After Maryland football suffered its third straight loss Saturday, 34-16 to Minnesota, the Terps’ quest for their first bowl game appearance since 2016 got even tougher.
Maryland is 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Big Ten and not only needs to beat Indiana next week but win at least one game next month against either No. 20 Penn State, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 6 Michigan and Rutgers.
Even with two weeks to prepare, the Terps did not look ready to compete Saturday against Minnesota’s rushing game, which dominated in all four quarters. The Golden Gophers chewed up the clock, providing Maryland a limited amount of time to make plays on offense.
Junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa fumbled on the Terps’ first drive, but he avoided throwing an interception for the first time in three games. Tagovailoa was held under 200 passing yards for the second time this season, as he went 17-for-27 for 189 yards and a touchdown. He faced consistent pressure from Minnesota’s defense, but there were moments when he missed passes and receivers dropped the ball.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:
Maryland is still searching for a No. 1 option on offense
Wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr.’s season-ending knee injury, which he suffered in the loss to then-No.5 Iowa on Oct. 1, has not been the primary reason for the Terps’ struggles over the past three games. Still, Maryland has had a hard time finding a replacement for Demus, who was the team’s top playmaker.
Sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett was expected to fill the void. Earlier this week, Locksley said Jarrett, a former five-star recruit, was no longer the little brother in the receiving room. He wanted Jarrett to take a larger role in the offense.
But Jarrett has been largely silent since becoming Maryland’s top receiver with opponents focused heavily on stopping him. In the past four games, Jarrett has 110 receiving yards on nine receptions, including four catches for 56 yards on four targets on Saturday. His biggest highlight came early in the first quarter when he got wide open for a 38-yard catch.
Freshman receiver Marcus Fleming was impressive Saturday, as he recorded 62 yards and a one-handed touchdown. Meanwhile, junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo had 30 yards on two catches.
“To me, we still have players that have the ability to make plays down the field,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. “Our execution has to be better, meaning protection and giving our quarterback a chance.”
Even at running back, the Terps have yet to find a clear go-to player. Maryland has alternated between senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, sophomore Peny Boone, freshman Colby McDonald and senior walk-on Challen Faamatau.
With a brutal month of November ahead, the Terps need to figure out who Tagovailoa can rely on.
Maryland’s defense continues to struggle
Maryland’s defense led by coordinator Brian Stewart was one of the best in the Big Ten during the team’s first four games. The Terps were constantly pressuring the quarterback, which led to turnovers and better field position.
The Terps got a reality check in recent weeks, allowing 151 points in the past four games. Maryland is second-to-last in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.7 points per game) and 11th in yards allowed (396.3).
In the loss to the Golden Gophers, Maryland was beaten by the run game, as they allowed 326 rushing yards. Minnesota running backs Ky Thomas (139 yards on 21 carries) and Mar’Keise Irving (105 on 15 carries) combined for 244 yards.
Minnesota’s enormous offensive line had a lot to do with the rushing success, but Maryland defenders missed tackles throughout the entire afternoon. The Terps couldn’t even get to Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, finishing with zero sacks and zero quarterback hits.
“They have a culture upfront that they want to run the football,” Locksley said. “Veteran group of players, they’re big, they’re experienced across the board. To have two weeks to prepare and still give up that type of yardage in the run game is unacceptable and, again, it starts with me.”
Maryland’s defense struggled to get off the field, too. They allowed 26 first downs while Minnesota controlled the ball for 35:06.
Injuries have played a part. Senior cornerback Kenny Bennett missed a second straight game with a hamstring injury, while senior defensive back Deonte Banks, as well as junior linebackers Fa’Najae Gotay and Durell Nchami, are out with season-ending injuries.
The Terps strengthened their front seven during the 2021 recruiting cycle, but it hasn’t paid immediate dividends. Maryland signed freshman linebackers Terrence Lewis, Demeioun Robinson and Branden Jennings as well as defensive linemen Taizse Johnson and Tommy Akingbesote. Lewis remains sidelined recovering from an ACL injury, while the rest of the group needs more time to develop.
Will the penalties ever stop?
Maryland has played seven games this season, and Locksley is still stressing to his players the importance of avoiding penalties. So far, that message is not being heard.
Maryland committed eight penalties for 79 yards Saturday, including four that were responsible for 10 or more yards of field position. The Terps have had at least eight penalties in four of their past five games, including a season-high 10 in a 51-14 loss to Iowa.
To make matters worse, the penalties continue to come at critical moments in the game. Senior defensive lineman Ami Finau was called for a personal foul with 13:48 remaining in the second quarter, and Thomas scored on a 10-yard run soon after that extended the lead to 17-3.
At the start of the third quarter, Tagovailoa threw a pass to Faamatau to convert on third down. However, the play got called back after the Terps were called for an ineligible player downfield.
“As I told our team, these guys are going to be held accountable for their actions, just like we will as coaches,” Locksley said. “I’m not pointing the finger at players. I’m looking at myself first, being held accountable for putting a product out there that gives us a chance to win.”
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 105.7 FM
Line: Maryland by 3