Michael Locksley could hear the text he got right before Saturday’s game against Indiana in its sender’s voice — one he heard repeatedly earlier in his coaching career.
“Hey man,” Locksley recalled, doing a slight impression of former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. “This is one of those games you got to make sure they’re ready to play.”
The current Terps coach had a simple response to his former boss: “They’re ready coach.”
He was right. After weeks of winning with inconsistent efforts against subpar opponents, Maryland put together a thorough beatdown of an overmatched foe. The Terps pummeled the Hoosiers, 44-17, in a win they hope builds momentum heading into the biggest test to-date of their season: a matchup at No. 4 Ohio State.
“We got a tremendous challenge coming up this upcoming week, which I know that our guys are excited for,” Locksley said. “I thought today was probably the most complete game that we played in all three phases.”
Maryland scored just 25 seconds into the game after a 62-yard pass to Jeshaun Jones on the first play from scrimmage and the first of Tai Felton’s three touchdowns catches soon after. The Terps scored on three more drives before halftime and entered it with a 24-point cushion.
Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 352 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, added another on the ground and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. He captained an offense that averaged 0.30 expected points added per play per game on paper, in the 91st percentile.
The Terps got explosive plays — runs over 10 yards and passes over 15 — on over 21% of their plays.
Their defense — even without star linebacker Jaishawn Barham — smothered the Hoosiers, who fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell a day after the game. Maryland gave up a season-low 4.07 yards per play, had a season-high eight tackles for loss and forced a turnover for the fourth straight game.
“Us as players, we coach and police ourselves and we take it to heart because the little things matter,” said senior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II, who had five tackles.
Hyppolite noted that the Terps limited mental errors and missed assignments in the win.
“It’s a testament to us being locked in, being focused and being ready to go for the game tonight,” he said.
Maryland’s singular focus was Indiana — Ohio State didn’t come up at all in the week, Locksley said.
Now, the Terps’ attention turns to the 5-0 Buckeyes, whom they’ve never beaten. Locksley lost his first two matchups by over 40 points but had a three-point lead at halftime and got the ball down six with 42 seconds left.
That chance ended quickly when Ohio State returned a Tagovailoa fumble for a score but it remains the closest Maryland got to upsetting the Big Ten power in this era.
Saturday offers another chance. The Terps breezed through a weak nonconference slate and a pair of downtrodden Big Ten teams. Locksley asked his team last week how many didn’t expect to be undefeated.
“Not many people raised their hand,” the coach said before quickly clarifying. “Not anybody raised their hand. Our expectation is the one that counts and matters most.”
The coach has set high standards for the 2023 Terps, couching compliments with critiques after almost all of the wins.
The blowout of Indiana was the first where he delivered unequivocal praise. But his interview at halftime of the win, which came right after a Maryland blunder, once again showed his insistence that the Terps master the smallest details.
Jones caught a pass and was meant to go out of bounds to set up a field goal attempt. The receiver, sensing a potential touchdown, turned upfield and wasted precious seconds before eventually scampering out of bounds with no time left in the half.
“We should have gotten out of bounds, get out of bounds! ... We’re scoring points but the run game is hit or miss. ... I like that we’re making the explosives but we need the consistent plays of our base run game to get going a little bit. ... [Defense is] still giving up a little too much yardage on first down,” a clearly frustrated Locksley said at halftime.
“But the turnover at the end gave us an opportunity, if we just get out of bounds like we’re coached to do, we get a chance to kick a field goal!”
Locksley’s insistence on perfection could come from a belief in his team’s potential. He may feel the talent and culture he’s cultivated through his first four seasons at the program that’s meant so much to him is finally blossoming in his fifth.
The Terps have a special opportunity against Ohio State, he said, a tremendous challenge they’re excited about.
Let’s see if they’re ready.