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Maryland comes close, but not close enough to beat No. 4 Michigan

Wolverines 34, Terrapins 27

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) was able to run through the tackles of Maryland defenders like Beau Brade (25) most of the game Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For Maryland football, still searching for a marquee win against a top Big Ten foe, an enormous breakthrough appeared tantalizingly close. The Terrapins never seized total control of their game against No. 4 Michigan, yet they refused to let the matchup slip away. The Wolverines’ edge remained narrow, and Maryland’s chance of snatching a program-defining upset lingered throughout.

Inside a packed Michigan Stadium, the Terrapins showed this team has the talent — and at times can muster the poise — needed to compete with the Big Ten’s best. But in the final quarter, Maryland couldn’t keep pace with the reigning Big Ten champion and suffered a 34-27 defeat Saturday, another loss in the program’s recent run of trouble against the conference’s top teams. The Wolverines scored 10 straight points during the fourth quarter as they turned their five-point lead into a comfortable advantage that would have required late heroics for the Terps to overcome.

Playing a tight game against a top-tier opponent, which Maryland has rarely done since joining the conference in 2014, marks a step forward for this program under Coach Michael Locksley. But the way the game ended, with the Terps (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) unable to keep the game close in the waning minutes, gave it a disappointing finish, even with CJ Dippre’s consolation score with 45 seconds to go. The Terps executed a two-point conversion but then didn’t secure the late onside kick, their last chance to rally.

“Close is not good enough,” Locksley said. “But I’m proud of the way our team fought.”

Maryland’s offense took the field trailing by eight with 6:28 to go — at that point, a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion still were within the realm of possibility — but quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw an interception on the second play of the series. Locksley called that play an “egregious” mistake in which the redshirt junior quarterback threw into double coverage.

Michigan (4-0, 1-0) effectively sealed the victory with a long touchdown run from Blake Corum — his final act in a standout performance — and the Terps were resigned to yet another loss against a top-tier Big Ten program.

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Since joining the conference, the Terps have gone 3-20 against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, often the top three teams in the East division. Of those rare wins, two came in 2014 — against Penn State (in James Franklin’s first year as head coach when the team finished 7-6) and against Michigan (a 5-7 squad during Brady Hoke’s final season). The other victory was seemingly a pivotal moment for Locksley’s group when it knocked off Penn State, but those 2020 Nittany Lions had a down season, finishing 4-5.

Maryland has suffered those 20 losses by an average margin of around 34 points, so Terps fans have grown accustomed to lopsided blowouts that zap the optimism from a season. Only four times have the defeats come by fewer than 21 points; this loss against Michigan joined that short list, perhaps indicating the Terps are getting closer to a breakthrough.

“We all had a belief that we were going in to cause a big upset, but obviously it didn’t turn out how we wanted it to be,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Spencer Anderson said. “I feel like the confidence is there. I feel like my past years being here, we kind of just went in moping around.”

These players, Locksley said, didn’t enter the matchup as if it was a Super Bowl.

But for now, Maryland will keep waiting for that win, one that grabs the attention and acclaim of those outside this fan base. The Terps nearly did it in overtime against Ohio State when Matt Canada was the interim coach in 2018. And they had a chance Saturday. But Corum ran for a career-high 243 yards and two touchdowns to scuttle the hope that hung over this game for three quarters.

“I can’t let them outshine me,” said Corum, who played at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.

Heading into the matchup, Locksley said he wanted his team to “keep the game really tight and get it to a fourth quarter, and you never know what can happen.” The Terps managed that much. They entered the final quarter facing only a 17-13 deficit. But on the second play of the fourth quarter, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy connected with Roman Wilson for a 20-yard touchdown. For the first time all day, Michigan had a two-score lead.

The Terps’ offense had gone quiet for much of the previous two quarters, but in response to that Wolverines touchdown, Maryland converted a fourth and one on a short pass to Tai Felton, then surged down the field on Corey Dyches’s 44-yard reception and scored on another pass to Felton. Maryland failed on a two-point conversion, but that touchdown kept a win in reach, even though the Terps still trailed 24-19.

Maryland’s defense couldn’t fully contain the Wolverines. McCarthy delivered a third-down pass to Ronnie Bell for 49 yards, and Michigan settled for a field goal. That set up Maryland’s drive with a 27-19 deficit, but Tagovailoa threw the pick.

Tagovailoa took a big hit early in the third quarter and had to be tended to by the team’s medical staff. Tagovailoa was “banged up,” dealing with rib and knee trouble, Locksley said. Backup Billy Edwards Jr. ultimately led Maryland on the drive that ended with Dippre’s late score.

“He’s tough,” Anderson said of Tagovailoa. After Edwards took control of the offense, Tagovailoa “wanted to go out there, but [Locksley] told him, ‘You don’t have to be a superhero.’”

Tagovailoa threw another interception in the second quarter that quashed an otherwise excellent drive. The turnover appeared to be a questionable catch by Michigan’s DJ Turner, but it was not reviewed. Locksley, who didn’t challenge the call, said his coaches in the booth thought it was indeed an interception.

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To have a chance to win this game, the Terps needed a clean performance, free of self-inflicted trouble. The game had a dreary start with Felton fumbling the opening kickoff. The Wolverines scored a touchdown on their first offensive play. Eight seconds into the game, Michigan had grabbed the lead.

“Good teams don’t need our help,” Locksley said. “And to just spot them seven points — and then the outcome of the game is seven points.”

Maryland responded and kept the score close through much of the game. The Terps only committed one penalty, a notable improvement from last week’s performance.

The defense came up with a few key stops but also gave up a long touchdown run on fourth and one just before the halftime break, and the Terps couldn’t keep Michigan off the board as hope for an upset started to fade.

“We took a step forward in terms of getting it to where we said we needed to get the game — into a fourth-quarter opportunity for us,” Locksley said. “And we did that. But we didn’t make the plays when the plays were there to be made.”