For at least one half Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the Maryland football team looked like it had made progress.
Even without generating any offense, the Terps briefly held a 7-3 lead after Ty Johnson’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Even after the No. 15 Wolverines scored a pair of touchdowns — the second with 16 seconds left in the half — Maryland seemed competitive.
The offense continued to stall, and the defense — also hurt by the third-quarter ejection of linebacker and leading tackler Tre Watson — was on the field too much.
The resulting 42-21 loss might have been an improvement on Maryland’s last visit to “The Big House” — a 59-3 demolition in 2016 — but it only served to show that the Terps are still not ready to compete with the Big Ten East’s perennial powers.
The margin of defeat did nothing to appease Canada.
“We didn't come here to be close, we didn't come here to try, we came to win,” Canada told reporters in Ann Arbor. “We didn’t win. All the credit to Michigan.”
Considering that the Wolverines are likely the division’s third-best team, it doesn’t bode well when the schedule gets tougher in November.
Here are three takeaways from the loss to Michigan:
Kasim Hill’s inexperience showed, but some of his experienced offensive linemen didn’t help him.
Maryland’s inability to get much out of its rushing offense until late in the game put a lot of responsibility on Hill’s shoulders.
As Texas tried to do in the season opener, the Wolverines sent a message early when linebacker Devin Bush hit Hill in the face on Maryland’s first snap.
Unlike the season opener, when Texas linebacker Gary Johnson was ejected for targeting, Bush wasn’t even penalized. More importantly, the redshirt freshman quarterback seemed shaken.
With Michigan’s defense getting into the backfield early, Hill was skittish in the pocket and took a couple of bad sacks. Even when he did have time, his throws seemed wobbly.
On Maryland’s first possession of the second half, the Terps were called for an illegal formation, a false start and a face-mask penalty. The false start and face-mask infractions were made by seniors.
If the passing game doesn’t develop, Canada might consider using Tyrrell Pigrome more.
As important as it is for the Terps to develop Hill into the top-tier quarterback most still expect him to become, it is increasingly apparent that Pigrome needs to be used more than just as a change of pace.
If Maryland is going to play to its strength offensively, which is running the ball, Canada might consider giving Pigrome more packages and snaps when the game is still competitive despite the goal of making the Terps a more balanced offensive team.
With the exception of some early long passes that worked against Texas, nearly all of the explosive plays the Terps have made this year have come on the ground, including Pigrome’s 42-yard run against Michigan Saturday.
At this stage, Pigrome is a better passer than Hill is running the ball.
One of the problems last year was that opponents knew after both Pigrome and Hill were lost for the season with torn ACLs that Max Bortenschlager was not going to beat them with his legs.
The same appears to be true for Hill as well right now.
How much will the Terps miss Watson in the first half against Rutgers?
With 10 tackles early in the second half, Watson was on his way to breaking his career and season high of 15 tackles (against Temple) when he was ejected for a vicious hit on Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had just been called for blocking Antoine Brooks Jr. in the back.
Watson’s absence was felt both emotionally and physically. Maryland will now have to figure out how to replace Watson for the first half against the Scarlet Knights. It will likely mean moving Brooks into more of a true linebacker spot for the first 30 minutes at Maryland Stadium, which shouldn’t be a problem.
A defense that was much maligned in DJ Durkin’s first two seasons has become a legitimate unit capable of contending with nearly every team on Maryland’s schedule. The breakdowns Saturday seemed to happen more when the defense tired and then again after Watson departed.