COLLEGE PARK — It’s hard to imagine that the Maryland football team could regress after losing its previous game by 59 points to top-ranked Ohio State, even after having two weeks to get ready to play Nebraska.
Given their recent history, it’s not hard to imagine the Terps losing yet another promising quarterback to injury early in his career.
Both happened Saturday in an even more embarrassing 54-7 loss to the Cornhuskers on senior day at Maryland Stadium that saw freshman backup Lance LeGendre, one of four quarterbacks to play, suffer a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter.
The loss was the sixth straight for Maryland (3-8, 1-7), which finishes the regular season next week at Michigan State. The losses have been by an average of 35.5 points and only one — a six-point home loss to Indiana on Oct. 18 — has been close.
The Terps fumbled four times, one more than the entire season’s previous total, including three in the first half. Junior running back Javon Leake fumbled three times and also scored Maryland’s only touchdown on a 58-yard run late in the game.
The victory broke a four-game losing streak for Nebraska (5-6, 3-5), which came in favored by less than a touchdown.
Considering that the Terps were coming off a bye week in which first-year coach Mike Locksley said his team had improved, this was certainly the low point to what has gone from being a celebrated return to a disastrous debut for the former longtime Maryland assistant.
Asked if he thought his team had hit its nadir for the season, Locksley said, "Definitely for me it is. We had 16 seniors who had been through a lot during their time here, and for us to not play to our ability. We had a couple of weeks to prepare for it. The thing that continues to sit in my craw is the fact that us hurting us.
“We had four fumbles, we had a bunch of penalties there on special teams which kind of broke the back of our team and our momentum early in the game. ... I’ll keep saying it, when we learn to not beat ourselves first, that’s when we’ll start turning the corner and get back to winning football that we need to play.”
Fifth-year offensive lineman Ellis McKennie (McDonogh), one of 16 seniors honored before the game, seemed disappointed in his team’s resolve, especially considering what it has been through during his career, particularly the heat stroke death of teammate Jordan McNair in June of 2018.
“We’re still missing the overcoming adversity part,” McKennie said with some exasperation in his voice. “I don’t get it, this team that’s overcoming adversity in their real life can’t overcome adversity on the football field. It’s frustrating. We get down a little bit and heads start to drop, it just spirals out of control before you know it. I wish we were better. I thought we could be better. It’s just difficult.”
All week leading into the game, Locksley and his players had talked about making progress in practice since the debacle in Columbus.
Asked why there seems to be such a disconnect between practice and games, McKennie said, “I’m not sure. It could be just the way the team responds. Sometimes you turn the lights on and things get a little different. It’s something we’re going to have to work through. We’re going to have to get the right type of guys in here and keep improving the guys that we have here and make sure that’s not going to be an issue in the future."
Tough day for Leake
Leake, one of the few bright spots for the Terps this season, fumbled twice in the opening quarter after a 14-yard run n the first play from scrimmage and later on a kick return, leading to Nebraska’s first touchdown and a subsequent field goal. He also fumbled in the fourth quarter, leading to another field goal.
The fumble on the kickoff for a player who came in leading the Big Ten and second in Football Bowl Subdivision in kickoff return yards — including two 100-yard touchdowns — set the tone on a chilly, wet and thoroughly depressing afternoon for those Maryland fans who remained.
Asked if Nebraska’s short kickoffs had surprised the Terps, Locksley said, “We know that most people don’t want to kick the ball to No. 20 because of his big-play ability as a returner. Once we saw what they’re design or scheme was this week, we made the adjustment.”
McKennie wouldn’t put any blame on Leake for what happened.
“Football’s difficult, you have to have all 11 guys doing the right thing on every play,” McKennie said. “One guy messes up a play, it kind of screws it up. We had a turnover on the first drive [by Leake], basically had a turnover on a penalty on a punt, basically gave them the ball back, gave them three possessions inside the 20. The elements didn’t help, but the elements aren’t an excuse for what happened on the field.”
Leake, who finished with 80 yards on eight carries, was not made available to the media after the game despite a request for him to be interviewed.
For the first time since a season-opening 79-0 win over Howard, Locksley used all four quarterbacks.
Only redshirt sophomore Tyler DeSue came out of it completely unscathed.
After graduate transfer Josh Jackson went out briefly after appearing to injure his right arm when he was hit on an awkwardly thrown pass, LeGendre came in. On his second series, the former four-star prospect had runs of 26 and 16 yards.
The second run ended — and likely the promising freshman’s season — with LeGendre falling hard on his shoulder after being hit and fumbling. He left the game and went immediately to the locker room. Since Saturday’s game was only his third appearance this season, LeGendre can get a redshirt.
“He had a good week [of practice], we put a lot of plays and things in for his package,” Locksley said of LeGendre. “I was disappointed when he went out with the injury. I thought he did some good things the short time he was out there.”
Jackson came in for one play after LeGendre was injured, then was replaced by redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome, who came up limping after being sacked on an unsuccessful fourth down try. Jackson returned for the second half with Maryland trailing 37-0.
DeSue came for one series and then Jackson finished the game. Jackson completed just four of 12 passes for 33 yards and Pigrome had the other three completions in seven attempts for 24 yards. DeSue and LeGendre were each 0-for-1.
Along with the fumbles, the most disturbing part of the game to Locksley was his team’s lack of execution in the passing game on both offense and defense. Nebraska quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Christian McCaffery, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffery, were a combined 19 of 30 for 230. Martinez threw two touchdowns and had a pass intercepted by freshman safety Nick Cross.
“The turnovers kind of stand out the most to me,” Locksley said of the fumbles. "We knew it was a wet ballgame. We practiced wet balls, we understood that it was most likely going to rain. And we didn’t maintain control of [the ball]. Give Nebraska credit putting their helmets on the ball, but the fumble, the inability to throw the football, just continues to kind of piss me off a little bit that we just can’t execute.
“Whether it’s lack of protection, quarterback decision-making pitching and catching. We had some late balls, high balls, guys open. We had a drop [by sophomore Carlos Carriere] on a big play down the field. The passing game to me is something we’ve got to create the balance we need to play with. That’s where whether it’s on offense and defense [in terms of pass defense] is where we have to make our biggest improvement.”
NOTES: Locksley said after the game that junior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis was held out of Saturday’s game for “a non football reason." According to electronic state records, Fleet-Davis was arrested early Friday morning by campus police in College Park and charged with seven driving-related offenses, the most serious being “driving while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance.” Fleet-Davis is the second Maryland player this season to be charged with DWI. Senior wide receiver DJ Turner was charged on Sept. 20 and has not played since. Both players remain with the team, attending meetings and practicing.