When the Maryland Terrapins take to the field against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana, they’ll be looking to go 5-2 for the first time since Marcus Miles sped away with his invisible car in “The Club” episode of “Atlanta” in 2016.
They’ll also be aiming to bounce back from last weekend’s frustrating 31-29 home loss to Purdue. The Terps looked sporadically assertive and self-assured at various junctures on both sides of the ball Saturday.
The offense was humming in the first half, but the defense was on its heels. In the third quarter, the defense rebounded and flexed its muscles by holding the Boilermakers scoreless and forcing three turnovers.
The Terps couldn’t have asked for a better way to open that game. After Purdue lost 13 yards on their opening drive and punted, the offense marched down the field, covering 69 yards in six plays.
When redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa scampered nine yards into the end zone, Terp fans were dreaming that the team would soon be off to its first 5-1 start since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
But Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell quickly shook off those first-drive doldrums and got surgical on the Maryland defense like Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce in “M*A*S*H,” connecting on 17 of his 22 first-half passes for 173 yards.
The second quarter ended in scintillating fashion, when Tagovailoa hit redshirt sophomore tight end Corey Dyches for a 68-yard touchdown. Dyches took the Purdue defender on a 15-yard piggyback ride, tying the score at 17 heading into the half.
The Terp defense came out on a mission in the second half, like Major Payne when confronted by an ornery biker.
But the offense couldn’t capitalize, setting up a wild finish with the teams combining for four touchdowns in the final 7:47. When Tagovailoa found Rakim Jarrett in the corner of the end zone for a 2-point conversion in the final minute, Maryland appeared to have tied the game at 31.
But the Terps’ struggles with penalties reared their ugly head again as they were flagged on the play for having an offensive lineman downfield, nullifying the conversion. Tagovailoa’s next attempt fell incomplete.
The stellar quarterback passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns, but Maryland was ultimately undone by its inability to capitalize off Purdue’s three second-half turnovers.
I would venture to guess Terps head coach Mike Locksley is hoping the coming game against Indiana will not be such a wild rollercoaster.
Tagovailoa threw for a career-high 419 yards in last season’s 38-35 win over the Hoosiers and he’s been on a tear this year as one of college football’s best quarterbacks.
He’s ranked in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s top 25 in completion percentage (74.1), completions per game (24.3), yards passing (1,731) and total offense (303.2). And the Terps, behind his arm and playmaking, have scored 27 or more points in eight consecutive games.
A win over Indiana and a subsequent victory over Northwestern at home the weekend after that would assuage the Terps’ anguish over losing two of the last three games, setting up a big-stakes atmosphere for the season’s closing games against Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 2 Ohio State and Rutgers.
The defense, which has 15 sacks, should have a field day against Indiana’s porous offensive line, which has surrendered 19 sacks on the season. IU quarterback Connor Bazelak has been decent considering the fusillade of defenders he’s forced to constantly duck, but his accuracy is not daunting.
The Hoosiers are also as proficient on the ground as 50 Cent throwing a baseball, meaning they’re terrible.
On paper, it looks like the winner of this game will be the team with the superior passing attack. And there’s no contest there, because Tagovailoa and the Maryland offense are a force to be reckoned with.
If the defense can play a full game like they did during some ascendant stretches against Michigan State and Purdue, the Terps could be cooking up something special entering the season’s home stretch.