The promise of the Maryland season rested upon its schedule, one with a weak nonconference slate and a flurry of matchups against dismal Big Ten opponents.
That created a path for the Terps to win double-digit games for the first time since 2003 — even with the imposing trio of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State on the schedule.
That premise cracked after a loss to an Illinois team that previously didn’t have a conference win. It shattered after a defeat to a Northwestern squad playing under an interim coach and with a backup quarterback.
Coach Michael Locksley said before the year that his team was in a place where it could talk about winning Big Ten championships. These last two losses eliminated any lingering hopes for a Maryland title and instead raised questions and concerns about a team that is 10-23 in October and November since Locksley took over in 2019.
Let’s dig into some of the Terps’ issues.
1. Penalties low in number, high in severity
Maryland has been an undisciplined squad during Locksley’s tenure. The Terps were the worst team in the Big Ten in penalty yards per game last season, third worst in 2021, worst in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and seventh worst in 2019.
Those flags have cropped up this season; Maryland is fourth worst this year. This comes even though the Terps have drawn the fifth-fewest flags in the conference. That means their penalties are costly. The loss to the Wildcats proved as much.
Maryland committed just six fouls, but four of them — a kick-catch interference, a pass interference, an unsportsmanlike conduct and an unnecessary roughness — cost 15 yards each. Another unsportsmanlike conduct cost just 3 yards because it came near the Terps’ end zone.
Maryland committed three 15-yard infractions against Illinois — a personal foul, a facemask and a pass interference. A roughing-the-passer call netted the Fighting Illini only 9 yards because they were close to the end zone.
2. What is Roman Hemby’s role?
The sophomore running back exploded last season with 989 yards rushing and 1,287 from scrimmage. He’s on pace for just 717 and 1,076 yards this season.
The drop comes in part from volume. Hemby averaged over 14 rushes per game last season; that number is down to 11 in 2023. Some of that can be attributed to an early-season injury. Although he has yet to miss a game, Locksley said Hemby was “nicked up” following the Sept. 23 win over Michigan State in which the Edgewood native had 10 carries for 12 yards.
Hemby said he was feeling good after the loss to Illinois but said he could use extra training days. He got them during Maryland’s bye week but got the ball on just four of the Terps’ 20 designed rushes against Northwestern, per Pro Football Focus. He caught six passes for 41 yards.
Hemby got at least 15 carries in a game seven times last season. That’s happened just once in 2023 — in a Week 2 win in which he had 162 yards. The Terps strive for balance in their offensive distribution, and it’s an understandable goal, one that could keep players from leaving College Park in the new, transfer-heavy world.
But at some point that objective comes at the cost of offensive production — we may be getting there with Maryland and Hemby.
3. Is a bowl game in jeopardy?
Entering this season, winning six games and making it to a third straight bowl game for the first time since 2006-08 felt like the bare minimum.
After three straight flubbed chances to reach that mark, it’s still very much attainable but far from a certainty. Maryland hosts No. 9 Penn State this week. The Terps are 4-47-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions.
After that comes a trip to Nebraska and Memorial Stadium — one of the Big Ten’s most hostile environments where over 85,000 scarlet-clad fans will do their best to influence the outcome. The Cornhuskers, in Matt Rhule’s first year as head coach, are also on a three-game win streak.
Maryland then hosts No. 2 Michigan — no further explanation necessary — before closing the regular season at Rutgers. That’s been a comfortable prospect for the Terps of late; they’ve won four of the last five outings, including a 37-0 drubbing last year.
However, this year’s matchup should be closer. The Scarlet Knights are 6-2 and beat Northwestern by 17 in their season opener.
All that to say that Maryland’s sixth win, one that’s been surprisingly elusive, will take work. Everything about this season feels shakier — such is the case when you lose to two of the conference’s worst squads.