Maryland cornerback Sean Davis looked exhausted. He sat defeated in the end zone during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Bowling Green, staring ahead and slamming his hand into the turf as a Falcons receiver celebrated yet another touchdown. Davis eventually stood and raised his arms in disbelief, shaking his head as if an offensive pass-interference penalty should have been called.
The Terrapins looked defenseless in a 48-27 loss before an announced crowd of 36,322 at Byrd Stadium, a dreary afternoon that revealed major question marks for the team. Can the defense regain confidence after allowing 692 yards against the Falcons? Who will be the starting quarterback next week against South Florida? How might Maryland repair its psyche ahead of a grueling stretch that includes West Virginia, Michigan and Ohio State?
“Not the outcome we were looking for. Team loss today. Offense, defense, special teams and coaching all contributed to it,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said in a terse postgame news conference that lasted less than five minutes.
After a 55-minute weather delay extended halftime, the Bowling Green offense simply poured it on.
Led by a brilliant performance from senior quarterback Matt Johnson, Bowling Green outscored Maryland 42-14 in the second half, shredding a Terrapins defense that entered the day optimistic about its new 4-3 scheme. It left demoralized by the surgical Johnson, who threw for 491 yards and six touchdowns .
“The loss hurts,” Maryland offensive lineman Andrew Zeller said, “but we have to get back out and grade the film.”
The footage won’t be pretty. The second half was a stunning collapse given how the afternoon had started, with Maryland (1-1) holding a 13-6 halftime lead thanks to Will Likely’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
That play came on the heels of Likely’s Big Ten-record 233 punt return yards in last week’s win over Richmond, but it was clear Saturday that Bowling Green was a different animal. It feasted on a mistake-prone performance by the Terrapins — four turnovers and another inconsistent outing from junior quarterback Perry Hills, who finished 15-for-30 passing for 168 yards with two touchdowns and an interception .
Hills was pulled in favor of junior Caleb Rowe after Bowling Green took a 41-27 lead with a little more than nine minutes to play, but Rowe threw an interception on his first attempt and added another later in the quarter as fans headed for the exits.
Bowling Green (1-1) ran 105 plays, 55 passes and 50 rushes , while Maryland registered just 59 total. The Falcons held possession for 37 minutes 57 seconds to the Terrapins’ 22:03.
“We played a tough opponent. They did some really good things, and we just didn’t execute the way we should have,” Hills said.
Maryland’s brightest moment was supplied by Likely, who fielded a punt near his own sideline and, in a scene reminiscent of last week, went untouched as he sliced through the middle of the coverage to spot Maryland a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Bowling Green’s system came alive after the lightning delay, stunning what sparse crowd was left with a 64-yard pass from Johnson to Robbie Rhodes to begin the third quarter. Maryland stopped that drive, thanks in part to junior defensive end Yannick Ngakoue’s third sack of the afternoon, but the tone had been set. On the following possession, Johnson hit Roger Lewis with a 58-yard touchdown pass. Davis, the Maryland cornerback, threw his hands up in frustration — not for the last time — as Lewis pranced into the end zone, looking at safety Anthony Nixon after the blown coverage.
After Hills found freshman D.J. Moore for a 43-yard touchdown to give the Terps a 20-13 lead on the following drive, Likely had another chance at a return in the middle of the third quarter, but he muffed the low line drive while attempting to make an over-the-shoulder catch. Bowling Green recovered the ball at the Maryland 14-yard line and cashed in five plays later with a three-yard touchdown run by Travis Greene.
The Falcons took a 27-20 lead after Johnson hit DeMatha graduate Ryan Burbrink for a five-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter, capping a 17-play, 99-yard march. Maryland made its conditioning a priority all week in preparation for the up-tempo Falcons, but the defense was simply gassed by the game’s late stages.
“Of course you’re going to be tired being out there for so long, but we still have to fight and push,” Ngakoue said. “That’s what practice is for.”
Hills was gifted with an opportunity after the Falcons committed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on a third down on the ensuing drive. That led to a 22-yard touchdown pass from Hills to Levern Jacobs five plays later, tying the score at 27 and breathing life into a Maryland offense that struggled to stretch the field vertically all afternoon.
The Falcons certainly didn’t. Johnson connected on his fourth touchdown of the day with a little less than 10 minutes remaining, floating a jump ball to Lewis that beat one-on-one coverage from Davis to make it 34-27. Maryland, which gained just 341 yards of total offense, never threatened after that. Johnson threw two more touchdown passes in the frame, including a 44-yard rocket in the seam to Rhodes that put the game away.
Rowe replaced Hills on the following drive, but it was simply too late. Despite Rowe’s two interceptions on three attempts, Edsall said after the game that he will “have a discussion” with his staff regarding the future starter. It is one of the many areas Edsall must reevaluate as the program takes a look in the mirror this week.
“We’re leaving too many plays on the field,” Edsall said. “So we’ll address those things and take a look at where we’re going to go.”