COLLEGE PARK — With Maryland football trailing No. 5 Iowa, 10-7, early in the second quarter Friday night, a harsh silence swept through the announced 45,527 fans at Capital One Field.
Senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., perhaps the Terps’ top playmaker, was carted off the field after injuring his leg during a kickoff return. What happened after Demus’ exit was a disastrous wave of turnovers and penalties that resulted in the Hawkeyes scoring 41 unanswered points to defeat Maryland, 51-14.
Nine plays, four turnovers, five penalties and zero points. That’s what the Terps produced in the second quarter, as Iowa scored 31 points to turn a close game into a blowout.
Maryland’s matchup against Iowa was the program’s biggest game in more than a decade. The Terps, who were inching closer to a potential Associated Press Top 25 ranking, were seeking their first 5-0 start since 2001 and their first victory over a top-10 opponent since 2007.
In front of a national prime-time audience, a student section draped in black, 21 NFL scouts and a new 120-foot-by-54-foot videoboard that shined so brightly that it could be seen from any part on campus, Maryland (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) failed to live up to the hype that was bestowed on the program and appeared to have taken a major step backward.
The Terps don’t like to dwell on the past, but the loss to Iowa felt similar to the crushing 59-0 defeat to Penn State in 2019, a game that received a similar build-up before Maryland ultimately fell flat.
“We’ve had opportunities here in the last couple of years where we could capitalize on the energy and the support that they continue to bring in,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who is 9-13 since taking the job in 2018. “It’s our job to better at putting a team on the field that performs when we have these opportunities. It’s was a missed opportunity on our part.”
After Demus — who entered Friday as the Big Ten’s leading receiver and had 61 yards on four receptions in the first quarter — fumbled the ball while his right leg got twisted, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Arland Bruce IV to extend the Hawkeyes’ lead to 17-7 with 14:04 left in the second quarter. Petras completed 21 of 30 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns and scored twice on the ground, leading Iowa to its 11th straight win.
After the game, Locksley did not have an update on Demus’ status, saying the senior receiver had an X-ray but that the team is awaiting results from an MRI.
“[Demus] was the best player on our team so when that happens, it’s bound to affect the team,” Terps junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said. “It hurts me knowing how great of a season he’s been having so far. I really hope he can get better and it’s not anything too serious.”
With the Terps facing a crucial drive, junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw an interception to Iowa safety Jack Koerner. As Koerner was running down the field, Maryland sophomore tight end Corey Dyches forced a fumble, but Iowa (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) managed to recover the ball. The Hawkeyes took advantage of the solid field position, as Petras powered into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown to give his team a 24-7 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
After Petras’ touchdown, Tagovailoa threw his third interception to Iowa defensive back Dane Belton, which led to fullback Monte Pottebaum scoring a 2-yard touchdown that extended the Hawkeyes’ lead to 31-7. Maryland’s penalties were a key factor in the Hawkeyes’ scoring drive, as the Terps were flagged for pass interference twice and committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that helped put Iowa in scoring position.
“Penalties, interceptions, turnovers, those things all fall down the discipline category,” Locksley said. “We still sit here with us not playing the type of football that I want us to play or that we expect to play. It’s something that will just continue to coach through, make the necessary adjustments, and get it corrected, which we’ve got to get done.”
The trainwreck continued during the early parts of the third quarter when Petras threw a short pass to running back Tyler Goodson, who sprinted down the field for a 67-yard touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes a 41-7 advantage. Goodson had a strong all-around game, finishing with 66 rushing yards and 85 receiving yards.
After Tagovailoa threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Okonkwo in the first quarter, the Terps wouldn’t make a dent in the scoreboard until the third quarter, when Tagovailoa threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett to cut the deficit to 44-14 with 6:01 remaining.
Maryland has had discipline issues throughout its first four games, but none more prevalent than Friday night, as the Terps committed 10 penalties for 86 yards. Maryland had five penalties in the second quarter alone.
“I feel like guys got to play to the standard that we set as a team at the beginning of the season,” sophomore defensive back Tarheeb Still said. “Obviously, limiting the penalties and turnovers and stop being ourselves.”
Still, who had four tackles and a couple of pass breakups in the first quarter, was one of the few bright spots on a Maryland defense that allowed the Hawkeyes to record 428 total yards. Before Friday, Maryland’s defense did a solid job at limiting scoring chances in the red zone. The Terps, however, allowed Iowa to score five touchdowns on eight scoring chances in the red zone.
Tagovailoa, the brother of former Alabama star and Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, had been regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, with his discipline and efficiency the driving force for the Terps’ offensive success through four games. He entered Friday as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterback, with zero turnover-worthy passes on his first 158 drop-backs.
The Alabama transfer looked completely out of sync Friday night. Locksley mentioned earlier in the season that the key to Tagovailoa’s development was to avoid forcing plays. Throughout the evening, Tagovailoa was forcing the ball into double coverage, trying to make plays that were simply not there.
Tagovailoa’s struggles also had something to do with Iowa’s strong defense, which allowed 11 points per game entering Friday. According to ESPN, Iowa’s seven forced turnovers are its most in a game in the past 25 seasons. The Hawkeyes currently lead the FBS with 15 takeaways and 12 interceptions.
After Tagovailoa threw for 106 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the first quarter, Iowa’s defense held Maryland’s signal-caller to just 6 yards and four interceptions. Tagovailoa finished the night 12-for-29 passing with 127 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions — two fewer than he threw in four starts last season — before being replaced by senior transfer Reece Udinski with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Udinski, a Virginia Military Institute transfer, also threw an interception in the fourth quarter, giving Maryland six on the evening, which tied a school record for the most in a single game.
“I think the big thing for [Tagovailoa] is just keeping this confidence,” Locksley said. “He was pressing a little bit after the first couple interceptions and wanting to go play well. I still have a lot of faith in him as a quarterback. I mean, for four games he played really well. This was a poor game, not just on his part but on all of ours.”
As the clock expired and the few fans that remained exited the stadium, it was hard not to wonder if the program’s hope for the season was also carted away with Demus. Maryland will play No. 11 Ohio State next Saturday before facing Indiana and Minnesota, who are currently 2-2. If the Terps can’t pull off an upset in Columbus, there will be added pressure to win against the Hoosiers and Golden Gophers, as Maryland will play No. 4 Penn State, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 14 Michigan and Rutgers to end the season.
“I still feel pretty confident that this is a group that’ll stick together and bounce back,” Locksley said. “We are not going to let one game define us. What we’ve got to do is find out why how those mistakes happen and get them corrected. I got a lot of faith in this thing.”
MARYLAND@NO. 11 OHIO STATE
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