Maryland football’s search for a sixth victory to clinch a bowl game appearance will have to wait after the Terps fell to Penn State, 31-14, at home on Saturday afternoon.
From undisciplined football to the Terps’ struggles to establish the running game, here are three takeaways from Maryland’s fourth loss of the season:
Maryland’s running game continues to struggle
Terps junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw the ball a career-high 57 times in the loss to the Nittany Lions.
Tagovailoa, the brother of former Alabama star and current Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, shouldn’t have been put in a position where he is asked to throw that much. But he has no choice since the running game hasn’t stepped up this season.
Heading into Saturday’s game at Capital One Field, Maryland coach Mike Locksley said the Terps (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) needed to establish the run against the Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3). However, Maryland only had 48 rushing yards on 27 carries. Senior walk-on Challen Faamatau was the leading rusher with 38 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while senior Tayon Fleet-Davis had just 37 yards on eight carries.
The Terps are averaging just 81.7 rushing yards per game in conference play this season, which ranks second to last in the Big Ten. Only Purdue, which throws the ball more than any team in the conference, is worse.
When Maryland defeated Penn State last season, it had a balanced offense with 282 passing yards and 123 rushing yards. Former Terps running back Jake Funk had 80 yards on the ground in that game. On Saturday, Tagovailoa finished with 371 passing yards, nearly 90% of the team’s 419 total yards.
This season, they don’t have the luxury of having someone like Funk, Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake or Ty Johnson in the backfield. They haven’t rushed for 100 or more yards since beating Kent State on Sept. 25.
Maryland missed plenty of opportunities
Maryland has had some bad losses this season, but losing to Penn State seemed the most frustrating of them all.
Yes, Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson had a career day with a school-record 242 yards and Maryland’s defense struggled to get off the field on third down, allowing Penn State to convert 10 of 18 opportunities. But when you look at the entire game as a whole, the Terps were possibly one or two plays away from pulling off an upset.
Early in the first quarter, senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett dropped an interception that would’ve put the Terps in the red zone. During Maryland’s first drive in the second quarter, freshman receiver Marcus Fleming dropped a deep pass from Tagovailoa that could’ve been a touchdown.
“We just continue to make mistakes,” Locksley said. “The challenge for us is our players that we feel are playmakers for us have to find ways to make plays when they’re available. We didn’t get that done that day.”
With three minutes remaining in the second quarter, Tagovailoa led an impressive drive down the field that resulted in a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Faamatau. However, senior kicker Joseph Petrino failed to convert the extra-point attempt, and the Terps trailed 7-6.
On the first play of the third quarter, sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett beat a Penn State defender down the field, but Tagovailoa elected to throw a short pass to Fleming instead.
“It’s still more about what we do than what our opponents do,” Locksley said. “The good news is it’s correctable.”
The Terps are playing undisciplined football
The Terps’ issue isn’t talent. Whenever they face the top teams in the Big Ten, they continue to make mental errors that change the momentum of the game.
From dropped passes to penalties in the most critical moments, Maryland continues to beat itself.
“The thing I like most about it is that our team continues to give me the effort and the fight is there but I still would like to see us play smarter and not beat ourselves,” Locksley said.
Trailing 14-6 with under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, Tagovailoa threw three straight passes to Jarrett to put the Terps at Penn State’s 10-yard line. Then Tagovailoa fumbled a high snap that Penn State recovered.
Then, trailing 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa threw a 26-yard pass that was called back for holding. A few plays later, he threw a pick-six to Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown after trying to force a pass to senior receiver Darryl Jones.
“That was my fault for trying to do too much,” Tagovailoa said. “I just got to move on from it.”
MARYLAND@NO. 3 MICHIGAN STATE
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: Michigan State by 14