told the team, there were some good things that happened tonight, and those are the things that we’ve got to build on. Obviously, we didn’t play well in any of the three phases or play well enough in any of the three phases, and it was against a good team in Northwestern. So what we’ve got to do as a staff is get the tape watched and evaluate whether personnel decisions need to be made, schematic things we need to adjust, get it done quickly, and then put this game behind us and continue to try to develop this team each and every week.”


Friday, 7:30 p.m.


Radio: 105.7 FM

Line: Minnesota by 18


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