When Maryland football coach Mike Locksley was asked Tuesday about the impact a victory over No. 5 Iowa would have on his program, he said without hesitation that the Terps are just taking things one day at a time.
“We aren’t even there yet, to be honest,” Locksley said. “We don’t talk a lot about winning around here. We focus more on Monday through Friday, making sure that we have a winning routine. What happens on game day, we will deal with and live with those results.”
Locksley and the Terps might not admit it, but Friday night’s matchup against the Hawkeyes at Capital One Field is the program’s biggest game since he took over as head coach in 2019.
Maryland is 4-0 for the first time in five years and will be seeking its first 5-0 start since 2001 when it won the Atlantic Coast Conference, played Florida in the Orange Bowl and went 10-2 to finish ranked No. 11 in the country. After the Terps defeated Kent State, 37-16, on Saturday, they inched closer to the Associated Press Top 25 poll, unofficially ranking 27th with 91 votes. A victory over undefeated Iowa would not only give Maryland its first win over a top-10 team since doing so twice in 2007, but the program could receive its highest ranking in nearly two decades.
“Obviously, we hear the buzz,” senior wide receiver Brian Cobbs said. “But all in all, we’re just trying to put the best product on the field. That stuff will take care of itself.”
When Maryland defeated No. 8 Boston College, 42-35, on Nov. 10, 2007, the Terps were still in the ACC, actor Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man, the first iPhone had just been released and J.K. Rowling had recently published “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final novel of her iconic book series.
Former Maryland linebacker Hakeem Sule remembers College Park being electric after the Terps beat the Eagles. Maryland snapped a three-game losing streak, and students stormed the field in jubilation.
“[It was] an opportunity for us to put the University of Maryland on the map and show the conference and the nation that we were a tough team and we played with tremendous pride,” said Sule, who now coaches at McDonogh in Owings Mills. “I expect that from this Terps team. This is a more talented team than we played on.”
Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has only played three home games against a top-10 opponent. Maryland was routed by No. 6 Ohio State, 62-3, in 2016, the same season the Terps started 4-0. A year later, No. 10 Penn State crushed Maryland, 66-3. In 2018, Maryland suffered a heartbreaking 52-51 loss to No. 9 Ohio State in overtime.
“I feel like it’s a big opportunity for our program,” junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “At the end of the day, Coach [Locksley] always talks about just keeping the main thing, the main thing, and that’s just focusing one day at a time.”
In the Locksley era, Maryland has had few opportunities like Friday’s game. In 2019, the Terps defeated No. 21 Syracuse at home, 63-20, and took the Orange’s spot in the Top 25.
There’s also the Penn State game in 2019, which had a similar build-up to the upcoming Iowa matchup. It was a Friday night, the stadium did a blackout and the Terps, who were 2-1, could’ve cracked the Top 25 if they defeated the Nittany Lions, who were ranked No. 15 at the time. Maryland was embarrassed, 59-0, a result the program doesn’t want to replicate against the Hawkeyes.
“That game is in the past,” junior punter Anthony Pecorella said. “Just like Howard is in the past, Illinois in the past, and West Virginia is in the past. It’s a new week, it’s a new game.”
For fans who might be seeing flashbacks from the Penn State loss, there should be optimism for a different outcome against the Hawkeyes.
The Terps, who are 3 ½-point underdogs, have a top-five offense and defense in the Big Ten. The Terps’ defensive line has been one of the best in the country, sporting the fifth-best sack total (16). They have a dynamic receiving group led by sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett and senior Dontay Demus Jr., who have combined for 711 receiving yards, the second-most by any pass-catching duo among Power Five conference teams.
The biggest difference, however, is the quarterback position. Tagovailoa, the brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is the second highest graded quarterback in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. He ranks top 10 nationally in passing yards (1,340), touchdowns (10), completion rate (75.5%) and passing yards per game (335).
Tagovailoa has been considered a Heisman Trophy candidate by former winner and Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III, and is on pace to break Scott Milanovich’s school record of 3,499 passing yards in 1993.
“If we let [Tagovailoa] outside the pocket, it’s a little dangerous,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s amazing how easy he gets out of there and also looking down the field. That’s a dilemma for any defensive player.”
If Tagovailoa wants to legitimize the Heisman narrative, Friday will be a perfect opportunity. Iowa will be the best defense Tagovailoa has faced up so far this season. The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 11 points per game and have a conference-best six interceptions. Iowa’s Matt Hankins is the second-highest graded cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus, while Riley Moss is the 11th highest rated cornerback. Hankins and Moss each have two interceptions this season.
“Iowa is one of the top defenses in the country,” Locksley said. “They do a great job of generating turnovers in the secondary with their corners. They have a talented team across the board. A great opportunity for the Terps here at home.”
Cobbs said priorities get out of line and mental errors occur when you make a game bigger than it needs to be. Maryland has done its best to dodge the narrative with the hope of enjoying its moment in the national spotlight Friday night.
“Being that it is a Friday night game, we haven’t had those opportunities since high school, when you think back to it,” Cobbs said.
NO. 5 IOWA@MARYLAND
Friday, 8 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports 1 Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: Iowa by 3 ½