COLLEGE PARK — A week ago, Northwestern put its clamps on Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, holding the Heisman Trophy favorite to negative yards in the first half and only one big run — a 53-yard touchdown — for the game.
The Wildcats had trouble stopping quarterback Trace McSorley or scoring against the then No. 4 Nittany Lions, losing quietly in Evanston, Ill. The formula worked a little better against Maryland's duo of running back Ty Johnson and quarterback Max Bortenschlager, leading to a 37-21 win over the Terps on Saturday at Maryland Stadium.
Except for a pair of touchdown catches by junior wide receiver DJ Moore, who finished with career-high totals of 12 catches and 210 yards, the Maryland offense did not get going against a team that played the first half without three starters.
The resulting loss to the Wildcats put the Terps' chances of a second straight bowl game in severe jeopardy. It also left second-year coach DJ Durkin bemoaning his team's missed chances for a second straight week and left him slightly berserk over missed calls by the officials.
Maryland's streak of nine straight games keeping an opposing running back under 100 yards ended with Justin Jackson gaining 171 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, while becoming Northwestern's all-time leading rusher in the process.
The defense, which has surrendered over 500 yards in each of the past two games, also struggled with quarterback Clayton Thorson.
Thorson, who had been sacked 12 times in back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Penn State, overcame two interceptions, completing 27 of 49 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown, adding one rushing touchdown.
Johnson was held to a season-low 20 yards on 10 carries, and the Maryland's rushing offense, which was among the nation's top 10 early in the season, was held to 85 yards on 31 carries. Bortenschlager completed 17 of 38 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Asked what Northwestern (3-2, 1-2) did defensively to stop his team's offense, Durkin said, "They were taking the running backs out of the game ... sort of what [Ohio State] did a week ago. You can threw throw the ball and execute, which at times we did, but we didn't do it consistency enough."
It was the second straight loss and third in four games for Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten), which has Wisconsin up next. Northwestern, once considered among the favorites in the Big Ten West, evened its overall record to 3-3 and is now 1-2 in the Big Ten.
Given the back end of the schedule, when the Terps also face Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State the last three weeks, getting to six wins and bowl eligibility for a second straight year under Durkin seems in doubt.
"We left a lot of plays on the field," junior center Brendan Moore said. "At the end of the day, we're not going to lie down. We're going to keep on fighting. Next week's game is the most important game."
Moore passes Diggs
With a 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, Moore passed Stefon Diggs for fourth place in school history. But Moore wasn't done after his 15th career touchdown catch.
After Northwestern had erased the early deficit by taking a 10-7 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by Jackson, Moore turned a short pass from Bortenschlager into a 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
"He's been that way pretty much every week," Durkin said. "He's a really talented guy that plays hard. He runs good routes and has good ball skills. We do a lot to get him the ball and design it that way and he always answers the call."
Moore had bittersweet feelings about what he called a "career day."
"I'm at a happy medium right now," he said. "It was a career day, but at the same time we did lose. We have things we need to correct."
For the second straight week, the Terps didn't take advantage of the plays it did make on defense. Maryland also wasn't given the chance to do that on a play they made on special teams.
The first came after Moore's first touchdown gave the Terps a 7-0 lead, Maryland seemed to be in good position to score again when junior safety Darnell Savage Jr. picked off Thorson at the Northwestern 32.
But the Terps went three-and-out, as Bortenschlager had to throw the ball away on first down and then missed a chance to hit a wide-open Moore on third-and-3 by hanging on to the ball too long.
Maryland was called for a holding penalty, which Northwestern declined, and Durkin decided to have Wade Lees punt. The Wildcats then went on a long drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal.
The same thing happened with Maryland trailing 27-21 late in the third quarter after a 20-yard touchdown pass from Bortenschlager to senior wide receiver Taivon Jacobs.
After Northwestern drove from its own 36 to the Maryland 22, Thorson was intercepted by junior cornerback JC Jackson in the end zone. But Johnson was then stuffed for a 4-yard loss on first down, and the Terps went three-and-out.
Asked if inexperience plays a part in his team not being able to take advantage of turnovers, Durkin said, "You can't [blame it] on experience. To win games you've got to do those things. If you have a sudden change in the game or a big play on special teams, you've got to get some momentum and keep going. We weren't able to do that."
There was some blame for Maryland not even being given a chance to take advantage of another potential turnover earlier in the third quarter. With the Terps down 24-14, a punt from Wade Lees to Northwestern returner Riley Lees was fumbled. It appeared Maryland's Andrew Isaacs had recovered.
But a flag flew in late and the Terps were called for interference despite the fact that their two closest players were a couple of yards away from Riley Lees with their hands in the air. Along with what appeared to be a pass interference infraction on a Northwestern defender trying to slow down Moore, it left Durkin enraged.
Durkin acknowledged that he would be talking to the Big Ten office about the officiating.
"Absolutely," he said. "I mean, wow. Absolutely. "
Asked if wanted to expound on his answer, Durkin said, "Anyone who watched the game, they're not even worth saying. Anyone who watched that game, wow."