The buildup to Maryland’s home finale against Indiana was visibly emotional for the 15 seniors honored Saturday at midfield, joined by families and friends in bidding farewell to their college football careers. It was perhaps made even more difficult given how sparse the Byrd Stadium crowd was shortly before the noon kickoff Saturday, with a student section barely filled and large swaths of the lower bowl empty.
Their season, dominated by a coaching change and questions about the future of the program, only became more difficult in a 47-28 loss to the Hoosiers that featured a blown 18-point lead and an eighth straight loss.
Much about this setback — the light crowd, the second-half collapse, the hurt in the players’ voices after the game — felt eerily similar to Maryland’s embarrassing loss to Bowling Green 10 weeks ago, which started the skid and sent the season into a downward spiral. It was bookended with a loss to an Indiana team that entered the day winless in Big Ten play and the loser of six straight.
“It’s sad because a lot of underclassmen were teary-eyed. They really wanted to get a win for the seniors going out,” said Maryland running back Brandon Ross, one of those seniors. “A lot of people are upset about it.”
Ross rushed for 250 yards, the fourth-highest total in school history, and three touchdowns. But his performance couldn’t save a Maryland offense that became one-dimensional after turning to its third-string quarterback in the second half, or a defense that allowed Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld to throw for 385 yards and four scores.
The Terrapins’ quarterback situation has turned into something desperate. Junior Perry Hills didn’t play due to mono, and his replacement, Caleb Rowe, didn’t come out of the locker room for the second half after suffering a concussion. Third-stringer Shane Cockerille played the rest of the way.
“It wasn’t as if he didn’t get the game plan and was prepared to play,” Maryland Interim Coach Mike Locksley said. “They adjusted and became a more aggressive team.”
Bowl eligibility has long been out of the question, but Ross looked as though he was playing for much more than that.
Ross took it upon himself to give Maryland (2-9, 0-7 Big Ten) a spark on the second play from scrimmage, swiftly cutting back on a draw to score a 79-yard touchdown run. By the time he scored a 22-yard touchdown on the team’s second possession to make it 14-3, he already had 116 yards and had given Maryland its largest lead since September.
On the ensuing drive, Terrapins defensive end Yannick Ngakoue came up with a strip-sack at the Indiana 20-yard line. That gave the junior 13.5 sacks — a single-season school record — and led to a 21-3 lead after Rowe found Malcolm Culmer on a 14-yard touchdown pass.
But Indiana (5-6, 1-6), needing a win to keep its bowl hopes alive, was more desperate after digging its early hole. After Maryland took its 18-point lead with 5 minutes 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Sudfeld engineered four consecutive scoring drives, one of which included a 59-yard touchdown pass to Andre Booker that made it 21-17 with 14:02 left in the second quarter.
Maryland wasn’t prepared for an Indiana onside kick moments later. The Hoosiers recovered and marched 51 yards in two minutes flat, capped by Sudfeld’s one-yard sneak.
The Terps’ offense, meanwhile, gave Ross just four carries in the second quarter and attempted to establish the passing game behind Rowe (10 of 19 passing, 88 yards). Although Maryland cleaned up its glaring turnover issue — it committed none for the first time this season — Rowe could never gain traction. The Maryland offense punted twice and turned over the ball on downs twice in the second quarter, including a botched fake punt from its own 35-yard line with just over five minutes remaining.
“I feel like some guys start to go in panic mode when that starts to happen,” senior offensive lineman Ryan Doyle said.
Maryland pulled within 30-28 on the second play of the second half when Ross struck again, dancing down the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run. Sophomore Adam Greene attempted an onside kick moments later, but he drove the ball straight out of bounds to hand Indiana possession near midfield.
Sudfeld moved Indiana quickly after the blunder, hitting Mitchell Paige on a six-yard touchdown pass 1:16 later. With Rowe out and Maryland’s quarterback options limited, the Hoosiers were able to load the box and contain Ross for much of the second half. Cockerille, who was converted to fullback over the summer but moved back under center earlier this season, completed 10 of 21 passes for 87 yards and was largely ineffective in the zone-read running scheme, with 13 carries for 23 yards.
Maryland’s players could only watch as Sudfeld continued to pick apart the secondary in the fourth quarter. Most of the crowd had already filed out of the stadium for one last time. While the program and fan base are already looking forward to major changes in the near future, Maryland’s players weren’t ready to let go on a difficult day.
“Bittersweet,” Doyle said of his pregame emotions. “A lot of people acted like this was the last game, and we still have another game next week.”
The final game for Doyle and the rest of these Terrapins arrives next Saturday at Rutgers (4-7, 1-6).