From the breakdowns on the offensive line to Maryland’s penalties to the Big Ten’s overall struggles and how it affects the Terps, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s 20-17 loss at Temple.
1. Defenses will keep teeing off on Josh Jackson if he doesn’t get better protection or if he doesn’t make quicker decisions.
Even in his team’s one-sided wins over Howard in the season opener and then-No. 21 Syracuse, the graduate transfer quarterback took his share of body shots.
It happened early against the Bison, and Maryland adjusted with an extra blocker, typically a running back, to protect him. It happened late against the Orange, and the Terps took some of the heat off Jackson by having him keep handing off to backup running backs Tayon Fleet-Davis and Jake Funk on successive long touchdown drives.
It seemed to be happening all game against Temple. To his credit, Jackson put the blame squarely on himself for the interception he threw on Maryland’s opening possession and for overthrowing tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo on the last possession.
Jackson also said that he needed to step up in the pocket better to avoid getting sacked four times. He threw behind several targets, and, as was the case with Okonkwo racing free in the end zone in the final minutes, occasionally put a little too much juice on the ball.
His numbers — 15-for-38 for 183 yards with a touchdown and an interception — were the worst of his career. It marked the first time his completion rate (39.5%) was under 40% and only the second time in 19 games at Virginia Tech and Maryland that he completed less than half of his throws. His quarterback rating of 25.0 was the lowest of his career.
While much of the credit goes to the defensive game plan Temple put together — the Owls also did a good job of disguising their coverage and pass rush, as well as slowing down Maryland’s running game, especially near the goal line — the Terps’ play in the trenches also made things extremely difficult for Jackson.
Since Jackson has rarely been a quarterback that can beat a team with his feet and make defenders miss, he can become an inviting target if he doesn’t get enough time to throw. Or, as he acknowledged, he doesn’t make better decisions, something he did in Maryland’s first two games. .
The loss of senior right guard Terrance Davis to a potentially serious knee injury to an already thin offensive line could also be devastating, both to Jackson’s health and the Terps’ running game. .
2. The penalties, especially against cornerback Tino Ellis on what became Temple’s winning touchdown drive, are starting to hurt the Terps.
Maryland’s defense did a great job keeping the Owls from breaking open the game in the first half, when the offense didn’t score and missed its first 10 third-down conversions and 10 of 12 overall. The defense also forced turnovers on two straight possessions when the Terps took a 15-13 lead in the second half.
After getting beat deep by wideout Isaiah Wright on a 29-yard touchdown catch on Temple’s first touchdown early in the game, Ellis did a decent job on Temple’s other receivers until late in the third quarter and again late in the game. As happened on occasion last year, Ellis struggled to keep his hands off of who he was covering on deep balls.
The first pass-interference call against Ellis was immediately negated by sophomore linebacker Chance Campbell’s interception. Ellis wasn’t as fortunate after his second interference call, and then got a holding call, both involving Branden Mack, that helped set up tight end Kenny Yeboah’s 7-yard touchdown with 7:27 left in the game.
As solid a corner as Ellis has become after converting from wide receiver as a freshman, especially when it comes to using his speed and physicality to break up passes, the senior gets called for more than his fair share of PIs because he tends to lose sight of the ball and has to rely even more on following the receiver’s eyes.
To be clear, Ellis wasn’t the only Maryland player to be called for penalties. Or coach. Among the nine penalties for 88 yards against the Terps was one for having 12 men on the field that negated an interception by redshirt sophomore linebacker Ayinde Eley and another when a coach came too far on the field and made contact with a Temple player as a big pass play was unfolding.
For Maryland to have any chance at breaking a string of four straight losing seasons, the Terps have to cut down both on the number of penalties they commit and when they commit them. If, as Locksley likes to say, discipline precedes winning, Maryland’s players and at least one coach have to focus a lot better in the coming weeks against Big Ten opponents.
3. Despite a disheartening loss that could have easily been an ugly win, there are a lot of beatable teams left on the schedule.
Senior linebacker Keandre Jones summed it up best, saying that as brutal as the defeat seemed to be after the Owls tried to give the game away at the end, there’s still there’s plenty of time to correct many of the issues the Terps showed at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It’s a long season,” Jones said.
As familiar as Maryland fans are with their team having long seasons, what should give them hope is that the Big Ten overall is off to a slow start and that several future Terps opponents are proving to be average at best.
Penn State is certainly not in that category, but the Nittany Lions have not looked like the dominant team many predicted. On Saturday, they eked out a 17-10 win over Pittsburgh, partly with the help of a questionable fourth-and-goal decision by Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi.
After Penn State (3-0) visits College Park on Sept. 27 following a bye week for both teams, the Terps go on the road two straight weeks.
The first game is at Rutgers (1-1), which lost its Big Ten opener, 30-0, at Iowa two weeks ago and was off Saturday. The following game is at Purdue (1-2), which has faded in the second half of both defeats, including Saturday’s 34-13 home loss to TCU. The Boilermakers are also banged up, and quarterback Elijah Sindelar was held out against the Horned Frogs because of a concussion.
Both games are winnable, but Maryland has won just one Big Ten road game — at Minnesota in 2017 — in the past three years.
The back end of Maryland’s schedule doesn’t appear as daunting as it did before the season began.
After getting Indiana at home on Oct. 19, the Terps go to Minnesota, which has won its first three games against non-Power 5 schools by a combined 13 points, including the last two by three each against Fresno State and Georgia Southern.
With the exception of Ohio State (Nov. 9 in Columbus), the perennial powers have started slowly.
Michigan, which comes to College Park on Nov. 2, struggled to beat Army two weeks ago in Ann Arbor. Nebraska (Nov. 23 in College Park) lost two weeks ago at Colorado, its only game to date against a Power 5 opponent. Michigan State has struggled offensively, leading to a 10-7 loss Saturday night to Arizona State.
Getting to bowl eligibility despite the setback against Temple is still a more than reasonable goal, but the Terps must do a better job giving Jackson time to throw and have to stop committing penalties to start knocking off some of the better teams in the Big Ten.