COLLEGE PARK — After an admittedly miserable performance at Purdue last week, in which Maryland lost to an undermanned football team on a three-game losing streak playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback, the Terps were hoping to find some redemption and regain some confidence at home Saturday against Indiana.
Faced with its own injury problems — redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland Jr. sat out with a high-ankle sprain and graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson was sidelined for his second straight game with the same injury — Maryland seemed to be on the verge of doing both against the Hoosiers deep into the second half.
In the end, the Terps earned back some self-respect but couldn’t come away with a victory, losing the Hoosiers, 34-28, before an announced 32,606 at Maryland Stadium. For the fourth straight year, a high-scoring game that came down to the end was won by Indiana (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten). All four games have been decided by six points or fewer.
The defeat, the fourth in five games for Maryland (3-4, 1-3), all but dashed any chance of the Terps navigating their way to six wins and bowl-eligibility against a schedule that becomes much more daunting in the second half of the season, beginning next Saturday at unbeaten, No. 20-ranked Minnesota. After that, Maryland faces No. 16 Michigan at home and No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus.
“This has kind of been an Achilles heel for us, being able to execute when we need to in critical situations, and again that’s on coaching, that’s on me," first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “I’ve got to get these guys to be able to play in critical situations and perform at level they’re capable of in critical times.”
A pair of turnovers in the final minutes — a fumble by junior running back Javon Leake at his team’s 18-yard line with 3:50 remaining, which the Hoosiers converted into a field goal, and an interception by redshirt junior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome a minute later — sealed Maryland’s fate and added to Locksley’s mounting frustration.
Calling it a “disappointing loss at home” while also crediting Indiana, Locksley said: “We made it a four-quarter game, something that we haven’t done around here this year, but didn’t make the plays when we had opportunity to. We had two drives there at the end to win the ballgame and we didn’t get it done."
Of the turnovers, Locksley added: “Good teams don’t beat themselves, and we continue to do so. I’ve got to get us fixed. ... As a coaching staff, we’ve got a find a way to get these guys to play to a level they need to play in critical situations, to come away with wins.”
The late fumble by Leake, the first by the Terps this season, ruined an otherwise spectacular performance. With his role expanded by McFarland’s injury, Leake rushed 23 times for 158 yards — both career-highs — and scored two touchdowns, including a 60-yard run in the second quarter.
Starting his second straight game in place of Jackson, and for the sixth time in his career, Pigrome completed 17 of 27 passes for 210 yards and threw two touchdown passes in the first half. But he also threw a costly interception for the second straight week.
“That play from my vantage was a poor decision,” Locksley said. “I can’t fault Piggy for the competitor that he is. But obviously quarterbacks have to win games throwing the football when needed. ... Quarterbacks will be judged on how they take care of the football, how they score points and winning on third down in obvious passing situations.”
Said Pigrome: “I tried to put in the window for [Sean] Savoy and I overthrew him.”
Indiana senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who started much of the previous two seasons, replaced injured freshman Michael Penix Jr. in the second quarter and completed 20 of 27 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Before going out with an undisclosed injury — right after having a pass intercepted by senior safety Antoine Brooks Jr. in the end zone — Penix was 9-for-14 for 141 yards and a touchdown.
“We played our heart out, I know that for a fact. We just made some bad turnovers at the end,” Leake said. "The defense played their butt off, we just couldn’t get it done at the end.”
Leake’s late mistake
For all the plays he made Saturday, Leake will remember most the one he didn’t by failing to holding onto the ball late in the game on a swing pass from Pigrome. As he was tackling Leake, Indiana junior safety Juwan Burgess ripped the ball from Leake’s arms and recovered the fumble before it went out of bounds.
“It was just a good play by the defense. He ripped it out as I was falling to the ground,” Leake said. “I got to hold the ball.”
Asked how Maryland can win a close game — the Terps also lost to Temple, 20-17, after starting 2-0 and getting ranked for the first time in six years — Leake said: “Just finish and have a little more fight in us. Just like those last two turnovers. We’ve got to execute better and make the plays."
Though unhappy with the fumble, Locksley was more than satisfied with Leake’s performance.
“Going into the season, it was a position of strength for us,” Locksley said. “Obviously, we continue to depleted there with the injuries. Again, Javon is a big-time playmaker, has the ability to hit the home run, does everything we ask of him. It’s good to have a guy like him when you lose an Anthony McFarland to be able to step in and pick up the production.”
Campbell’s big chance
Sophomore linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall) made his first start as a Terp and finished with a team-high 10 tackles, all of them solos. He also showed some athleticism by deflecting a short third-down pass in the end zone from Ramsey to sophomore tight end Matt Bjorson in the second quarter with the score tied, forcing the Hoosiers to settle for a field goal.
Campbell, who served as one of his team’s three game captains, started ahead of redshirt sophomore Ayinde Eley, the team’s leading tackler, but wound up playing more than usual when senior Isaiah Davis was ejected from the game after a late hit that the officials deemed as targeting.
“When we have opportunities when guys aren’t producing and playing the game the way we want it to be played, we’re always going to try to create competition,” Locksley said. “Obviously not a smart play by Isaiah on the targeting hit. Those are just bad plays on our part.
"I think Chance had a good game for us. He continues to grow and show the leadership you want to see out of that position. He’ll be a good football player for us.”
Defense settles down
After Indiana scored on the game’s first two possessions, it appeared that this week’s game was going to be a continuation of what happened at Purdue during a 40-14 loss to the Boilermakers. While Penix and Ramsey combined to complete 29 of 41 passes for 334 yards, and sophomore running back Stevie Scott III rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, Maryland's defense improved.
Starting two freshmen in the secondary — Deonte Banks in place of senior Tino Ellis, who was injured last week and is out for the season with an “upper body injury” and safety Nick Cross — the Terps got burned early on but seemed to get better as the game went on. Brooks said that the defense came out a bit sluggish, as it did last week.
“Honestly, the first two drive, it just was slow,” Brooks said. “We didn’t come out fast or hot. We could’ve come out faster. If we came out faster, we probably could’ve stopped 'em. That’s what happened when you come out slow. The offense starts running, throwing the ball, doing their thing. You’ve just go to stop them as a defense.”
Maryland@No. 20 Minnesota
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN or ESPN2
Radio: 1300 AM, 980 AM