Maryland wasn’t outplayed in the first half to the extent its 21-0 deficit suggested. The Terrapins (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) yielded a touchdown return on the opening kickoff but had opportunities to draw even. An inability to convert in the red zone, when the plays carry the most weight, cost them.
“We played well,” quarterback Josh Jackson said. “We just didn’t finish drives.”
The Terps drove down the field, not always with methodical ease, but more than was expected against a Michigan team (7-2, 4-2) that came to College Park as a three-touchdown favorite. The defense made a handful of stops against the Wolverines, whose offense struggled early in the season but has discovered its form in recent weeks. But when it mattered most, Locksley’s offense couldn’t carry its weight.
Maryland twice moved inside the Michigan 15-yard line in the first half. Jackson, who returned to his starting role after suffering a sprained ankle a month ago, led the Terps downfield on their second series, with his team trailing 7-0. With the Terps facing third down at the Michigan 12, the Wolverines got pressure on Jackson, who threw while he was getting hit, leading to an interception.
“I guess I’ve just got to get the ball out a little bit faster,” Jackson said. “I went from one read to the second, and by that time, I was hit.”
Maryland’s next drive consumed seven minutes, with Jackson leading the Terrapins inside the Michigan 10-yard line. Locksley put freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre into the game for one play, and he lost three yards on a run. When Jackson returned, the Wolverines’ defense sacked him for a loss of nine. Joseph Petrino then came on for a 37-yard field goal that missed, making him just 1 for 4 on field goal tries for the season.
Maryland had hoped to slow down the tempo of the game, snapping the ball with the play clock winding down to keep its defense off the field. But that also limited scoring opportunities for Maryland, so Locksley had to pick the pace up some in the second half.
“When you do that and you shorten the game like we tried to do there to keep our defense off the field,” Locksley said, “we’ve got to execute especially in the red area, which we didn’t do.”
Facing a formidable Michigan front, Jackson threw for 97 yards, completing 9 of 20 passes. Jackson hit a few receivers for long gains, including Brian Cobbs for a 24-yard gain and Chigoziem Okonkwo for 21.
The running game Maryland usually leans on finished with just 129 yards, led by Anthony McFarland’s 60 on 14 carries. LeGendre had time under center sporadically throughout the game and showcased his running ability, gaining 39 yards. The Maryland staff incorporated LeGendre into the game plan this week, and he will preserve his redshirt as long as he plays in just two of the remaining three games.
“That’s a special guy right there,” running back Javon Leake said of LeGendre. “I can’t wait for him to get going. He’s a young guy, but he’s definitely going to be a great player for Maryland one day.”
This marked the fourth straight game Maryland has given up a touchdown on at least two straight possessions to start the game. Michigan freshman Giles Jackson took the opening kickoff 97 yards for the game’s first score, then freshman running back Zach Charbonnet capped an 11-play, 41-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
The Maryland defense steadied itself after that, forcing punts on two straight possessions. It appeared to stop Michigan for a third straight time, but the Wolverines executed a successful fake punt on fourth and one at their 27 with sophomore linebacker Michael Barrett taking a direct snap and running 14 yards for a first down. On the next play, quarterback Shea Patterson found Nico Collins for a 51-yard strike over the coverage of Maryland freshman Lavonte Gater.
Until Leake returned a third-quarter kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown, the Terps’ special teams had a woeful day. The opening kickoff, fake punt and missed field goal only lent further credence to the notion that Maryland’s own errors fueled Michigan’s win.
Coaches around the country will reiterate the same, sometimes as a way to gloss over when significant talent gaps exist between programs. A case could be made such a gap exists between Locksley’s Terrapins and the Wolverines, who have more wins in the past five years than Maryland has in the past 10, thus attracting far better players.
The talent disparity may have manifested itself most in the trenches, where the Terps’ offensive line gave way to Michigan’s pressure numerous times and allowed four sacks. As the game wore on, the Terps’ opportunities dwindled and Michigan seized control. Locksley still commended his group’s effort through four quarters, noting that wasn’t the case against Minnesota last week.
“The whole time, we were definitely felt like we were in the game,” Leake said. “It was just a couple plays that we had to make just to get going.”
Maryland’s performances against the Big Ten’s top-tier teams have done little to inspire confidence. After a 59-0 pounding by Penn State in September, the Wolverines added themselves to the list of teams that have blown out Maryland, which has won just once since mid-September. The Terps’ self-inflicted blows doomed them early, and the talent deficit gave them no chance late.