Instead, the matchup against the struggling Cornhuskers created a new low, this time the size of a crater.
Locksley’s squad has crawled through the 2019 campaign all the way to this, an embarrassing 54-7 loss on senior day. All but a few dozen students had departed the stands by the time the teams returned from halftime; Maryland had given them little reason to stay. Early and with gusto, Nebraska established itself as the superior team while Maryland accumulated a laundry list of errors: four lost fumbles, three failed fourth-down attempts, six sacks allowed and no trips to the red zone.
“We’re still missing the overcoming adversity part,” senior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said. “I don’t get it. A team that’s overcome adversity in the real life can’t do it on the football field for some reason. I don’t understand. It’s frustrating. You get down a little bit and heads start to drop, and it just spirals out of control before you know it.”
The Terps (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten) haven’t won in nearly two months and haven’t looked competitive since they faced Indiana five weeks ago. Playing at home after an open date, Maryland seemingly had an opportunity against Nebraska (5-6, 3-5). The Cornhuskers, who hadn’t won since Oct. 5, have floundered through an underwhelming season. But they at least showed Saturday that their performance level stands firmly ahead of that of Maryland, which has made a case to be among the worst Power Five programs.
When asked whether this loss marked a new low point of the season, Locksley said: “Definitely. For me, it is.”
Junior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis did not play after he was charged early Friday morning by University of Maryland police with driving a vehicle while impaired, reckless driving and other offenses, according to online court records. Locksley said Saturday that he held out Fleet-Davis for “non-football reasons.”
“Go Big Red!” chants filled the stadium sporadically throughout the rainy game, while many bleachers had become bare in the predominantly Maryland areas. The Cornhuskers, still fighting for bowl eligibility, earned their largest margin of victory of the season. The Terps lost a conference game by at least 25 points for the sixth time, with their lone Big Ten victory coming against hapless Rutgers.
“I thought from top to bottom, we need to be better,” Locksley said. “I expected us to be. I have high expectations for this team, and I’m not going to lower my expectations. We’re better than what we’re showing on Saturdays each and every week. And it’s my job as the head coach to figure out a way to make sure we play to our standard.”
Javon Leake, the Terps’ leading rusher, fumbled three times. Two led to Nebraska touchdowns, and the other led to a field goal. The Maryland rushing attack, usually a strength, finished with 149 yards, a total brought down by the sacks and boosted by Leake’s 58-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Four Maryland quarterbacks played. None had substantial success. They combined to complete 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards.
Even the bursts of speed from dual-threat freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre — the first offensive bright spots of the game for Maryland — came to an abrupt halt when LeGendre dislocated the shoulder on his non-throwing arm during the second quarter. LeGendre had led the team on a 49-yard drive, mostly by way of his own runs, but Nebraska erased that progress by forcing a fumble during the tackle that caused the injury.
Maryland finally ended its five-game streak of letting its opponent score on at least two possessions to open the game, but the moment of relative positivity was short-lived. On the Terps’ first offensive play, the ball popped out of Leake’s hands as Carlos Davis tackled the Maryland running back. Nebraska scored two plays later, leaving Maryland in a familiar early hole despite the defensive stop.
The Terps held the Cornhuskers again on the following series, but when Nebraska punted, Maryland freshman Isaiah Hazel was called for leaping over the protection unit. The drive continued, and Nebraska scored soon after.
“They came out ready to play from the jump,” senior defensive back Marcus Lewis said. “We didn’t.”
The Terps’ defense allowed 531 yards, but the players on that unit still offered far more decent moments compared with their counterparts on the other side of the ball. Maryland held the Cornhuskers to four field goals, and freshman safety Nick Cross grabbed an interception in the end zone, keeping the game from becoming even more of a trouncing than it already was.
“As a defense, we’ve got put in some spots,” Lewis said when asked about Nebraska starting some drives with favorable field position because of turnovers.
The Terps had the seniors as their rallying point. Those players have stayed with the program through multiple coaching changes, dealt with grief over the 2018 death of teammate Jordan McNair and stuck together as the ensuing controversy engulfed the program. That’s why Maryland wanted to win this game, one in which even some signs of progress would have offered a sliver of hope. But with a struggling team as their opponent, the Terps finished miles short of that objective and instead sunk into yet another deflating defeat.