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Five things we learned from Maryland's 37-21 defeat to Northwestern

Despite what they saw Saturday, the two representatives from the TaxSlayer Bowl left Maryland Stadium still talking about the possibility of the home team turning its season around and getting an invitation to their game in Jacksonville, Fla.

"You never know what can happen in college football," one of them said to a reporter.

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It was Northwestern that might have turned its season around with Saturday's 37-21 victory over the Terps. While the teams left with the same record, the Wildcats certainly looked much better than Maryland.

Here are five things we learned:

1. This is starting to look more and more like last year.

A year ago, the Terps started 4-0 in DJ Durkin's first season and were 5-2 after a home win over Michigan State before the bottom fell out with four straight losses and five in the last six games.

This year, after a 2-0 start that included an opening win over then-No. 23 Texas in Austin, Maryland has lost three of its past four and have been blown out twice at home.

This was a game that many thought the Terps had a good chance to win, with Northwestern coming in after two straight defeats and missing three defensive starters for the first half, and one for the game.

Just as happened last season, and in Maryland's previous two losses, Northwestern's defense was geared toward stopping the running game and forcing whoever is playing quarterback for the Terps win the game.

A year ago, it was Perry Hills. After big games early in the year, including rushing for over 200 yards against Purdue, Ty Johnson struggled against better Big Ten defenses.

Now, after both sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill were lost for the season with torn ACLs, it's Max Bortenschlager. Johnson struggled against the Wildcats, held to a season-low 20 yards on 10 carries.

2. The Maryland defense has no pass rush and a soft underbelly.

While the Terps ended a three-game stretch where they went without a sack, they barely got to Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson. Maryland got one sack, but Thorson torched the Terps for 293 yards and one touchdown, while also scoring on an 18-yard run.

It started with Central Florida taking advantage of Maryland's soft zone defense with a lot of passes to their tight ends. Minnesota had some success, but the Terps made enough plays down the stretch to hold on for a win in Minneapolis.

On Saturday, Thorson went to various receivers, typically on crossing patterns. Thorson completed 27 passes to nine different teammates, and the common theme seemed to be how much room they had to run — and how many tackles the Terps missed.

It didn't help that senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. might have had his quietest game this season. He finished with six tackles, but seemed a step or two slow. Even on one blitz, he seemed to have a great angle on Thorson but couldn't quite get him.

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About the only player who seems to have any impact in the middle of the field is sophomore Antoine Brooks. A former linebacker and safety turned nickel back, Brooks might be the only player on defense aside from cornerback JC Jackson that teams seem to avoid.

3. Caleb Henderson might not be ready to take over at quarterback.

Though Bortenschlager's final stats were not terrible — 17-for-38 for a career-high 255 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions — DJ Moore might have had close to 300 yards if the sophomore quarterback got the ball away quickly.

You have to give Bortenschlager credit for playing as hard, and at times as fearlessly as he did, after coming out of last week's game at Ohio State with what appeared to be some sort of head injury. You have to give him credit for coming back Saturday after jamming his left arm.

But he might be the only quarterback Maryland has left who gives the Terps any chance to win.

It might be noted that after Bortenschlager came out against Northwestern following a first-down run, and junior Caleb Henderson came in, the Terps ran two direct snaps, the first to Johnson for a 1-yard gain and the other to sophomore Lorenzo Harrison III, who handed it to Johnson for a 4-yard gain.

At the time, the Terps trailed 30-21. Bortenschlager came back in at the end of that series, throwing a pair of incompletions, and then finished the game. It appears that Bortenschlager, for better or worse, will be Maryland's quarterback as long as he stays upright.

After that, who knows?

4. It might be time to start playing some freshmen more.

Given Maryland's struggles in several areas, Durkin and his staff should consider playing the freshmen, at least those whose redshirts have already been burned, more as the season goes on unless the Terps believe it won't make that big a difference.

Since Johnson and Harrison are more East-West runners than North-South, it might be time to see what Javon Leake can do given that he has already scored two touchdowns in a limited role. Maybe even Tayon Fleet-Davis, who is the biggest of the running backs.

Since freshmen Jordan McNair (McDonogh), Johnny Jordan and Marcus Minor have all played along the offensive line, it might be time to see what they can do in an expanded role, especially when it comes to getting the running game going.

Durkin is playing far fewer freshmen than a year ago, and there seemed to be the belief that he didn't need them as much as he did in his first season. But with the season starting to head in the wrong direction, it might be time to let the younger guys get experience.

5. This schedule is not doing Maryland any favors.

A year ago, the Terps got off to the fast start largely because of the schedule they played. While Hill's injury — as well as that to linebacker Jesse Aniebonam — were more devastating than any suffered a year ago, the schedule has also factored into Maryland's record.

The first loss was to Central Florida, which might be the most improved team in the country this season and went to 5-0 after Saturday's win over East Carolina. The second was to Ohio State, which might still prove to be the best team in the country.

While Northwestern is still a bit of a question mark, the remainder of the schedule — especially at the end — will certainly remain as the toughest in the country. Even Indiana, a team some penciled in as a win, took Michigan into overtime at home Saturday.

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